It is easy for the voice of the average business to be drowned out by our crowded social media platforms and internet search engines, with every Tom, Dick and Harry fighting for elbow room on today’s information superhighway.
Whether it’s razor-sharp branding, new innovative marketing platforms or, in the printisphere, cutting-edge technology, lightning-fast service and pioneering print applications, every savvy business is touting a USP in order to catch an eye.
And for Reading-based vinyl print specialist VGL, that involves entering awards and shouting about its spoils.
“The pool of commercial printers is growing,” says marketing manager Alissa Sequeira, “and although Google is great for finding local printers, with so many advertising their different print applications, sourcing one that can offer you exactly what you want, that stands out from the rest, can be a little trickier.”
Sequeira says that for VGL, entering the company’s work into respected award schemes, such as the PrintWeek Awards where it won last year, has the two-fold benefit of celebrating outstanding projects it has produced, while reminding existing and new customers of what services it offers.
“The exposure is a great way to source valuable leads that are more likely to be converted, as they’re better informed of your previous work and services,” she explains.
With a history spanning four decades and a 120-strong workforce across three print sites in Reading, family-owned VGL, which specialises in large-format graphics for vehicles, buildings and retailers, is known for its bold and innovative work.
Sequeira says it is exactly that level of skill and innovative thinking among its staff that allows it to enter awards and to understand which ones are right for VGL – which has scooped a total of 15 awards over the years.
“Entering awards has evolved over the years with our knowledge and experience, so we have a good idea of which are a right fit for us and what projects are suitable for them,” she explains. “Some of it too is to do with gut instinct, but choosing an established award scheme like the PrintWeek Awards I would say is key.”
And it obviously works because in October last year, VGL took home the PrintWeek Awards 2018 Out-of-Home Printer of the Year gong after submitting four outstanding projects. The same work then went on to win in the posters category and Best in Show at Fespa Munich 2019. “That was amazing and completely unexpected,” says Sequeira, who is responsible for co-ordinating all aspects of award entries for VGL.
The four-fold entry included a scented graphics campaign for Beefeater Strawberry Gin, five Mamma Mia! London bus wraps with rainbow glitter vinyl, a building wrap of Sky HQ, UK and a Clinique campaign at Luton airport on International Women’s Day.
Working out and agreeing which projects to enter is something of an ongoing review process throughout each year, says Sequeira, where suggestions come in from various departments about up-coming and current projects and pieces are ear-marked for consideration.
“We always look for the most innovative work and excellence of some kind, so usually that will be obvious and there will be a general consensus that whatever it is should be submitted for an award.
“With the Beefeater segment of the PrintWeek entry, we were combining both print and scent, and that was what pushed us to enter the competition because it was so innovative and we knew no one had ever mixed both sight and smell in a campaign on the underground.”
In general, she says, the decision about whether a project will definitely be submitted is only made after it has gone live.
The final green-light on what has made the cut is given by managing director David Gray, who joined the business in 2017 after leaving his role as UK sales director at CirclePrinters.
Sequeira explains that because the company produces only bespoke work, there is no existing stock that can be dipped into and repurposed for award entries, but that this helps to ensure no detail gets missed.
“All our award entries are created from scratch, which does give us an opportunity to really tailor them,” she says. “We can make sure that everything we produce explains clearly what the whole project is about so the judges have no questions left unanswered. We try to consider every aspect of the project and make sure it is properly communicated.”
Sequeira stresses the importance of reading and rereading the submission guidelines and criteria before embarking on a project earmarked for an award entry to avoid missing subtle detail and being penalised for silly errors or omissions.
“When I put together the PrintWeek entry last year, I checked everything and asked multiple questions to the organisers as well, which was potentially a bit annoying, but better than missing something.
“It’s about putting the extra time in. We also make sure that our entries are structured in exactly the same way for each element so that when the judges are going through it, they can see the consistency,” she says.
Other elements to consider when developing entries, she says, are the fact they will often be stored for long periods, so good packaging is imperative to ensure the pieces remain intact, fresh and vibrant looking. The scented element of the Beefeater Gin entry made this even more important so that “the scent still popped” when the packaging was opened.
The effects of winning an award can be far-reaching, Sequeira explains, with staff and stakeholders alike becoming more open-minded in terms of ideas and willing to test new techniques and ways of working.
The impact too on staff morale is palpable, she says. “With this latest entry being so successful, it has really increased drive. It feels fantastic for the business and people are genuinely delighted that their hard work has been recognised, especially by such well-known bodies.”
And crucially, adding these wins into VGL’s marketing mix across its social media platforms, traditional marketing literature and during current and potential client conversations helps to build interest, trust and ultimately business.
“This offers us a way to stand out from the rest,” says Sequeira. “We are able to say that we are award-winning and bring focus to the work that we’re doing, while reminding people of the services we offer. It gives us an advantage over competitors who may not have awards and adds gravitas to the business.”
Indeed, responses to VGL’s marketing of its PrintWeek and Fespa accolades have been excellent, according to Sequeira, prompting a number of fresh enquiries.
Sequeira is of the opinion that, although putting together an award entry and seeing it through to the end of the process does involve some effort, with the right co-ordination and of course the right marketing, everyone wins.
“If you don’t actively promote projects you’ve been working on, and particularly winning awards for them, all of that great work and effort you have put in is not being used to its full potential,” she asserts.
“No matter what size your company is, it’s definitely worth putting the time in to make an award submission. It might feel like something of a luxury to do it, but the benefits certainly outweigh any negatives.”
She adds: “It obviously doesn’t guarantee more sales, more projects or new clients, but if you’re shouting about something that shows you are at the forefront of your industry, then it is always going to be useful.”
Vital statistics VGL
Location Reading, Berkshire, UK
Inspection host Alissa Sequeira, marketing manager
Size Group turnover £15.4m, group staff 120
Products VGL specialises in large format digital and screen print for retail, transport, outdoor media and architectural graphics. The firm offers a range of products from wall and window graphics, fabric banners and change frames, POS, hoardings, vehicle wraps, building wraps, promotional display graphics and much more
Kit Across VGL’s three print plants: 13 digital printers from Inca, Durst, HP and Mimakki, four screenprinting machines, plus a comprehensive range of finishing machines including six cutting beds, four laminators, two heat presses, eyletting and welding machines
The benefits of winning business awards
- The number one tip, according to Sequeira, is to take the time to understand what is being requested of the entry by looking at the forms closely and understanding the judging criteria
- Look back at past winners to see what other projects have been awarded, research them, decide why you think they won the award and see what you can take from that for your submission
- Quality and consistency is key. It’s vital that the quality of your entry is consistent across every part of your submission, whether it’s the content you’re putting forward on your entry form or the printed element of it
- Don’t rush it. Start early and don’t leave things to the last minute. Make sure every element is exactly as you want it before submission
- Start at the beginning to ensure you can negotiate and navigate different departments’ workloads to be able to hit the deadline and ensure staff are not overstretched