Interview: The need for closer print partnerships

Darryl Danielli
Monday, September 29, 2014

In our second series of interviews with a selection of judges from the PrintWeek Awards, we once again take the opportunity to quiz some leading buyers and experts on the internal and external challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.

Publications panel

Angela Derbyshire Production director, Progressive Customer Publishing

Joanne Hurst European print production manager, Lands’ End

Paula Skinner Production manager - visual communications, Dixons Retail

Darryl Danielli Do you all still get excited about print?

JH Absolutely. It’s always inspiring to see really good quality print.

PS I still find myself in Smith’s fiddling with the magazines...

JH ...sometimes garnering unwelcome attention from the staff.

AD I’m lucky enough to have a director who is as enthusiastic as me, so we mutually geek over samples.

Are there still budget constraints though?

All Yes.

So how do you balance that?

AD From my point of a view as a customer publisher, we try to show the best available at the top of the budget and compromise down from there in collaboration with the client. But we always like to show them the best of what’s possible.

PS I always try to keep my finger on the pulse of the paper merchants, even ones we don’t necessarily work with. I’ve got some great friends in the sector and I’m always looking for new and interesting grades that might enable me to do more with my budget...

JH ...because we are much more restricted now in terms of the paper types available.

PS Absolutely. Because of all the mill closures and because the big manufacturers look at the UK and decide what ‘slice of cake’ we get. We’re all vying for the same stocks, really. 

AD One thing we try to do is look at bound inserts on something beautiful at section breaks, so you can add a bit of luxury to lift the whole project.

PS We’re having to be a lot smarter with our design too, to make sure we get the most out of the print. We recently sent all our designers to workshops with different printers to ensure they’re in sync with what the printers can do.

AD I always try to get my designers to attend a press pass at least once, it helps them understand the constraints.

Do younger designers not always appreciate print?

AD I don’t know if that’s necessarily true; there’s a great crop of young designers who spent their teenage years collecting stationery, so a lot still get as excited about print as we do, and want to learn how to use it.

What are your biggest challenges?

JH Money. Well, budgets and pressure from the internet.

Internal and external pressure then?

JH Yes, the internal pressures revolve around budgets, but also some publishers and brands are themselves trying to force customers online, because it’s seen as being cheaper.

AD For me one of the biggest challenges is trying to second guess what’s going to happen with Royal Mail. I’m not sure Royal Mail even knows what it’s going to be doing in a few years – whether it’s zonal pricing, general increases or changes in services, particularly in regards to publishing mail. One thing’s for sure, it’s not going to get any cheaper. We can estimate what paper prices will do and budget for three years, but with Royal Mail it’s just not possible.

JH We use TNT now after migrating from Royal Mail when they went on strike a few years ago, but there’s the Ofcom investigation going on and we’re all waiting for a ruling on that.

PS My challenge is driving down costs. I know that printers don’t want to hear that, and I sympathise that we constantly demand more for our money.

JH And just as there are fewer papers around, there are fewer printers too. So the buying choice is restricted.

Are prices going up as a result?

PS Not really. You can always get it cheaper if you really want to, but then you start compromising on quality. And while price is important, quality is paramount.

So when you talk about driving down costs, you’re not just talking about buying it cheaper, but buying it more effectively?

PS Absolutely. By slimming your grammages, for example.

Is there anything your suppliers can do to help you that isn’t just about dropping prices then?

AD As we’ve seen today, there are instances where suppliers have worked really closely with suppliers to get the level of quality required on budget, some are clearly better at that than others. Working with us better and making suggestions is certainly the way I like to work.

JH But because there has been so much rationalisation, the level of customer service we want as buyers is under serious pressure.

PS That was one of the first things we noticed in the downturn: you could see companies halving their number of account managers and doubling up the workload of those that were left, and they’ve never recovered from that. 

Direct mail panel

Kian-Garin De Loach Creative director, Diabetes UK

Karen Griffin Print manager, BskyB

Lee Rhodes Print & marketing procurement manager, Swinton

Jeff Richards Print services manager - engagement marketing, Npower

What’s your biggest challenge?

KG I’m sure I’m not unique, but my challenge on a daily basis is where can I save costs. Nobody wants to cut back on marketing activity, they just want us to do more with less. People sometimes forget that printers are entitled to make a living too.

I suppose the problem is that once you make a saving, everyone wants it again and again?

KG Of course.

KDL It’s budgets for me too, of course, but also increasingly tight turnarounds, especially when it comes to working with partners.

JR For me it’s the massive drive towards digital.

You mean online communications?

