Quad Graphics buys a cool company

Success begets success. So I was not surprised when I learned this week that Quad Graphics has purchased a controlling share of OpenFirst. The company provides direct mail and digital printing solutions, but what has impressed me about them, ever since they formed ten years ago (under the name EPS) is their slavish devotion to database integrity.

I met the company’s president and CEO, Robert Kraft, shortly after they opened their doors, and what wowed me were stories about how they convert, merge and scrub the databases they use … as well as other ways that they use data, which I’ll get to in a moment. It should be common sense, but the programming and safeguarding that Robert described to me was something so thorough and ironclad that one might think he was talking about a nuclear power plant instead of a digital printing company. The reason for that is their chief technical officer, Chuck Olszewski. He’s an engineer who came to OpenFirst from the nuclear power industry. The guy is trained to prevent meltdowns … Exactly what a pricey and time-sensitive direct marketing program needs.

Okay, I know I’m gushing a bit, so I’d better give you an example of what impressed me back then, and still blows me away today. OpenFirst uses something called dataglyphs for at least one of their direct mail clients. It’s a way to embed a great deal of data, encrypted in a photograph or other screened graphic. This data is invisible to any observer other than a properly tuned scanner. To you or me, the photo looks perfectly normal.

What’s more, if you tear, stain or otherwise damage the image, you can still retrieve the data. Check out this dataglyph demo from PARC Research. You’ll be invited to use Photoshop, Paint or some other program to compromise the graphic that you create, and then see how accurately it pulls out and reports that graphic’s hidden contents. Incredible!

This application, which was originally created for the whole cloak-and-dagger-cold-war-passing-of-secret-information thing, is used by OpenFirst for a client who needs to get back from consumers information about them that is only available for use once the consumer has responded to a mailing. It’s a long story about how mailing list companies only consider their client owners of their data once the people on the list respond the direct mail message, but suffice it to say that this clever and private passing of data saves mailers a boatload of money.

And hey, it’s really cool.

Congratulations to OpenFirst. You’ve earned this opportunity to make yourselves and Quad Graphics shine even more brightly!

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