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June 20, 2023

Sandy Hubbard Is Helping Print and Humanity Thrive

# Sales and Marketing
# Transformation

What the business coach and marketing strategist is noticing about print today

Sandy Hubbard, CSM, has been helping printers thrive for 40 years. She has a large network of connections, and an even larger desire to make a difference to the print industry and society.

As a business coach and marketing strategist, Sandy helps C-level pros and team leaders build visibility, increase sales and boost company value. As a print industry journalist and speaker, she communicates ideas with refreshing clarity and personality about topics ranging from how print makes stories memorable to faulty assumptions about pricing to the childhood game Chutes and Ladders. Sandy is also the co-host of the #PrintChat weekly discussion thread on LinkedIn.

Dscoop caught up with Sandy to talk about what she’s noticing today about print marketing, how her experience as a Certified Scrum Master makes a difference to her clients, how it felt to win the 2022 Girlie Award from Girls Who Print, and more.

DSCOOP: Let’s start with a fun question you can take in any direction you’d like: What excites you most about what you do?

SANDY: I’m always — always! — excited to meet new people who love and appreciate print. I love helping printers use today’s technologies and social channels to learn, network and market themselves. Social media and online events, for example, are evolving and opening new avenues for printers. I love talking about print’s role in society. My personal mission, through my Help Print Thrive crusade, is to elevate print in the eyes of everyday people. Telling stories and giving interesting examples increases the likelihood those stories will be retold and remembered. For example, I am researching temperature-sensitive and tamper-proof label technology that protects humans from taking medication and eating food that are no longer safe. We have to get people to think beyond their typical perceptions of print.

DSCOOP: You seem to enjoy collaborating in the truest sense of that word — not just doling out advice and best practices, but rather listening and understanding what each client is trying to accomplish. Can you talk about the importance of creating that kind of relationship with your clients?

SANDY: My clients are successful leaders in their sectors, highly involved in shaping their businesses. My role is to be a second set of eyes and ears, and to validate their navigation. I have had heart-to-heart conversations and helped printers for decades. We don’t get results if my advice is too prescriptive. My clients are entrepreneurs and bootstrap owners with an I-can-do-it-myself approach and often a bit of a stubborn streak (in a good way). I can give them strategic advice, context and my knowledge of how other printers do things, and then co-create the master plan, which we implement with their teams. The best companies improve from the inside out, and that’s how I make a difference in high-achieving companies.

DSCOOP: What are you noticing today among marketing teams at print companies that might not have been true, say, five years ago? Any trends stand out?

SANDY: Marketing teams, and teams in general, are being led by people who want to do a good job for their organizations but may not have all the skills they need to lead or deploy. That’s not for lack of training or experience. It’s just much harder today to manage teams with new technologies, cross-functional representation and all the things we have to know. One way to handle this is to empower employees to lead from within and focus on making progress, whatever that looks like for the team. Having an agile approach helps. My role with marketing and sales teams, and even operations teams and executive teams, is to do more than simply set goals. I help owners change how teams achieve, what they produce, and how they stay motivated. I love working with teams in print manufacturing companies because we have so many things we can measure and master.

DSCOOP: For many companies, you help their marketing plans get unstuck, so to speak. Each business is different, but what common marketing problems have you noticed with printers over the years?

SANDY: There are many challenges that cause marketing teams to get stuck. Job turnover is one. A talented mid-level marketing director or sales manager reporting to a VP is going to scale up in their career, so those jobs may see turnover every few years. Job churn makes continuity difficult for companies that have department silos and project silos. Having a collaborative approach to projects keeps things flowing. Working on retention and promoting from within, as well as bringing in an outside person like me to take a wide-angle view of your teams — that’s all helpful.

Another challenge for marketing teams is decision-making. Career marketers can get nervous about the risk of endorsing big decisions. These could be choosing technology, hiring new employees, or developing complex, long-range projects.

For example, I have bid on marketing projects where I am the provider of choice, yet the marketing manager could not finalize the decision. Being frozen like this is demoralizing to teams. You need to take the bull by the horns, do sufficient research, mitigate risks and then boldly step forward. Having an experienced marketing strategist on retainer helps teams become more confident about decisions — but ultimately, you need to create a culture where teams can pull together to manage their work effectively. This is how you achieve growth and profitability.

The third area of difficulty is when companies try to leverage their investment in marketing. You have to have proper planning and vision to amplify your results. You also need to benefit from hindsight. Reflect at the end of every sales cycle and marketing campaign and also at the end of every business quarter. Document the big picture items and also get granular. Write down what went well, what to improve, how much everything cost, and where you should create SOPs (standard operating procedures) to manage quality. Too many teams reinvent the wheel every time they try something. The integrated marketing process should expand and reinforce itself, so you get smarter and better as you go.

DSCOOP: Speaking of “better as you go,” congratulations on winning the 2022 Girlie Award from Girls Who Print! It’s presented annually to a person who exemplifies a commitment to communications, strong leadership, a history of mentoring and support for women in our industry. In your mind, what’s the best part of the Girls Who Print initiative?

SANDY: I am so honored to receive the 2022 Girlie Award. I am not exaggerating when I say this is a coveted award, and the previous winners are all remarkable and accomplished women, including Deborah Corn, who is Girl #1 and manages the group. The best part of being a member of Girls Who Print is seeing how supportive and welcoming we are. In my early days in print, I worked alongside many women, yet the professional groups were generally social with a smattering of career advice. There wasn’t a place to go where everybody knew your name and wanted the best for you. It’s a game changer to have a central place where we can ask questions, learn, get strategic and meet women at all levels and at all phases of their careers, all around the world. Girls Who Print is another example of a community that has taken on new importance in its service to women and the industry.