JR Yes. I can see the logic – it’s driven by costs. I don’t think it’s an effective channel on it’s own, but it clearly is in a multi-channel environment. The problem is, though, that when printers sell cross-media, they use print as the starting point of the discussion rather than looking upstream and focusing on analytics. The sad thing is that those analytics more often than not prove that print is critical to a successful campaign, either as a driver or reinforcer – but they concentrate too much on just selling print.

They’re not all like that though; there are some pretty innovative printers out there that have fully embraced multi-channel marketing.

JR There may well be, but I don’t see much evidence of it day-to-day.

LR My challenges are more looking inwards really, breaking down some of the silos of database marketing teams so that we can use data better. Because it will have a bigger impact on ROI than beating two or three percent out of the supply chain.

Is pushing down pricing still a big issue then?

LR I think the days are generally gone when organisations can smash printers over the head and demand a lower price. I’m not saying that we’ll ever get to the bottom of the barrel, but we must be close to it and I can certainly see that the responsible suppliers are pushing back and saying that that they won’t do anything just for turnover any more.

JR The smart ones are doing that, but there’s still a massive overcapacity in the industry and too many printers are just chasing price because they panic, and certainly in some areas of the industry there’s a continual drive towards cost cutting, by certain print managers, because they need to create revenue stream for themselves.

Back to you guys, clearly data is incredibly important in what you do; does that represent a challenge too?

KG We’re quite fortunate in that we have an internal department that takes care of data for mailing among other things, but they’re under an awful lot of pressure.

JR It is the critical area, because even if everything else is in place, if the data isn’t ready then everything else falls over. Every organisation has the same problem.

LR I think a lot of organisations don’t adopt a cradle-to-grave approach; they don’t consider, for example, what impact a mailing going out two or three days late will have on their call centres. It’s back to the complete roll-through of campaign and delivery, the whole big data thing, organisations need to get better internally before they can benefit externally.

JR What we all need to develop is the technology to actually manage campaigns – end-to-end campaign management from conception to execution. I’m a process-driven person, and yes, you’ve got to have flexibility, but you need some guidance, logic and governance throughout the process.

LR I heard a really interesting comment made by Rupert Murdoch; someone asked him where he thought the developments would be in certain sectors and he said it’s not going to be the big beating the small anymore, it’s going to be the fast beating the slow. I think that’s true for so many sectors now. Certainly in our supply chain we’re starting to see that with some becoming a little more nimble, whereas the larger organisations are wrapped up in internal bureaucracy.

Books and stationery panel

Francis Atterbury Partner, Hurtwood Press

Kim Bourne Print buyer, Halfords

Mandie Lovelock,Head of print buying, Generate UK

Graham Prichard Print and production manager, National Trust

What are your biggest challenges?

KB For me it’s lack of innovation really.

GP I don’t see enough printers coming to me and showing us all the great stuff that I might not know about. Funnily enough, I stumbled across something today that one of our printers does, and had they told us about it, we might be bit further down the road with them.

FA You mean they just passively react to what you ask, rather than being proactive?

KB They’re not challenging us enough either, generally. As a buyer, you can tell a supplier what you want, but there’s nothing to stop them from coming back and saying, ‘well actually have you thought about doing this or that?’

GP I think, to be fair though, that we’re all so busy that it’s easy to block out what we don’t need to worry about immediately. We need to make time to listen and understand what’s out there. I’m under pressure to innovate, but that’s difficult when I’m under time pressure and my suppliers aren’t necessarily coming to me with suggestions.

ML Too often people just look at what your brand does now and come to you more or less saying I can help you do what you’re doing now and be even cheaper. They’re not coming to us and saying ‘look at this great new thing you could be doing’. 

But do you think that’s because, after years of being driven down on price, print sales people are almost victims of Stockholm Syndrome and that causes them to focus purely on price?

KB If I share my budget with a supplier and show them what I want, then I’m lucky in that my printers will often come and show what I can have for my budget, but also what might be possible if I stretched it a little. And sometimes, if I like what they are suggesting, I will do everything I can to find the extra money. 

FA But that’s just working with your suppliers in a partnership, and that’s how it should be.

KB True.

GP But I think we’re also guilty as buyers of trying to drive the price through the floor, because that’s what we’re sometimes measured on.

But surely you can manage costs by working in partnership with your suppliers?

KB After the past few years it has to be about making sure that your suppliers are making a margin out of a job. It used to be that we really ground everyone down, but that can’t go on forever.

GP Absolutely.

ML I agree, because if they don’t make a margin, they can’t afford to reinvest or innovate and we all suffer as a result.

Do you all still get excited about print though?

ML Yes, I love it.

FA When Mount Etna goes up and a thousand years later people are chipping away at our offices to find out how we lived, they won’t be able to read what’s on our tablets, but they will be able to read the print – and that’s what’s so exciting and fantastic about 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 .