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Meet the Mailers | Episode 40 | "Production Solutions: Being a Problem Solver"

Posted Jun 03, 2024 | Views 35
# Nonprofit
# Mailer
# Direct Mail
# Omnichannel Marketing
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SUMMARY

In this episode, Paul talked with Benjamin Harris, President of Production Solutions, a Moore Company serving the nonprofit community. Based in Vienna, VA, Production Solutions offers a suite of marketing services including channel-specific specialties in direct mail, digital marketing, DRTV, caging and donation processing, video production and more.

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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:04 Paul Bobnak Hi everybody. Welcome to Meet the Mailers. I'm Paul Bobnak for Who's Mailing What! A DirectMail 2.0 Company. And today I'm talking with Benjamin Harris. He is president of Production Solutions, a Moore Company based in Vienna, VA. Now before we get started, a quick little bit of homework. If you have any questions or feedback, please comment in the box below. 00:00:25 Paul Bobnak You can show your support by tapping the Like button and to get notified when we add new videos to the Who's Mailing What! channel, click on Subscribe. Now let's Meet the Mailers! Hi, Ben. Welcome. 00:00:38 Ben Harris Hi Paul. Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be here. 00:00:40 Paul Bobnak Thank you. Thanks for being here. Let's why don't we get started by talking about your background? How did you get started in the world of fundraising and marketing? And job-wise, what is your role at Production Solutions about? 00:00:55 Ben Harris Well, I would say it was by luck and and maybe a little bit of dumb luck that I found Production Solutions. I needed a job out of college and had a sort of a general business background and marketing degree and somebody knew someone who knew someone who knew someone and were hiring entry level production managers at the time and interviewed, got a job and didn't really know what the company did for probably the 1st 6 months or a year, but I just loved the essence of the company from day one. It was very, very much a family feel, big on culture, big on working hard and also playing hard, if you will. 00:01:39 Ben Harris But just a passion for the client's success and their missions and solving clients problems and being a great service provider was really what I could feel from day one and just learn production management and fundraising really from the ground up. And that was, you know, 25 plus years ago, so the industry’s changed a lot since then and I've had some different iterations throughout my time at Production Solutions, which led me to take over for the founder and one of the owners, George Lizama, in early 2017, when we became a Moore Company, I took the role of President. And you know, I would say the sort of the essence of my role is to really be the Chief Experience Officer. So continuously looking at what type of experiences are we providing to the employees, to our clients and agency partners, and then also our supplier partners and making sure that we're always looking to elevate that experience because when we elevate the experience of all of those stakeholders together, then the success of what we need to do continues to follow from there. 00:02:53 Paul Bobnak Awesome, right? Well, why don't we dip into something you kind of touched on a little is, you know, the challenges in our larger field of nonprofits and fundraising is talent - both attracting new people to the field as well as keeping current staff growing and engaged, you know, through support, up-to-date and keeping their skills relevant. Why is this so important to you as a leader, and what kinds of things are you doing at Production Solutions to have that kind of a company culture? 00:03:29 Ben Harris That's a great question. I think it's, I would say it's really … it needs to be a priority. And you really need to look at it more of it as a sort of an endeavor, if you will, something that really never ends. And especially in my time at Production Solutions now spanning, you know, two plus decades. Seeing the company through the pandemic and just all kinds of other changes in the industry and the world, people have an urge and a desire to grow and take on new challenges. And I think just making sure that that's a priority and growing other leaders and that being you know what becomes really something that you invest in you know day in and day out. So from that perspective when you prioritize leadership - and what we say at PS is everyone is a leader, everyone can lead. We're better when everyone does lead. I just fundamentally believe that human beings have an affinity to lead and leadership can look very different outside of the formal leadership roles which, you know, someone like myself has, because I'm the President of the organization. But there's a lot of and I would say daily, informal leadership opportunities that you need to identify, encourage people to lean into and it then becomes more of a practice and a discipline of when everyone leads, we can be better and that's what we continuously try to do and invest in as a business. 