Print insight from the buyer’s perspective

Darryl Danielli
Monday, September 15, 2014

It’s not often that you get a group of leading print buyers together in one room, but that’s exactly what happened last month at one of the three judging days for the PrintWeek Awards. So rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, we took the opportunity to quiz them for some insight. Here’s the first of a series of two special interviews.

Packaging & POS panel

Mike Painter Print operations manager, Arcadia

Claire Piipponen Purchasing manager, POS & merchandising, L’Oréal

Mark Tyrell Packaging control manager, Weetabix

Darryl Danielli What are the biggest challenges facing you as print buyers?

MT For me it’s the need for shorter and shorter print runs with faster turnarounds. Forecasts change all the time – one minute we might have to do 6,000 of one thing and then 20,000 of another. Things can change very quickly and we need to work with our suppliers to ensure they can adapt to this rapidly changing environment.

CP It’s similar in point-of-sale, really. It’s the juxtaposition of shorter runs and also the capability to offer different levels for the same campaign. So you might have an all-singing, all-dancing stand going into a flagship store and then have to scale it back for other stores. But you have to maintain the necessary brand consistency across all executions, even though they might necessitate different materials or processes – and that’s always challenging.

Is that being driven by marketing teams being more focused on data and ROI?

CP Definitely. Buyers are certainly engaging much more closely with merchandisers now about how much flexibility we can give them and up to what point in the process.

MP For me the biggest challenge is that we have to do so much on demand and be reactive to the market. And every time we turn something around in a new miracle time, thanks to our suppliers, then that becomes the new normal. We’re putting more and more pressure on our suppliers to deliver things, including innovation, in record time.

How do you overcome that? Is it managing expectations internally?

MP We all have to push back as best we can, or suggest changes to fit the timings and the budget and work with our suppliers to come up with something that can meet the brief to everyone’s satisfaction.

Speaking of budgets, are they slightly more relaxed now than they have been in recent years?

All No.

But the economy is improving surely?

MT It is, but we’re still being pushed to get our costings down, and we appreciate that printers still need to make their margins. Efficiency of the process is a big challenge for us, so we look at, for example, how our print suppliers can effect changeovers quickly, or how we can standardise formats and specifications so that they have no size and colour changes.

So it’s in your interests to work closely with your suppliers?

MP It’s essential. If you’ve got something that perhaps requires a more innovative approach and you’re talking to multiple suppliers competing for the work, then you’re having to go down three different avenues with each supplier. And you know that some of those suppliers are wasting their time because we just can’t make the costings work.

MT That is one of the challenges: if you want innovation, then it generally costs more, and you end up rejecting some potentially great ideas because they’re just too expensive.

CP That’s why I think it’s important for us to help marketing or merchandising departments to structure their budgets better – they might want to allocate more money for a new launch or certain products, but what we don’t want to do is run out of money at the end of the year. So sometimes, if we look at innovating early in the year when there is plenty of budget, yes, the cost might be there, but you can carry on using that innovation and the costs will start to come down.

In terms of how suppliers can help you then, what do they need to do? Because I guess a supplier will always try to be innovative, but that might not be appropriate for the budget.

CP That’s where a partnership approach comes into it. Because the longer you work with a supplier, the better they get to understand your brand and your sticking points through the year. It means they can try and adapt to that. We appreciate that they’re not mind readers and we as buyers need to be open with our suppliers. And if we are then they can sow seeds for solutions that we can take back to our teams. We all want to innovate – it’s great to be the first brand to try something and have the wow factor.

MT I agree. The partnership approach is critical, especially when it comes to understanding the brand – that’s really important. If you just say ‘I want to innovate’ you get ideas thrown at you left, right and centre, but if they’re just random then they’re not going to hit. But if a supplier can show how their ideas fit our products, then we’ve got a better chance of getting it through…

CP And it could be anything: a new material or process, perhaps something they don’t even offer yet. Our suppliers are very often our eyes and ears when it comes to new things, because we can’t keep on top of everything that happens, and print is changing so fast.

Marcomms panel

Sam Clements Print project manager, Debenhams

Sam Gayford Senior production manager, Mamas & Papas

Claire Gibbon Director of creative services, Boden

Weldon Molony Buyer, Toyota (GB)

This year we launched a new category: Marketing Campaign of the Year. Do you think printers are getting better at marketing?

