‘Everyone wants a solution – bigger, faster or better’

Darryl Danielli
Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last week was the main judging day for the PrintWeek Awards was held, so we took the opportunity to grill more than 20 leading buyers on subjects ranging from what challenges they face, what drives innovation, and what blocks it, and the perfect manifesto for print.


Kristi Lane Senior print buyer, Marks & Spencer

Andrew Laws Print and production manager, The White Company

Sarah Turner Managing director, Carter Wong Design

Weldon Molony Buyer, Toyota (GB)

What are the some of the key challenges that you face as buyers of print?

WM I suppose I’m on the cusp of looking at whether I need to introduce new suppliers. There’s always the danger of things potentially getting a little staid, so it’s always good to look outside the box. 

AL Our major issue is that we have to design for Royal Mail, rather than design what we want to design. The cost is so high for mailing that it costs more to mail the book than produce it. The other challenge is the number of UK producers.

You mean its getting increasingly limited?

AL It’s getting more limited in my markets, especially following the demise of Artisan.

KL It’s the same for me, most of our work is web so the shrinking market is a concern, because I don’t really want to go outside of the UK. So that’s a worry for us having lost one supplier, two if you count paper.

ST It’s always a challenge trying to find someone a little bit different too, people that are challenging the way things have been done in the past. Perhaps not enough people are interested in pushing the boundaries and doing something different that might be a little bit more difficult.

Do people come to you with innovation though, or do you have to ask for it?

ST There are print partners that we work with that will come to us with things because they want our work, but a lot of the time we have to find people ourselves who are doing something a bit different. I don’t think there’s as much experience out there anymore, which can make it hard for people to innovate.

Kristi mentioned losing a paper supplier – has the shake-up in the paper sector, with the loss of the likes of Paperlinx and Tullis Russell, had an impact?

WM To be honest I’ve been surprised by how little people have been affected by it. Printers and paper suppliers have adapted very quickly.

AL Although [paper] lead times in the web market have gone out from six weeks to eight weeks, and by the nature of our business, we’re very reactive, and having to buy paper earlier in the process goes against that.

You’ve all talked about innovation too, but is that being stifled on the internal/external client side because of tighter budgets?

All Everyone wants to do more with less.

AL Creativity does sometimes have to take a back seat. We all want to do some very creative things, but when we look at cost it’s just not always  possible.

ST But even if we can’t make something work for one project, it can be a springboard for generating other ideas.

But if the printer could get engaged with the marketing or creative team before the budget is set, would that help?

WM Actually, it’s been noticeable in the awards submissions where the printers have said that they got involved at an early stage of the process, you can see it in some of the added value.

What do you want from your suppliers?

All To be financially sound.

ST A lot of it is about client services; if you get looked after properly, you feel well managed, and you know the supplier will go the extra mile for you whenever they can, then you can excuse a lot.

AL Flexibility, we know that we can’t always hit deadlines so things have to move around.

ST Well, we all know that we take longer than we should and it’s always the poor printer that has to make up the time.


Chris Bull Print manager, BSkyB

David Hunt Creative services manager, MRM Meteorite

Trevor Janes Marketing procurement manager, Tesco

Jeff Richards Print services manager, Npower

What are your main challenges at the moment?

CB Speed to market. We operate in a very competitive environment and we need to be quick off the mark.

DH Similar – it’s usually time and budget constraints.

TJ Print is now one of many channels, and marketing departments now expect print to be as quick as other, online, channels. What was the exception is now the norm. What will be the new exception? There’s no wiggle room anywhere.

JR It’s ‘show me the money’ in terms of keeping print at the forefront of the marketing mix, because the drive is to digital [marketing] because it’s cheaper.

Are you seeing any signs of a fresh appreciation for print in your businesses?

JR I think there will be. We started from ground zero three years ago; we’ve ripped up the marketing department and started again. Now, there’s a realisation that marketing is more effective when you’re using the whole mix. My own take is that printers are very good at promoting print and showcasing it. But print companies really need to get to grips with marketing analytics.

TJ Good printers are doing that, they see print as a channel.

CB Mark [Cruise, head of print management at BSkyB] has said it all really in his recent interview with PrintWeek.

DH Everyone is always talking about whatever is the sexy new digital thing. But if I come into the office with a nice piece of print they all gather around it. They still appreciate the tactile nature of print.