00:05:07 Paul Bobnak Right. But let's talk about one of those investments, which is DEI initiatives for Production Solutions. Can you talk about that and you know, if you think that there are learnings that can be applied to the fundraising and nonprofit community in general? 00:05:26 Ben Harris Sure. Yeah, we started what I would call a more formal formalized plan in the late or or mid 2000 twenties, and you know that's the sort of from there up to this point. It's important to, I think, have a plan that is guided by metrics, a vision statement, a mission statement, initiatives and in something again that sort of becomes endeavor-like in terms of it's not a one-and-done. It requires ongoing learning, some trial and error. 00:06:01 Ben Harris And I think one of the things that we felt was important for our company to continue is to make sure that number one, we have a good sense of psychological safety within the organization, that people show up to work and that they know that the company and their colleagues have their back and are going to encourage them to do more of those leadership initiatives or take some leadership sort of steps forward. And you can only do that when you feel like you can be yourself and you know others around you are being encouraged to bring their best self to work. And that was sort of the foundation for us is how do we help our people be better at who they are and what they can do because when they show up and are their best selves, it translates to a great customer experience. In addition to that, we felt like having a diverse array of suppliers in terms of how we go about sharing the work that we do and learning from them. So we started to measure some different DEI metrics in the supplier community and talk to our suppliers about things that they're learning, things that they can continue to help us learn and make sure that we're moving diversity of thought and also this this commitment to inclusivity together with our partners, while also being responsive to what our clients need and what they are doing with their own DEI initiatives. So I think having alignment between your own business, what the clients need and expect and also what's going on with your supplier partners or agency partners helps it be what I would call more of a fluid ecosystem and kind of overall experience. 00:07:43 Paul Bobnak Right, right. I love that and I think it also I think as I touched on, it also kind of provides direction and you know, if you will, like an example for other other companies that are out there. 00:08:02 Ben Harris For sure. 00:08:03 Paul Bobnak Yeah. Well, so let's just right, you know, just jump right into it and talk about Production Solutions. You know that word production in the company name is pretty significant today because of all the challenges that direct mail programs are facing. What are some of those challenges that you're dealing with today and how can Production Solutions help non-profits deal with them? 00:08:28 Ben Harris Sure. Yeah, it's the name Production Solutions is for, for those of us in the industry who have been doing this a long time from a fundraising, a direct marketing perspective, it's fairly straightforward. But if you, if you sort of talk to people outside the industry, like “Are you In video production, or are you in TV production?” It's like no, we’re … 00:08:46 Paul Bobnak “Be more specific” 00:08:49 Ben Harris Right. So one of the shifts for us as recent as this year as we started to sort of look at our vision, mission, and values and where do we where do we need to go from here based on what's happening in our clients’ business and the industry at large and we we sort of honed in on the word solutions instead of production because we feel and one of our kind of revised missions, if you will, is the world needs trusted problem solvers and that word trust is really key in that statement and sort of leans into that word solutions. And from talking to many of our clients and agency partners at the end of last year and and even continuing this year, they're looking for new ideas. New ideas, any type of innovations that can help them in their businesses? They're looking for budgeting accurately and reducing costs. They're looking for the service experience to be accurate, easy and consistent. Their time, in terms of what they have time to, where they spend their time has become even more crowded. They're looking for omnichannel support and integration, which I know we'll talk about here in a minute and the other one is to help them with some, any type of technology or sustainability efforts that are at play as well. So those are kind of the five themes that I would say you could talk to any fundraiser today and they would say, yeah, those are those are our challenges as well and how can we show up and be a problem solver with those challenges in mind, because some of them are based in production or or print and mail if you will, but some of them are starting to kind of, I would say sort of expand beyond just, you know, print and mail from that standpoint. 