Every marcomms practitioner will vouch that brand recollection and brand assets are the most important commodities that brands need to protect.
To be identifiable and distinctive in a world of identikit competition in the market, brands depend on brand elements to stand out. So, whether it is the distinctive red of Coca-Cola, Nike’s slogan and ‘swoosh’ or Apple’s, erm, apple... brand identities and guidelines are guarded and monitored with a hawk-like vigilance and straying from the straight and narrow can have severe repercussions.
So how do printers, who are responsible for delivering the just right colours, shapes, textures, fonts, taglines, packaging, logos, claims, tones of voice, brand characters and the other 1,001 things make sure that every aspect of a brand’s identity is being catered to and delivered in real time?
Working on brand issues comes with many hurdles; there is the obvious question of scalable solutions, so they can ramp up or scale down production losslessly. Then there is the bane/boon of cloud technology. While it has made co-working in realtime an absolute dream, integration issues remain and because working in real time depends on a robust internet connection, printers based in smaller or more remote areas can find themselves at a disadvantage. Furthermore, with the advent of digital and print campaigns running hand-in-hand, brands and colour consistencies have to be maintained not just across printed materials but also on digital, and printers also need to complete relevant metadata fields and access rights to make sure brand materials remain secure online.
Management information systems (MIS) and marketing asset management systems (MAM) are key to handling corporate client data across different locations, where sign-off is required at every step. A huge range of software options exist for both MIS and MAM giving printers benefits such as order-to-delivery automation, simple customer ordering experience, reduced waste thanks to high-grade, print-ready PDF, and a higher margin per job. All of which is essential as a printer: if you can’t meet a consistent standard, customers won’t come back for repeat work, as their brand is at the heart of their business.
Tim Carter, director of commercial print for Ricoh UK, says: “One of the largest challenges printers face in their interactions with customers is version control, caused by constant changes to brand guidelines. As a result, we’ve seen a rise in the use of MAM systems to help brand managers and printers maintain control over asset and materials being used. Instead of leaving artwork in the hands of a separate product category team and multiple agencies, a MAM is often put in place to prevent rogue activity like the scraping of logos from websites.
“An MAM can also act as a controlled, go-to-place for all marketing and corporate materials. It means that internal stakeholders can access, download, and order materials required to be printed, ensuring that no matter where a print job is carried out, there’s consistency in quality.
“From a printer’s perspective, it’s important that there are clear processes to accessing the correct materials and an understanding of brand guidelines before undertaking any work. MAM systems help achieve that by acting as a central hub, which the printer can use as a value-added service to its brand-conscious clients.”
Bring it together
Most print businesses have seen the advantages of a centralised system. Plastic Card Services has both litho and digital print production capabilities, and therefore utilises several software packages in combination with a number of systems to successfully manage the brand materials of its customers. All its artwork is created using the latest Adobe Creative Cloud software, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Additionally, Fogra 39 is used as a standard ICC profile on print processes, and its KBA and HP presses are regularly calibrated, with a first transfer and colour calibration taking place every morning on their HP Indigo 5900. A densitometer is used during the print run to check for changes in colour density, which can be corrected by the printer if required.
Director Tim Holt says: “All cards at PCS are produced to ISO standards, and therefore a series of robust checks are set in place throughout all stages of production (these are continually reviewed) to ensure this standard is achieved. In parallel to these systems and checks, it is important to remember that despite advances in technology, there is – and always will be – the need for the human touch. We have a highly experienced team throughout all departments of PCS, some of whom have been with the company for over 20 years, and the knowledge and experience they hold has proved vital in preventing mistakes from happening.”
Thomas Dodds, managing director of PrintUK.com says his company goes a step further, using PDFs to make sure nothing falls through, and then storing the PDFs for a year, in case of any issues further along.
He says: “A shared Dropbox folder to manage artwork amends and drafts gives our customers the ability to edit any elements in the shared folder as can our studio team. We are notified when any changes have occurred on any particular shared folder, this also allows us to be timely with our new or amended artwork as we don’t need to transfer files back and forth. In turn this dramatically reduces management time and the likelihood of mistakes and use of the wrong version is minimised.