JR It’s all about conversions and ways to reduce the cost per contract. But the situation has almost come full circle. There’s a realisation that not everyone wants to receive digital communications, and there’s more opportunity to have a statement, bill or a marketing message that’s relevant to individuals. Then they can pore over it, unlike something like an email. But postage prices are the biggest way of killing that. The more it goes up, the less attractive it’s going  to be.

TJ Yes, 70%-80% of any mailing budget is the postage.

JR As much as we get excited about print, it’s going to come down to that – cost.

What, if any, major changes have you seen this year?

TJ I’m impressed with how the industry has managed to absorb something like the Paperlinx failure.

JR Yes, I thought the lack of credit available for printers after that would have a big impact and things would be chaotic. Print on the whole is a fantastic industry. I never cease to be amazed at how accommodating printers are. They will bend over backwards to provide a solution and get the job done.

DH More of the same: everything needed faster.


Daniel Pegram-Mills Print buyer, United Biscuits

Nancy Rothery Senior procurement consultant, marketing services, supply chain and operations

Peter Stead Director, Formgraphics

What are your biggest challenges at the moment?

DPM I’ll just say that it’s a challenging market environment overall. But also timescales: if the customer’s customer turns around and says ‘we need something’, you’ve got to live with it and make it happen.

PS I think customer service levels have dropped, I really do. Even if it’s just people getting back to you.

NR Prices. A lot of third parties are doing procurement and it’s made it hard to get quality service from some suppliers because prices have been pushed down so much. If you’re not dealing with a trained print buyer, then you need direct access to marketing. Also my preference is to print in the UK, but the strong pound and weak euro means a lot of print is going out of the country. You can find yourself being pushed when the price is more attractive, and sometimes time isn’t a factor.

PS Not forgetting that there’s been work, and materials, stuck on lorries because of the situation at Calais…

Are you seeing any signs of a fresh appreciation for print in your roles?

NR Where it’s used well, absolutely. I would definitely agree with that. It really is the optimum time to revisit what can be done in print, because it can be so creative. There are so many options and finishes.

PS We’ve seen a piece today with video embedded in it. That I really found exciting. Print is working in new ways, and in combination with other types of media.

DPM I’ve been looking into an augmented reality promotion for an upcoming project. It all depends on the demographics. Will the target buyer be the sort of person who will pull out an iPhone and zap a POS unit?

What, if any, major changes have you seen this year?

PS The demise of Paperlinx resulted in a 15%-20% increase in the price of some specialist materials used by some clients. That’s a big change.

DPM Paperlinx didn’t really affect us. The failure of City Link did, it was more of a problem when they went pop. Separately, I think the recycling agenda will come back.

PS China. Some brands are sourcing packaging there. Prices have gone up quite significantly.

NR Yes, the China effect. Some packaging has gone up in price due to shipping costs. And increases in labour costs there will be massive.

Magazines & catalogues panel

Stav Athanasiou Production manager, Telegraph Media Group

Angela Derbyshire Production director, Progressive Customer Publishing

Joanne Hurst European print production manager, Lands’ End Europe

Andrew Moss Director, AM:PM

Kelly O’Sullivan Print and procurement manager, Home Retail Group

What are your main challenges at the moment?

JH Keeping print alive and kicking, there’s a lot of marketing pressure for everything to be online. The pace of change keeps accelerating and with smaller teams, everyone has to do more.

KOS The business I’m in is in a period of transformation. The marketing team want quick and they want innovative – while keeping an eye on budget.

SA Constant innovation – everyone wants a unique solution that’s bigger, faster or better.

AM The perennial challenge is customers knowing less and less, although I suppose that’s good for my business! I don’t think there’s that depth of knowledge anymore. I get customers who want a 64pp catalogue turning in 66pp of content...

AD Reducing schedules and budgets. I think it’s the same everywhere, everyone wants a little bit more.

Are you seeing any signs of a fresh appreciation for print?

AM One of my longest-standing customers has decided not to do a catalogue, but that may be because they effectively have a captive audience. Having said that, another customer who stopped their catalogue has started it again.

SA Circulation is down, but paginations are up. Advertising is up.

AD Publications are more creative, with different paper and finishes. Maybe shorter runs allow for that.

JH And if you’re working in a market where colour fidelity is important, then print really comes into its own.

