Photography: Steven Puetzer, Photonica.Printing may not be the most glamorous stage of a design project, but nobody can refute its importance. It’s the last leg of the journey from concept to completion and, as such, wields as much power as any other stage in the process. The right, or wrong, printer can quite literally make or break a piece of work, whether it’s a brochure, annual report, leaflet or mailer.
For clients, having the right printer complete their design project is as critical as having the right consultancy design it. Equally critical is deciding whose job it will be to find and negotiate with that printer.
Traditionally, printers would deal either direct with the client company or with the client’s design consultancy, who will then charge the client for its services. The past several years, however, have seen the emergence of a new player: the print management consultancy.
To gauge the general opinion towards these companies The Drum spoke to a number of professionals working in and around the world of print.
At present, the competition between Scottish printers is especially vicious. Several years of printers constantly undercutting each other to win business has resulted in bankruptcy for several Scottish-based companies as well as an overall dip in profits throughout the industry. It’s a time when many client companies, and design consultancies, have been turning to print management consultancies to broker the best deals for them.
One Scottish-based print management MD said: “I think these days you’ll find that there is a huge print management market in Scotland. A huge amount of print is being bought through print management companies and this looks set to continue. I think you are still going to see clients who want their hands held by the designers, but there is a big swing towards print management at the moment.”
Print management companies hail themselves as the experts in negotiating the best print deals for their clients, whether it’s dealing with a client company direct or working on behalf of a design consultancy. Similarities are drawn between them and the flourishing sector of media independents, the companies who buy advertising space on behalf of clients and advertising agencies. DC print is a Glasgow-based print management company that has been in operation for nine years. Managing director, Darren Cant, states: “The outsourcing of print is a maturing market. Media independents were in the same position ten years ago – and they’ve gone from being simply a ‘good idea’ to the default option in the advertising industry.”
Although print management is seemingly becomingly increasingly popular, however, the majority of print is still bought by either the design consultancy or the client themselves.
Alistair Marr, managing director at Edinburgh-based printer Nimmos Colour Printers, says: “Obviously, design agencies have always bought print for their clients. There has been a wee trend of people using print management companies, but in my opinion this is a trend that’s less popular now than it was two to three years ago.”
The Royal Bank of Scotland is one of the client companies that buy their own print. A RBS spokesperson said: “Given the size of our business, it makes sense for us to do it ourselves. It’s more cost effective to do it that way, because of the sheer size of the group. We’ve got NatWest now as well as the Royal Bank and to have different companies all working on different projects at the same time just doesn’t make sense.”
Tennent Caledonian, the Glasgow-based brewer, used to work with a southern-based print management agency, until the company decided it was better off buying print itself.
Tennents’ PR manager, Rob Bruce, says: “We used to use an agency, but we found the service wasn’t up to scratch, so we have now gone back to sourcing print ourselves from companies in Scotland. We’ve found the service, in terms of speed of response, is much better and, as a Scottish company, we’d rather give our business to other Scottish companies.”
With the majority of print buying being done by design consultancies, designers are obviously not the biggest supporters of print management companies, despite some of them outsourcing work to them “on the sly”.
Joe Hall, managing director of Blue Peach, also warns clients off buying their own print. He says: “It’s a mix and match of clients really. But it is not a new idea. It has been like this for the past twenty years. If they are terribly budget-conscious then, yes, they will, but it is like walking into a minefield.
“Most clients who do buy direct from the printers normally have an in-house print buyer. Printing, you see, is not as simple as some might think. You have to think about the quality of the paper, what type of print you have to use, all sorts of variables really. And if the client doesn’t know what they are looking for then it can cause problems.”
Andy Gray, head of production at Tayburn, says: “When it comes to the realm of creative work we would much prefer to deal with printers direct instead of the client going straight to them. We have a relationship with printers and there needs to be time and quality control put into it.
“There are, however, more print management consultants coming into the equation and it looks like they are here to stay. We have a database of printers that we can go to, whether they are in the Far East or are the smallest printer in Edinburgh, meaning that we can, hopefully, get the best deal for the client.
“There are so many factors to think of when it comes to getting good print. It’s like buying a car – you need to shop around to find it.”
It would seem that, though they are growing in popularity, print management companies still have a way to go to prove themselves to both clients and consultancies alike. One print management head, who refused to be named, stated that he believes the future of the industry will see design consultancies embrace and credit the work that print management companies do.
In order for this to happen, or for any proper symmetry to be drawn between print management companies and media buying agencies, it would seem that the print management companies will first have to raise their levels of customer service. After all, in an industry packed full of experts, it is often this that sets design consultancies and media independents apart from their competitors.
Additional reporting by Katy Archer.