If a designer was to go back to school and speak of the latest printer technology with the same enthusiasm they do nowadays, there’s little doubt the school bully would be rubbing his hands together with menacing glee and wondering how much pocket money designers get. Fortunately, the marketing playground is a far more open-minded place and designers can reel off superlatives about the finish on a job without fear of either physical violence or name-calling.
“Swings and roundabouts,” explains Bill Green, director of Manchester-based Funnel Creative, clearly identifying with our playground metaphor. He is, as it happens, referring to the current standard of print in the UK “The printers we work with all do a great job and can provide a great variety of techniques on requested stocks. However, we have had relationships in the past where the quality of print is sound but quality of delivery slips, usually by way of deadlines not being met.”
Speak to any designer and ask them what they need from their printer and they’ll inevitably echo the ingredients mentioned by Green; the technology and quality a print company achieves are vital, but so too is the delivery and level of service they offer. Print companies are increasingly being put under pressure to meet agency demands. Not only are there more print companies being formed and fighting for the same pieces of business, but there’s also the threat from print companies based overseas.
One such threat to UK printers is Adam Group, a German-based company that has recently hired its first English-speaking employee, Alex Wick, to take on the role of sales manager for UK and Ireland. “When people think print in the UK, everybody in the industry knows the big names. Most likely the Adam Group won’t yet come to a British print buyer’s mind,” he says. “However, the process of re-thinking print expenditures for top-of-the-line print quality will slowly but surely have decision makers looking beyond national borders.”
The Adam Group has recently invested some â‚¬50 million to build a second production facility in northern Germany, which Wick believes will help attract UK business. “Adam North is the answer to our international customersÂ´ requirements,” says Wick. “Cost leadership in an increasingly individual world of communication. We offer our services in a quick, flexible and cost efficient manner, throughout Europe.”
The decision to go abroad appears to be something of a judgement call, or maybe a personal preference, on the part of the designer. The likes of China, Italy and Germany have all done business with agencies in the UK, while a large number of agencies remain confident that the service and quality they’re given in the UK is more than sufficient for all of their needs.
The quality of the relationship is an important factor for Tom Shaughnessy, design director at Manchester-based Glorious Creative. When asked whether he thinks there are enough printers in the UK with the right offering and abilities, he simply says: “How many do you need?”. In his opinion, and presumably one of the reasons why Glorious has yet to take the bait dangled by overseas printers, the agency/printer relationship boils down to a one-on-one situation that can be key to producing the right results. “If you find the right person it\'s a marriage made in heaven.
“The print is as important as the design to a designer that cares about it, but the overall standard is down to the individual companies. If you find a printer that cares equally about producing something which will stand out and win awards it is worthwhile. Taking the time to spec the right paper and think about techniques is critical. If you\'re prepared to push your printer and think about it, and the printer takes the time out to get involved in the job and come up with ideas it can work a treat. It shouldn\'t be under-rated. As one of our favourite printers always says, ‘it\'s not just about ink on paper\'.”
David Wood, creative director at Sheffield-based design agency Iris, reminds us that relationships are also partnerships, which require a lot of hard work and commitment. He argues: “On the issue of standards and quality I think the key to getting great work from your printer is to work closely with them and from an earlier stage in the process, rather than the point you are handing over artwork. Printers with their knowledge can foresee problems that can ultimately lead to a better job. You need to spend the time getting to know each other in the designer/printer relationship; we have worked with our main print supplier for the past 12 years. They understand us, what we are trying to achieve and the standards we expect. And we\'ve had a great time working together along the way.”
Jon Bailey, managing director for Sheffield-based print specialist ProCo, has noticed this trend. “We’re being involved a lot earlier in the process now,” he explains. “We’re seeing a lot more creative briefs, rather than simply being approached once the concept has been finalised. Increasingly this year we’ve been sitting down with the agency, with the brief and a few of their initial ideas, and they’re looking for our input.”
For Bailey, this is all part of the service UK-based printers need to provide in order to keep their clients. “UK printers have really taken the lead with added value and service to stem the tide of people going abroad for their print.”
Another print company that is using the level of service to attract and keep clients is Newcastle-based Simpson Group. Mark Simpson, the firm’s managing director, says: “Although we are increasingly hearing about the possibility of print work being carried out in the Far East, at present the point of purchase market, especially for promotional work, is more insulated against competition from China than other areas of the print industry due to the tight delivery deadlines.
“With increasing pressure on the retail sector, deadlines given to us by our high-street clients are inevitably as tight as ever. We, however, have to be prepared to bend over backwards to satisfy our customers’ requirements and work to such exceptionally tight deadlines.\"
According to Pete Brown, production director for Uttoxeter-based direct marketing agency Yes Direct, one of the biggest incentives for using UK-based print suppliers is the difference in the quality they deliver.
“My experience of printing abroad is that the common view taken is: ‘it\'ll do’,” he says. “Yes, it can\'t be denied that you can buy large volume print more cost-effectively overseas. But do we really want the worry, lack of quality or the more limited choice of stock, especially if you\'ve spent three days on a photoshoot along with hours of retouching the images.
“If a job leaves the studio right, there should be no excuses why it shouldn\'t be delivered right first time. Also, the printers we use really do give above and beyond what\'s expected of them. If on the odd occasion something does leave the studio incorrect, it\'s usually spotted and sorted out almost immediately.”
Wood has enjoyed similar success using print suppliers in the UK. “My own view is that there are plenty of good printers out there if you take the time to look for them,” he explains, “however, that sometimes means going outside of the comfort zone of working with a printer who\'s on your doorstep.”
Whether its an overseas printer or one based in the UK, designers will always head towards the place where they get the best results. Overseas printers may see an opportunity to get business from UK agencies, offering cheaper costs and a speedy return, but providing UK printers maintain a high standard, designers who care passionately about the work they produce will keep coming back.