KOS For inspirational content ranges print works really well. Catalogues have a good part to play. We’ve gone from digital stores with no paper to putting paper back, because it works. The marketers have come around and realise what good value print is.

What, if any, major changes have you seen this year?

SA The market is tighter and it’s harder to find suppliers. Whereas at one time you could go to the market at the last minute, that’s not possible anymore.

KOS Consolidation combined with retailers needing to print more. It’s a perfect storm.

AD It’s been a challenge trying to communicate the reduction in the supply chain. People are so used to booking things at the last minute and changing paginations. None of the people in ad sales are old enough to remember the times when you had to book things in well in advance!

JH What’s happening with paper is a concern. Especially the availability of gravure paper.

AD Yes, I’ve been warned that supplies of some of the web offset grades we use are going to be under pressure because of that.

AM For me, postal changes are significant. I think there is movement at the Royal Mail. They are starting to turn themselves into a more competitive animal. It would be a big help if they did.

JH We were one of the first adopters of the Whistl end-to-end service, and were very sorry they knocked that on the head. There’s no two ways about it, Royal Mail needs competition.

AD It’s a big challenge budgeting for next year when there could be a month’s notice of postal price changes. No other commercial business could get away with that.


Francis Atterbury Partner, Hurtwood Press

Kay Heather Print production partner co-ordinator, Imperial War Museum

Andrew Beehag Production manager - education and children’s, DK

Jane Hyne Production manager, National Gallery

Diana Levy Print and production services manager, RHS Media

What are the key challenges facing you guys?

JH I suppose the limited number of British suppliers is one.

DL Consistency. Finding a really good supplier that delivers month after month and has a high level of attention to detail on printing and binding. There just doesn’t seem to be the care that there used to be, it’s just about banging the jobs through and getting the money. The problem is that the fewer suppliers we have, the bigger the problem becomes, because it’s just about survival for too many businesses.

FA I would say that even though I deal with some good suppliers in the UK, the problem is that there isn’t a wide choice. But my biggest worry is quality control.

JH We’ll pay more for the privilege of knowing that we’re working with a good supplier. In one of my previous lives it was always about the price, because that was how it had to be, but it’s now much more about the quality.

There are some great suppliers out there though, surely?

DL Of course, but when you see fantastic quality it really stands out – it’s just not the norm, which is a shame. The supplier we work with now gives us fantastic results, but that comes from them being so proud of what they do. In fact one of my biggest bugbears, and you see this mentioned a lot on the PrintWeek forums, is the charge that buyers are to blame for pushing down prices. I have never once asked a printer to lower their prices. We only ever accept the first price, we expect it to be competitive, of course, but we will never go back and ask them to lower it. But I still get calls every week from suppliers saying they can beat the prices we pay – which is just a race to the bottom.

JH I think we’re fortunate though, I think that’s about the different worlds we live in. Some buyers are having to buy on price.

And I guess there’s always someone who will be cheaper. But what about innovation, do you get suppliers coming to you with creative ideas?

AB I think generally it’s us going to the supplier with the ideas, although there are one or two who come to us. But, unlike some of the others, I come from a very commercial background and the bottom line is king, and while we know many of our suppliers can do some very exciting things, the budget won’t always stretch because the price we can charge is dictated by what we think our customers will pay.

Clearly the publishing sector has been impacted by e-books, but do you think that print is having a bit of a renaissance?

FA I do.

DL Well I certainly don’t think it’s dying. 2013 was our highest ever year in terms of print spend, 2014 was our second highest and 2015 looks like we will at least match 2014. Yes, we’re doing a lot of e-marketing, but we’re not seeing print decline. I know it’s a tough market though, and we’re still seeing printers go out of business and its making it difficult to find really great printers in terms of quality and customer service. But in terms of our volumes, they’re strong.

AB For me, I think we’re still a long way off from every child having an iPad so children’s books are still very popular.

Also, the experience of reading a story from a proper book with a child works, whereas it’s just not the same with an iPad. It just feels wrong somehow. What about you Kay, are seeing a fall off in print volumes?

KH Every year I wonder if the same projects will come around again, or if they will be migrated to email or online. But it’s only the lower value products that migrate, anything prestigious will always be printed.

FA Print has permanence. Beatrice Warde’s poster in the room next door tells you everything you need to know. It’s the perfect manifesto for print. 


© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .