Focus on print
Ask any designer about the important cogs that need to work in order to make their job run far more smoothly and paper and print will come pretty high on the list. And seeing as Adline paid homage to the paper industry last month, it seemed only fitting to take a closer look at the important role print plays in the industry. Speaking to some of the industry’s key players in the print and design community, Adline is delving deeper into an industry that many have suggested has become over commoditised in recent years.
One of the major concerns print faces is an influx of cheaper foreign options, which has meant that British printers have needed to roll up their sleeves and tighten their belts. Responding to questions of whether she thinks print has become over commoditised, Sharon Tovey of Stephens and George in Merthyr Tydfil gives us the rather succinct answer of “Yes”, while Carl Prosser of Matrix Graphics in Birmingham states: “In some sectors print has become a commodity. This trend has been driven by the current market forces with adverse effects on the quality of both service and product.”
He adds: “This is not a criticism of printers, as it should be recognised that any business needs to retain an acceptable level of profit to service a client in an acceptable way. If the printer’s margins are cut then this will have an effect on the service/quality. Matrix has helped address the quality issue with our clients by implementing a level of quality control at the pre-press stage that leaves the printer to concentrate on the task of printing and not repro.”
So just what is it that clients are looking for from their printers? If our experts are correct and the industry is over commoditised, each printer will need to have something to ensure it continues to attract clients. Is service more important than quality? Tovey states: “Quality is expected, value is demanded, service is the difference. We continually review our customer-first philosophy to ensure that all our customers get consistently high levels of service.”
Prosser explains: “It’s a fine balance and both are linked directly with cost. In my opinion all three are critical and revolve around each other. Remove the balance and your service, then reputation, will suffer.”
However Graham Congreve of the Leeds-based firm, The Production Company, believes if print firms are going to compete in the current market place then it may be time for a change in their approach. “Our industry has to change the way we think of ourselves as ‘printers’ and offer a more integrated marketing approach. We need to develop our strategic thinking and product mix in order to do this.
“No longer are we able to secure more work from existing customers, or indeed develop new markets (which by definition we must do in order to grow, re-invest and prosper) by offering ‘quality’. There is now a benchmark standard for quality – if we don’t reach this as a minimum then we fail. Instead, we have to think outside the realms of the traditional ‘print’ provider and offer integrated communications, producing bottom line tangible results for print producers and marketeers. However, in no way does this detract from producing work that wins awards and is measured in terms of outstanding manufacturing excellence.”
Much like paper, designers can get particularly passionate about print. Tovey explains the importance of print – and the choice of a print firm – for designers. “Print is vital to the design community, especially when you consider the vast amount of direct mail, company brochures, promotional literature and so on that is produced each year.
“Having talked to the majority of our customers who are purely designers, it would appear that customer service is paramount when choosing a printer. This is followed by the type of plant a printer has available – they need to know that the right machinery is in place for the right job and then the quality of work produced. Cost seems to come bottom of the list but is dependent on the budget of their customer.”
Much like the views echoed in last month’s paper focus, relationships with suppliers and clients are imperative for the success of print firms. While handholding is optional, getting on like the proverbial house on fire is absolutely essential. Advocating this mutually appreciated burning love, Congreve remarks: “Partnerships are vital and allow for continued development. The higher up the ladder the partnership is then the greater the chance of true synergy, steering away from the commodity culture. Print as a commodity is here to stay; the traditional print buyer is long gone. We as print service providers must offer a marketing solution to shareholders and marketeers to really make a difference in a digital future.”
Similarly, Tovey says: “Strong customer service skills are used to build our relationships. We listen to what our customers want and are fortunate to have a plant list that can accommodate most designers’ needs.”
She added: “With regard to the paper merchants and mills, it is essential that we have strong working relationships. We meet with them regularly, normally once a week at branch level then every three months at director level. We have recently been visited by staff from our mill in Germany. We’ve been dealing with this mill since 1991 and subsequently we will make a return trip – approximately once a year. S&G was established some 92 years ago so our relationship with them has been built up over time.”
In a survival-of-the-fittest industry, maintaining a high level of quality is only half the battle, so maintaining relationships can go a long way. Tovey predicts a positive future for UK printers. “We feel that the industry will go from strength to strength. Many printers, including ourselves, are investing vast amounts of money in new kit to stay at the forefront of print technology. Also, industry sources indicate that the circulation of magazines and direct marketing literature is on the increase. The scare that ‘e-books’ and ‘e-magazines’ would put a huge dent in the print industry never really materialised.”
If clients continue to believe and invest in marketing and agencies can see the value in the talent, technology and service that print firms in the UK have to offer, then the print community can continue to enjoy the fruits that the industry bears.