00:10:51 Paul Bobnak Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think anything involving data, it just encompasses everything which we’ll sort of mention in talking about omnichannel and I guess also that the Postal Service and issues around that and price increases must give people a lot of pause and looking for solutions with that. 00:11:15 Ben Harris For sure. Yeah, I think if you … you know when we talk to our employees about some of the challenges that our clients are facing, I would say just in general, since you know, late 2019, pandemic as you know started in 2020. On average our clients, costs are up anywhere from you know, 40 to 80% less than a three-year period and you know, I don't know you could sort of say to anyone, like, which business, what type of business or industry could sustain or even survive that level of increase. So a lot of that is postage and I think the post office …you know there's almost two sides of it, right? There's this sort of runaway cost increase side, but it's also important to not, you know, demonize them too much because they're super important to direct mail fundraising, right? So we tend to focus on all the negative, but there is a lot of good that is there as well in terms of some of the postal promotions and some other things that are, you know, if you can leverage those as well, it can help offset some of the costs and so on. So… but the post office is one of the most common topics within our company every day from that standpoint. 00:12:38 Paul Bobnak Everybody I talk to says the same thing. Yeah. Well, you know, to touch on something that you that you kind of mentioned, which is, you know, the importance of fundraising to the Postal Service and vice versa. You know, it's one of those things that people maybe not even realize, but that most fundraisers still raise the majority of their funding through direct mail compared to… 00:13:10 Ben Harris For sure. 00:13:10 Paul Bobnak digital channels. But you know, we also have to talk about omnichannel and so that got me to think about how can nonprofits implement, you know, a strategy where they reach the right customer at the right time in the right channel with the right message? 00:13:28 Ben Harris Yeah, I think there's a limit in terms of what we can do within our business, primarily focusing on direct mail and how we can help clients integrate from an omnichannel perspective. Some of those things are… so we've got, we've done a lot of Informed Delivery management for clients. We've done… helped them take care of or or take advantage of some of the USPS promotions, the tactile, sensory and interactive, and then also the emerging and advanced technology promotion. So I have a note here that in 2023, we saved clients, for example, over $1.5 million, leveraging the Informed Delivery promotion and savings, and that is up 27% from 2022. So just a sign that shows you that clients are more apt and willing to have a digital integration with their mail piece, and that's just a small digital integration, as you know. But those are some of the things that I think if you're in print, mail or in direct mail only, you can be leading with those. In addition to making sure that from a, from a production standpoint or a quality control standpoint, if a client has a URL on there or QR code, that you're checking those for accuracy, that they're actually going to a live website or landing page. You know that can be problematic if you're printing that and sending it out and you're trying to drive clients to some landing page and it's not working, you can, you know, flag the client on those types of things. But I think the more… one of the more interesting sort of points that I've heard from some of the industry colleagues and the agency partners we work with is that direct mail has become more of a channel of influence. So that kind of all boats rise in the tide. And as you, if you cut back on direct mail - while it may save you money initially - the influence that it has on all the other channels today will be sort of stunted or, you know, prohibitive, if you will. So which kind of leads into the attribution of where does this donor, where does this gift come from? And I think that's probably one of the frontiers that is most …you know, maybe AI will help solve some of this, but just continuing to be able to identify … we sent a direct mail piece. We did a landing page. We did a digital ad and Paul or Ben respond, where did they actually come from and how did they, you know … did something influence them, because it may not be that the gift came through on direct mail. This may have come through on the landing page, but the direct mail piece sort of brought us to … brought more attention to the digital ad, if you will, because the timing was done. 00:16:26 Paul Bobnak Right. Yeah, I think that's like an eternal question that a lot of fundraisers and and certainly marketers are dealing with is where you know, where does that dollar raised or that dollar spent get attributed to. 00:16:40 Ben Harris For sure. 00:16:42 Paul Bobnak Yeah, I can see that being a big dilemma for a while. Well, in your career, what would you say is your most memorable moment or accomplishments so far? 00:16:57 Ben Harris That's a great question. I would say, you know, probably from a maybe twofold or a two-part answer. I worked on, as a production manager, some of the new museums, new at the time. For example the National Museum of American Indian