Unlocking the true value of print with intelligent digital communications

Adam Hooker
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marketing services provider Lateral Group has enjoyed several years of sustained growth, which was topped off this week when it announced that its sales had increased 3.4% to £50m, despite the economic conditions.

So pleased with the results was Lateral Group that it released them in April, despite not being required to publish them until September.

The 2009 results follow news at the back end of the year that former TripleArc chief executive and Office2Office managed services development director Jason Cromack had been appointed as the company's chief executive.

Cromack has been tasked with growing the company's print and digital communications businesses, which include Howitt, Dialogue Solutions, Data Lateral and Shift Click, and growing its business process outsourcing strategy.

According to Lateral Group's chairman Nick Dixon, the capture of Cromack completes the best team in its sector. He says: "With Jason's experience in running a PLC and establishing businesses, and his financial knowledge of how a business runs, he complements and strengthens our directors.

"Latterly, he went through some tough times at TripleArc and AccessPlus. But during the five years that I have known him, he continued to remain upbeat and determined always to act in the best interests of his employees and suppliers, delivering exceptional customer service."

Although he has only been in the role since January, already Cromack believes that the move is paying off, partly due to the dynamic of his relationship with Dixon.

"He has a spray-gun technique when it comes to ideas," he says. "I am constantly hit by ideas; I filter them and take them to market. It hasn't been long but it is working well so far."

That Cromack is in the print industry at all is something of a surprise seeing as he spent a large part of his earlier life in the alcohol industry, as a marketing executive for Rémy Martin. It was in this role that he got a taste for the sales side of business, something he advanced when he went to work for one of the biggest marketing services companies, Option One, which is now Tequilla, in the mid-90s.

In the family
Like many who have found themselves owning print businesses, he was drawn in by his family; his father-in-law was in the industry at print broker Godfrey Lange. It was here that Cromack first encountered the sometimes short-sighted world of the printer, where machinery was king but the true value of its output is often overlooked.

"I remember visiting one printer who took me to see his new B1 perfector, an eight- or a 10-colour, and said ‘this is my baby'," says Cromack. "But, there was no mention of the added value the machine offered, the benefit to the customer."
After a brief time out of the industry at an ill-fated dotcom business, Cromack returned to print management, which he now found to be enhanced by technology. While some of the industry fears the impact of e-marketing, Cromack believes that the ability to measure an integrated campaign's success has made print more attractive for advertisers.

He says: "When you have a way of measuring the effectiveness of print, you can drive advertisers in that direction. It is about understanding how to blend it with other elements as part of a campaign."

In late 2003 Cromack's company TripleArc made the bold move of a £40m reverse takeover of AccessPlus, a move all the more shocking because TripleArc had downsized at the beginning of the year. TripleArc was sold to Office2Office in 2008 having, by Cromack's admission, taken on too much debt to grow. He remained with the company after the sale, but Dixon was already hoping to take him on board and he knew it was time to move on.

He has set himself the task of taking Lateral Group to "the next level", as well as increasing the amount of cross-selling between Lateral Group's arms - something Cromack believes can only be a good thing for the print side of the business.

He says: "We are protecting print. We deliver messages through different means, a lot of companies do not see the benefit of the print channel, they are saying move away from it. We need to look at how it can complement other forms of communication, what value does it bring?"

The future of print remains cloudy, but at Lateral Group it appears that the medium will be around for a while yet. And, judging by his plans for the company, so will Cromack.

Formed 2008 following merger of direct mail printer Howitt and its sister companies
Chairman Nick Dixon
Chief executive Jason Cromack
Subsidiaries Howitt, Dialogue Solutions, Data Lateral, Shift Click
Turnover £50m
EBITDA £4.67m


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