Snap vote is a party for political print

By Barney Cox, Monday 05 June 2017

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No matter where your political loyalties lie, the General Election is a big deal for the print industry. While the potential business impact of the parties’ policies is outlined in our feature on page 22, here we focus on how the election has impacted print, and how some companies have turned it into an opportunity.

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There’s no doubt that Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to break with the fixed-term cycle by calling a snap election has had an effect leading to a spike in demand for print and paper.

“We have seen some increase in demand for certain grades that can be directly attributed to the election,” says Premier Paper Group marketing director David Jones. “Coated papers, uncoated board and some tinted papers in particular have been ordered specifically for election-related jobs.

“Demand is in line with other elections but because of the short notice the demand has been condensed into five to six weeks instead of two to three months.”

While the element of surprise and the shorter cycle time have put pressure on the paper merchants there haven’t been any signs that any election work hasn’t been printed as a result. In terms of the type and volume of print being produced the picture is more mixed. For some firms the need for speed has been a boon as constituency agents scramble to get their messages out. 

“Most of the jobs are time sensitive because all election materials need to be booked in with the Royal Mail for distribution,” says Solopress digital marketing manager Julia Murray. “With our super-fast turnaround we definitely have an advantage over other printing companies.”

The firm’s orders for flyers and leaflets (its most popular election print items) have increased by 147% this year compared with 2015. 

“This could be also due to the SEO and advertising activities but certainly this year’s ‘snap’ election has contributed to this figure,” adds Murray. 

On the other hand, there is a suggestion that more sophisticated data-driven personalised campaigns haven’t been as popular due to the lack of time to prepare.

“Trying to plan a print campaign at the start of a snap election is too late,” says John Howard, the founder of communications agency Public Impact. 

Public Impact also runs www.labourprint.co.uk, a design and print portal that offers an alternative to the Labour Central Office marketing machine or using the nearest or cheapest printer. It is one of a number of specialist political print outfits that offer a tailored service to particular parties. These sites claim to offer a number of advantages, including understanding the electoral process and help to stick to party design guidelines along with a faster and more flexible service than central office systems.

They are also sensitive to the need to source in the UK, which is important to avoid red faces regardless of rosette colour. In the 2015 there were several instances of newspapers pillorying parties over their use of overseas printers. While unfortunate for anyone campaigning on a local ticket they proved particularly embarrassing for UKIP given its raison d’etre.

Other party-specific examples include www.conservativeprint.co.uk, www.libdemimage.co.uk, www.printblue.co.uk and ukiplocalprint.co.uk.

Some sites were set up by those with a political affiliation who want to help the cause by sharing their expertise, including labourprint.co.uk, Lib Dem Image and printblue.co.uk. The others are more reticent to reveal their true colours.

Lib Dem Image founders Craig and Leola Card are party activists in Hampshire, who are also screen printers. The venture started when the local party was struggling to source signs and they stepped up to the plate, or, in this case, the stencil. They now offer a wide range of Lib Dem branded merchandise but according to Leola Card, “It’s run to cover costs rather than make a fortune,” and they keep it separate from the business.

Printblue.co.uk, on the other hand, is a division of Vale Press and mixes its commercial interests with politics. The Willersey, Worcestershire firm has been printing for the Conservatives since the 1987 election, when it produced work for the Stratford-upon-Avon constituency, just one year after chairman Lynden Stowe started the business. Stowe is an active member of the party, including being a councillor for the past 14 years. Political printing initially grew by word of mouth and its customers included former Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Witney constituency used the firm in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015. In 2010 it set up printblue.co.uk. Political print now makes up 10% of turnover covering what Stowe terms “peacetime campaign elements” such as Christmas cards, letterheads, newsletters and surveys in addition to election materials. 

Stowe hasn’t found being partisan a problem but would have no ideological issue with printing for any party, the issues are commercial rather than ideological: “During an election campaign we are at capacity, so I’d be reluctant to risk upsetting existing clients by chasing new work.”

For other printers the election is a business opportunity, the colour of the artwork is of no issue, just the colour of the client’s money.

Kent-based large-format specialist Wallace Print has brought in over £30,000 on the back of this election thanks to its new website, which has enabled the firm to tailor content so it sits at the top of search results. 

“We put up case studies for election sign boards for all the parties within two days of the announcement of the election and jumped to the top of Google,” says sales manager Chris Payne. “Once we’d got some business online, orders also started coming in via word of mouth from constituency to constituency across the South Coast.”

Solopress has also reported strong digital and social activity around the election.

“Our election themed online newsletter is among the top-five converting emails of the month,” says Murray. “The same goes for our social media promotional content on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”

But Vale Press’ Stowe notes that the election is not all a bed of roses for print. While there is a boost from campaign printing there is also a downturn in some other types of work as election uncertainty delays marketing campaigns. 

Given the trend of shock election results, with Brexit and Trump last year, calling the result now would be foolhardy. But regardless of whether he will be celebrating or commiserating at the result on 9 June, Stowe says: “I will be toasting Theresa May with a Cotswolds Dry Gin for the unexpected boost to business.”  

Whatever your political affiliation, it would be churlish for anyone in the industry not to join in a little print party to celebrate that. 

Cheers! 

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