being a part of that program from the early days of raising funds and sort of the capital campaign phase of that all the way through breaking ground and the museum being open to, you know, the first year of, you know, new membership and all of that. So to see some, you know, and that typically takes a good ten years from start to finish and we've serviced and been a part of some of the groundbreaking museums and we'll hopefully be doing some more of those in the future. But I would say those type of really long but important initiatives would probably be something that I would say I have been proud to be a part of and do a lot of the direct mail for those. And then I'd say, you know, personally I think you know, taking over for the founder of Production Solutions and not really having a, you know, sort of any experience in being a president of a company and having to sort of figure some of that out and do it in a way that would maintain the legacy of what made PS great, but also try to bring some new things to help it, you know, continue to stay alive and and go well into the future is the second one that I would say is so far I’m most proud of. 00:18:40 Paul Bobnak Awesome. And I think I've certainly seen like all that the course of the fundraising for that museum and it's been very, very impressive and certainly worked. I mean, you know, several of them were controls for a while. 00:18:58 Ben Harris For sure, yeah. 00:18:59 Paul Bobnak Really worked. So what trends do you see for direct mail marketing like in the next year or so? And do you see a bigger role - you touched on this briefly - for AI in both production and creative? 00:19:16 Ben Harris Yeah, I actually had a little fun with this question since I had a chance to to preview these with you a little bit in advance. So I used AI to ask the question and it says here you know I said “What role will AI play in the trends that … of the next 12 to 18 months?” so, and you know many of these are similar, but I'll read them to you and then you tell me what you think. 00:19:42 Ben Harris So, enhanced personalization, optimize targeting, predictive analytics, campaign automation, creative design assistance … 00:19:43 Paul Bobnak Oh yeah. 00:19:50 Ben Harris Real time tracking and optimization, response rate improvement, integration with digital channels, customer journey mapping, voice technology integration, enhanced data security and feedback, and continuous learning. Though I think all of that …sort of the way I would summarize that and you know the answer made sense to me basically is that if we can make direct mail function almost like a digital channel. So, our CEO of Moore, Gretchen Littlefield, talks a lot about mail is now digital, leveraging data and all the data assets that you can that are individualized and using digital printing and some of the advancements there to make the direct mail piece so much more 1-to-1 or personalized, without, you know, increasing costs like it would have been 10 years ago. So leveraging data - as you leverage data, having really good data security and data governance from that perspective and then you know, trying to tie in all of the creative assets and all the omnichannel integration at a speed that is very … it's almost hard to grasp. If you can do that, I think those are some of the things that will, you know, hopefully be… allow mailers to mail less because that's happening with increased costs and so on. But make the mail pieces so much more valuable than they are today. Keeping that channel of influence in mind and seeing if it can be continued to influence the other channels even more effectively than it does right now. 00:21:35 Paul Bobnak Yeah. I think that's pretty accurate. I think that personalization, segmentation are two, like really easy ones right off the bat. 00:21:47 Ben Harris Yep. 00:21:48 Paul Bobnak What is … what would you say is the best value proposition for direct mail? You know, you've talked about, you know, it being a channel of influence… and why it works today. Well, I think it's still, you know from all the research and the data that I've seen and been a part of over the years … there's something about direct mail that I think is unique in terms of the tactile, sensory and sort of the novelty of going to sort of the mailbox every day and not knowing what you're going to get that triggers some of the psychological sort of factors inside human beings that there's just something kind of new and nuanced about it every day that kind of brings you, you know, some a little bit of a thrill and excitement. It's something that is… there's less noise there I think in mailboxes today than there is in digital channels with you know, how many apps and and different emails and newsletters and all social media that I think it's, you know that's becoming sort of dizzying for a lot of recipients, whereas direct mail you can, you know, take it if you want to make the time to look at it. It may not mean that's how you donate, but it again, that sort of connective tissue or that influence to the other channels of how you might give online or so on, it's measurable. I think you can, you know, talk about attribution; like if you send something out and someone responds to a direct mail piece, you can