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Brian Child: You cannot teach an old dog new tricks - but at least they have some!

Former McCann Erickson CEO Brian Child discusses evolution within the marketing and communications arena.

The thing about old dogs is that they know some great tricks. Sit, heel, fetch, lie down, bring my newspaper, fetch my slippers. They know them all, are desperate to please and we love them for it.

Now, I am an old dog and I know a few tricks. You won’t find them on Facebook and no one is going to link me in. When I retired as CEO of McCanns I was still dictating emails to my PA.

Strangely though, there are still a few people willing to toss me a bone and I will perform some golden oldies from my repertoire. So here’s one from memory lane, Door to Door works like stink for retailers. Yes, if you are in an agency or a client, be a hero and put your brand through the door.

What reminded me of this truism is when a printer, G&H, showed me the results from some of their recent campaigns for major retail chains; they were exceptional. Door to Door is no longer a blunderbuss, it’s a laser sighted rifle in their hands. At McCanns we were one of the biggest buyers of this medium, we spent more than any agency .The truth is, as long as there are letterboxes this is a great way of putting your brand into consumers’ hands.

What got my tail wagging was the fact that here was a printer offering a very sophisticated service that normally was the preserve of media agencies and leaflet distribution specialists. So I started to sniff around and found an even better trick: “evolution”.

There is a saying “nothing changes that remains the same”. It means that if you want a change you have to make a change. This is as true for a cutting edge new media company as it is for a traditional printer. To grow you need to change, remember the art of defence is the art of losing slowly. These are tough times and printers are in the front line and causalities are heavy.

G&H has a fascinating history and has mastered the art of evolution many times over in its 40 year history. Tony Gask and Earl Hawley, two talented typographers, came to Manchester and started Gask & Hawley typesetters. They created a thriving business and built a great reputation. They were a household name for every agency outside London. Then the Mac revolution and the lights started to go out for typesetting houses.

So now for the first evolution, this time into repro. A heavy investment in leading edge technology and manic sales activity soon saw them reestablished as the best repro house in town. Then the creeping power of the Mac took away the need for film. Repro was dead, time for “evolution three, the big one”. They decided to become printers.

The cost of entry into the print business is measured in £millions. G&H brought two web presses and these enormous machines need constant feeding, this was not for the faint hearted! Once again they triumphed and enjoyed even better times until? Well you guessed it the deadly duo “recession and digital”. Digital means different things to different people. To ad men it means email and social marketing campaigns, to printers it means direct to press, personalisation, new investment.

Printers who have been around generations have gone to the wall, contracts lost, budgets slashed, switching to digital. It is mayhem out there; dog eat dog and last man standing.

G&H were not spared, so it was retrench and plan the next evolution. The new strategy: “more than a printer”. To become valuable partner with clients and not only a printer. Print is an industry that knows its place, it is traditional, men in overalls the sound of big machines the smell of ink and oil. Plus being at the end of the supply chain it is accustomed to being beaten up on price and deadlines.

So to achieve the new vision a greater understanding of marketing strategy, media, creative, strategic planning, integration etc was needed. In summary a culture shifts from supplier to adviser.

So finally, back to door to door, or local marketing, this is just one element in how G&h are changing again. Normally this medium is booked through a media shop who sub contract to a specialist distribution company who in turn organise the distribution through local companies, newspapers or the Royal Mail. So as in any supply chain, if you can shorten the links you can improve efficiency and save time, money and provide a better product.G&H allow you to bundle print and distribution into one package which is end to end from strategy, creative, planning, media buying etc.It makes sense and clients benefit not only in cost but in avoiding the hassle which is something they value extremely highly.

So, G&H today continues to evolve by diversification but perhaps the time is near for another big change or as Earl puts it “stick or twist”.

Whatever this old dogs might not be able to perform new tricks but I love telling people about them and love watching people performing new tricks or reinventing the old ones.