Being part of something bigger than ourselves and spotlighting print for its vital role in humankind, these fit together, don’t they?

DSCOOP: Well said, and we couldn’t agree more! At Dscoop, we try to publish a mix of content that inspires and instructs — in a sense, to appeal to both the heart and head to help our members grow. This month, we’ve been focusing on different types of content about vertical markets in the print industry. We came across your article on targeting the real estate industry, which was interesting. We’ve noticed that some printers are specializing in one or two verticals instead of trying to “be all things to all people.” What’s your overall take on the approach of specializing versus being a generalist? Does it make marketing easier because the audience is much more defined?

SANDY: When you deeply research and understand a customer segment, it expands your creativity to market and sell. Whether you dig into one or two sectors or you open doors in new areas (my strength), it helps to have a proven approach. If you excel at serving the construction sector, for example, you are likely to be good at helping manufacturers and accountants. All three of these customer categories would appreciate a printer who (1) pays attention to details, (2) has instituted process controls, (3) won’t expose the client to undo professional risk, (4) can handle seasonal ups and downs and (5) can help them gain new customers through referrals. You can develop verbiage that fits all three groups with minor tweaking. Being strategic in marketing is more than what and how — it’s also being clever and expedient.

You can also maximize your marketing dollars by going wide within a sector. I’ve helped printers gain customers in all the pods related to real estate, from mortgage brokers to remodelers to asbestos testing companies. Be worthy of trust, and you can parlay connections who will refer business to you. This is how you build a flywheel, a marketing machine that’s always in motion.

DSCOOP: You work primarily with executives, and as you’ve written and spoke about in the past, they have an opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders and visionaries, not just company owners. Are things like personal brand and legacy ever baked in to a company’s marketing plan, or is it more like icing on the cake?

SANDY: Let’s be honest. It’s much easier to market a company that is known versus unknown. It’s easier for a company to be visible if the owner and executives are active in the business and out in the community. If you are the top printer in your city, you know the value of personal branding to capture attention. Above all, you need the executive training and advisory support to execute your plans swiftly and at a high level. I’ve 8X’d companies in 18 months because the owner was confident, well-connected, highly respected, was known as a “go giver,” and could get his or her team on board with our initiative so we had the internal juice to make things happen. I’m not talking about being Type A or a smarmy schmoozer. When you are a leader, you can attract and hire the best people, empower teams, and build something magnificent. Even though many of my clients have retired or sold their businesses, I’m still very tied to them. Once you work with good people, you can’t let them go!

DSCOOP: Let’s shift the conversation a bit and talk about being a Certified Scrum Master and your experience with building and facilitating online and in-person communities. What led you down that path, and what have you learned about teams (or yourself) as a result?

SANDY: Communities and teams are funny things. You never really control them, even if you lead or manage them. They are made of independent components that become something unique once people get together. Whether it’s a community that wants to create something or achieve something — or it’s just a place to socialize and feel supported — there’s a culture, for lack of a better word, that develops. One way I like to think of it is when you were a teenager and hung out in your friend’s garage to play video games or start a band. Kids would come and go — maybe some kid’s dad would stop by and chat — and there was a flavor that was unlike any other group situation, even with the same kids in a different place. That’s how it is when you build a team or community. You have to honor it and nurture it.

In today’s world, I think it’s even more important to create gathering places online and in person. We need places where we feel connected. Managing healthy, functional teams and communities is more challenging than managers get credit for. It requires attention, optimism, energy, and a soft touch when interacting with people. When you go through certified scrum training, which I did to serve virtual and cross-functional teams, you are reminded how important each person in a group is — even when they are not physically there in the building with you. Having a purpose for your community or team helps us get up in the morning and keeps us moving forward. Communities are more fragile than we know, as are work teams. Pick your mates carefully and cherish them. If you are early in your career in the printing industry, talk to some of your older co-workers and ask them how important it is to work with people you trust and respect and who care about a job well done. Your teammates are the people you will circle around you, to work with and be friends with for the rest of your life.

DSCOOP: You recently worked on a LinkedIn initiative called #HelpPrintThrive, and your video application to LinkedIn began this way: “Can small-town print businesses change the world? I believe they can, and I’m on a mission to prove it.” Can you share a bit about that effort, and your thoughts on how print can be a conduit for better communities?

SANDY: Twelve years ago, I wrote an article for my regional print magazine about how I evangelize for the printing industry and how you can’t preach to the choir. You have to get boots on the ground and talk to everyday people about the vital role of print in society. I detailed in my article how I do that on social media and even in casual encounters in coffee shops. Well, the article was a hit, and I was invited to visit by printers across the country, especially those in small towns and rural areas not served well by digital infrastructure.

We would talk about how to advocate for print in their communities. Over the years, I’ve developed programs and partnerships that remind “regular” people how much they, too, love print. I’ve been to 49 states in the U.S. in my lifetime — 21 of them to visit printers.

As far as print being a conduit for better communities, let’s kick it up a notch. In small communities, print can be everything. It can be a reassuring presence… An interwoven tapestry of businesses, schools, government, and neighbors… A place to get information we trust... And a reminder of life before it got so complicated.

When you go forth and link arms within a community, everyone has a stake in print. There’s not a soul untouched. Elevating print in a community elevates us all.

DSCOOP: That is awesome! Thanks very much for spending time with us, Sandy!

SANDY: Thank you for inviting me to share my story! I hope history remembers me as someone who put humanity at the forefront, making the world a better place and always working to help print thrive.

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