really, you know measure it. And it's it's something that I think you can for the most part - this has started to change a little bit planned for in terms of what it's going to cost 6 months from now or 12 months from now, even three years from now, that's been a little bit turned inside out with the pandemic and what's going on with the post office. But it's, it's more of this reliable sort of in some ways a long standing kind of workhorse that has really sort of driven fundraising for so long that I think it's just … it's still an important part of the overall sort of product mix, if you will, or program mix that I said and we talked about some of the things that are challenging that, but hopefully emerging technology and some advancements in the manufacturing spaces will allow for direct mail to not have to go by the wayside, primarily just because of cost. And that's been its biggest challenge right now since the pandemic is the cost factor not so much the effectiveness of it not working factor, from that standpoint. 00:24:48 Paul Bobnak Right. Yeah. And I think that's something a lot of people acknowledge especially in the nonprofit world are those those very values that, you know, it has that credibility, the long term credibility of organizations, people who donate money or join an organization, they tend to do that for a long period of time, especially if you follow all the rules you're supposed to about stewardship and making people feel wanted and and special for being a member, being a donor and you don't necessarily get that with digital, and I think I've seen certainly examples in my life for organizations I've donated to online and then not getting, you know, much in the way of follow up beyond that. 00:25:37 Ben Harris Yeah, I think with digital it's also very effective. I think the challenge with digital is there's so many digital channels that … 00:25:48 Paul Bobnak Yeah. 00:25:51 Ben Harris You know, I just think just as a consumer myself and a donor, it's hard to even keep up with all the digital channels that I have set up and whereas direct mail, if even if I go to the mailbox every couple days, there's a sort of a slowness and more of a, you know, kind of undivided attention, if you will, of of looking at the piece. You know you can quickly tell if something's, you know, for new windows or window washing or, you know, go to the car wash and get, you know, a free car wash …those sort of stick out. But it still gives you …You still have to engage with it as opposed to opening your inbox and you know, for Gmail. And you're like there's like 75 emails in there. It's like, where do you even start, right? A lot of times I don't. I just close the email down. I go “I'll get to it tomorrow.” 00:26:37 Paul Bobnak Well, one quick last question for you. What was the last mail piece or maybe a good recent one that you responded to and what was it that made you do that? 00:26:55 Ben Harris Well, I might be biased with this answer, but we have a client that does a holiday gift catalog and where you can buy goats and honey bees and donate to a village and those types of things. And they've just been doing that for, you know, it's at least 30 years and I just have, it's always sort of … I just think it's really an amazing piece and it's so unique and it reminds me a lot of, you know, just memories of getting the gift catalog when I was a kid and flipping through that around the holidays and looking at the toys or things that … So it's just a … there's just a lot of nostalgia around it and again it's very unique and that's probably one of, you know, my most favorite pieces that you know I still receive and have donated and now brought our kids in and they look for it and so on. 00:27:59 Paul Bobnak Yeah. And through it all, it still works. 00:28:04 Ben Harris It does! Yeah.They've had to make some adjustments …with size and rising postage costs and all that, but they continue to stay committed to it because it does bring people back and people, you know, their donors do look for it every year, that time of year, because it's especially, it's become such a brand. You know such an affinity to the brand and their mission that it's hard to to move away from it. 00:28:32 Paul Bobnak Well, again, thank you so much for being here. How can people connect with you and Production Solutions to talk about their program needs? 00:28:45 Ben Harris People can find me on LinkedIn or my email is [email protected] and then our website productionsolutions.com and there's some other links on there that you can connect with our marketing team, our business development team, and you know, start up a conversation. 00:29:07 Paul Bobnak OK, great! Well, again, thank you so much, Ben Harris of Production Solutions for joining me and Who's Mailing What's Meet the Mailers today. And thank you all out there for joining us. Remember that your questions and feedback are welcome. Tap those Like and Subscribe buttons to connect with us. And if you want to be highlighted in a future edition of Meet the Mailers, please reach out - my contact info can be found in the paragraph below by tapping Show More. Thanks again for watching Meet the Mailers today and see you here next time.

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