WM Based on what we’ve seen today some clearly are, but outside of this room, then generally I don’t think they are. Perhaps by launching this award it will help highlight how the smarter printers are marketing themselves better and how the ROI can be significant.

SC The past few years have been pretty tough for a lot of people, so a lot have fallen back into the old habits of just cold calling. I get loads of calls about envelopes; in a year we might do 700,000 envelopes, so it’s not big business, but it proves that people need to do their research on potential clients otherwise they’ll be wasting their energy.

SG I think printers in general on the sales side don’t always do their research properly. Too many think it’s just a numbers game and that if they call enough people, they will get enough sales.

That’s not really marketing though, is it.

CG Exactly. That’s just an old school approach to sales.

WM I think I’ve only had one printer really try hard to push a cross-media campaign on me. As a buyer that made me think ‘well done, guys’ and made me actually look forward to their phone call. All too often it’s still a case of someone – someone who doesn’t really know me or my business – just calling me or sending me a mailshot with my name spelled wrong.

Okay, that’s fair enough – there’s no excuse for not doing the research or spelling someone’s name wrong. But then what should a printer do to get you to open their mailshot or take their call?

WM Do something memorable, do something that will stick in our minds. Silly things often work.

SC I remember that Garnetts sent me a pack once that included pipe cleaners and Plasticine and you had to make something and send in a photo. Admittedly, I just gave it to my friend’s kids, but it stuck in my mind.

CG But for every clever thing you get five nasty ‘personalised’ calendars.

SC If there’s one piece of advice I can give it’s leave the XMPie or DirectSmile alone please.

So aside from trying to offload calendars with your name written in sand to families and friends, what are your biggest challenges?

WM I would say it’s getting the level of service we need. I think printers were generally getting a lot better at service, but after the past few years a lot of them have culled the wrong people in the business. Probably because they’re not seen as bringing in revenue. That’s the kind of thing that would make me look at other suppliers – service.

CG I do worry that customer service is generally becoming mediocre because no one is making enough money. I can understand why though, because if there’s less business around, budgets are getting smaller – how are companies supposed to invest in their people? Either there have to be fewer suppliers, which means less choice for us, or they have to cut back on something. I hate to say it, but I think quality in general is another issue; the technology is improving, but is the overall quality? I know that’s a strange thing to say today, because just in the brochure category the standard was breathtaking, but I think the companies that enter the PrintWeek Awards are the exceptions, not the rule.

Are you still under cost pressure from your marketing teams though?

All Yes.

So is that where working closer with your suppliers helps? Because you’re not just cutting prices, but trying to increase efficiencies.

SC Yes, but the problem is that in a lot of cases we’ve identified all the possible cost savings, so it’s difficult to know where to go next. Especially when you can’t cut the print runs, paper weights or pagination any

WM We’re also a tad concerned that the web market might start moving to Europe.

SG I worry that we might not have a choice, which is really disheartening. We all want to keep our print in the UK, but the exchange rates are driving it. That’s why UK printers need to start upping their game in terms of things like service.

SC It’s not just about price. We could all probably buy our print cheaper in the UK to keep it here if we wanted to, but there’s no point saving a few thousand pounds only for the job to be delivered late or for the quality to not be there.

But going beyond customer service, what can printers do to help you?

SG Share things with us, offer feedback – I like learning things from my printers.

SC Absolutely. If something is a crazy size or just won’t work on the presses, then tell us. Equally, if something isn’t going to work; if the colours are awful or the text isn’t clear – not due to the printer, but because of the design – then tell us, we can take that back to the creative teams.

CG One thing I miss is notes with file copies; printers don’t seem to do that anymore, but they should. That’s not just down to the printers though. Communication could improve on both sides. There’s probably been a dumbing down to an extent on the client side too. Art workers and designers probably don’t know as much as they used to, not enough time is spent on repro and then the poor printer is left with files that need polishing, otherwise it reflects badly on them.

WM Even the best printer in the world can’t polish a turd. 

But to be fair, when the market is this competitive, it’s a brave printer that comes back to you with ‘this job’s a turd’. 

SG Probably, but that goes back to relationships. I wouldn’t be offended if someone fed back to me that there was a problem. Although I wouldn’t recommend calling a job a turd – however bad it is. 

Tickets are now available for the Industry’s flagship celebration of print at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London on Monday 20 October.

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