“The client approves a PDF proof in writing prior to any production. This is a safety protocol to ensure that the artwork is manually checked.
“Due to the volume of data, each piece of artwork is referenced by a unique job number which marries up with our MIS and allows for the easy search of artwork and previously printed jobs. We chose Dropbox to be our software provider for the storage of artwork and internal operating materials due to its scalability as data storage is only ever increasing, also the ease for editing from both parties in a secure platform and without sending files to one another it does increase the level of security.
“We archive artwork files (print-ready PDFs) for all clients for up to one year. However, databases (names, addresses, etc) are deleted as soon as they’ve been used. For a reprint the client needs to always supply a new secure database.”
With new data protection laws going into force across Europe last month, holding and processing of it will have to be in accordance with strict guidelines so printers don’t fall foul of them. Printers are increasingly holding more and more data for customers, often driven by variable data campaigns for brands or direct marketing applications.
In addition, printers who carry out variable data work regularly will have strict data protection and data destruction policies in place, which are even more important now that the General Data Protection Regulation has come into effect.
Andrew Dark, co-founder of Custom Planet, says: “We hold all previous job information so that jobs can be repeated accurately as well as client data so that we can stay in contact during the production process and send reminders and information on new products that may be of interest. This is all done in line with the GDPR legislation and client privacy and data security is part of our everyday structure.”
Using any of the MAM or MIS systems ensure that print buyers receive automatic notifications and an audit trail of where a job is at any one time. Alerts can be customised to suit both customers and printers so they receive as much or as little information as they want.
Issues can arise in colour matching that are completely beyond the control of the printer. This happened to Custom Planet as part of a job it carried out for a business in the north of England. The company was tasked with producing a job including a specific shade for which it had a Pantone guide colour. However, when it sent out a proof the client rejected it immediately.
“We looked into the matter and found out they were looking at their order under artificial lighting, which isn’t the type of light that Pantone use to colour match to their guidelines. We advised they looked again while near a window or in natural light, but they were positive that it still wasn’t right,” says Dark.
The client sent Custom Planet a sample produced by a previous supplier and the source of their dissatisfaction became clear: “As soon as it arrived, we could tell that this was the issue. The previous supplier must have had a printer problem because the colour they had provided was completely different to what the Pantone shade book was showing us. But, as the client had expected their order from us to look identical to that one, it seemed as though the error was coming from us.”
Ultimately, despite all checks and balances in place, responsibility always rests with the creator. As Carter puts it: “From a brand point of view, the checks start with the creator – a design agency, for example. From a printer’s point of view, it’s vital that all materials are constantly checked for quality. Colour, for example, will always change throughout a long-run job, so a printer will often have colour checking and verification techniques in place to ensure the quality matches customers’ expectations and Pantone standards.”
Case study: PrintUK.com
PrintUK.com services the printing, design and marketing of an International distribution agency with offices all over the world.
Due to the size of the organisation and its affiliation with other distributors, it is constantly updating and changing a variety of graphics – for items such as business cards, advertising copy and exhibition collateral – while ensuring the branding, logo and visual culture of the business remain consistent throughout.
The company says this requires a lot of close management and communication with the business and its offices around the world.
Managing director Thomas Dodds says: “This is a complex task as not only do we need to keep the branding uniform, but it has to be coupled with the individual requirements of the different locations, such as US-sized business cards, which are different to those in the UK.
“For larger events, such as exhibitions and conferences, we are required to produce collateral that can include exhibition stands, folders, brochures, leaflets, flyers and more, all with up-to-date information on the employees and services being offered.
“This not only requires a huge attention to detail but close communication with various departments of our client’s business. By using our international management systems and a shared Dropbox system we can ensure both parties are aware of what is going on and information can be transferred efficiently and updated in a timely manner.
“Each element has its own folder, job number and this avoids any mix-up of data, which, in this industry, is vital especially as there is a crossover of legal documents (that are being constantly updated) to marketing materials.
“Our designers work incredibly hard to maintain the branding of the business in all elements of design for all products. With it being an international firm the phone numbers vary on every item as do the languages in some instances.”