‘Things go wrong – it’s how suppliers react that separates them’

By Darryl Danielli, Monday 26 September 2016

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Last month, PrintWeek hosted three judging days for the 2016 Awards, so we took the opportunity to ask our august panels on the main judging day about the challenges they face, what the opportunities are for printers and how the industry can better engage with the buyers of tomorrow.



Mark Francis Independent print consultant 

David Hunt Creative services manager, MRM Meteorite

Weldon Molony Buyer, Toyota/Lexus

Graham Prichard Print manager, National Trust

Hayley Young Production operations manager, Harrods Publishing and Creative

What are the biggest challenges facing buyers at the moment?

GP It depends on what you’re buying really. For me it is choice, the lack of choice in the big web market all of a sudden.

Following the collapse of Polestar though, has supply and demand now levelled out?

GP My experience to date is that Wyndeham is trying to do what the market has been crying out for a long, long time – get prices to be more stable. But there are still people out there prepared to win the work at all costs. Price is always an issue, but when are we as buyers going to realise that we get what we pay for?

MF Looking at some of the work that we have seen today, clearly money is no object to some people. But then to others, budget is everything, but they still expect get everything for nothing.

But that’s always been the case presumably and it is dependent on the client, the project, the budget and all the variables?

MF I don’t know really, surely there has to be a price that a supplier can produce a job for and any less then they eventually go out of business – but not before they kill a little more of the industry. Whether it’s a PLC or Mrs Smith buying business cards, it has to be at a sustainable price for the industry. I don’t think that’s been the case for the past 20 years.

Do you think we will get back to that point though?

HY I hope so.

GP I don’t know, because the sheetfed market is still cut-throat. Isn’t it?

MF It depends on what you want, is it just ink on paper or is it about service. It has to be about service doesn’t it?

WM I have noticing more slips in service though.

But is that because service is the easiest area to save money without impacting product?

MF I just don’t think there’s enough people left in a lot of businesses to offer a high level of customer service. Those that are left in client services are under an awful lot of pressure.

GP Everybody is too stretched.

WM And the cracks are starting to show.

What separates a great supplier from good supplier then, is it customer service?

HY I think so, for me it’s number one. But the worry is that some companies haven’t been investing enough in their people and now that the industry is coming back it’s starting to show.

MF And the difference shows when there is a problem, print isn’t an exact science, so things do go wrong and it’s how suppliers react that separates them. 


Hamish Dickie Head of production, Riviera Maritime Media

Terry Strongman Senior production, manager John Brown

Sharon Thompson Head of production, Immediate Media Co

What are your key challenges?

ST Personally it’s the shrinking supplier base, even before Polestar went. I’ve been with the company for 29 years, so I was around for the Jarrolds, Cooper Clegg and all of that lot and now it’s a much smaller pond.

Is that forcing you to look outside the UK?

ST Personally, no, but there are some magazines that could be placed abroad.

TS It’s the same situation for me. But we have printed abroad in the past. Most of our titles are monthly or quarterly and we could try and make it work in terms of printing overseas and shipping them back, but we know titles sail close to wind in terms of editorial deadlines. In the past we had a little bit of flexibility in press schedules. But now with Polestar gone and the likes of YM Group and Wyndeham filling their schedules, and more power to them for that, they don’t have that kind of flexibility. They’re firmer on price too.

ST But do you think that’s because we’ve had it too good for too long?

TS There’s has to be a bit of that and at the moment they seem to be in a stronger position.

Is that simply supply and demand balancing out now?

TS I think so, and it was long overdue. And the other thing is, since Brexit, paper prices will go up. We’re a contract publisher, so we’ll have to take the hit. In terms of printing abroad too, the Brexit impact on the euro exchange is a factor. But Polestar created the biggest challenge.

ST It was like a tsunami.

TS I don’t think there are many people who didn’t think it was going to happen. It was a bit like Artisan, which became like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And what about you Hamish, what is your challenge as your market is different?

HD We’re B2B so we’re predominantly sheetfed and only have one web title, and 99% of our sheetfed work goes to one supplier and we have an excellent relationship with them. We have printed overseas in the past, but it didn’t work for us, so we bought them back. One challenge is that our print runs are shrinking though as we tighten up our data and produce more digital editions.

What separates a great supplier from a good supplier in your book?

ST For me a good supplier is someone you can talk to about challenges, they need to be approachable, they need to understand your business and we need to understand theirs. And I like suppliers that have a ‘can do’ mentality.

TS I would second all of that. We have good working relationships with our suppliers, but those that offer that bit of flexibility or help you out when you need it, little things like when you need a dummy to show a client, stand out.

HD It’s a little bit different for me because of the business I’m in. Price is important, but in some respects the less I hear from the printer the better because it means everything is working, the process is almost semi-automated

ST That’s interesting, because I like to hear from my suppliers all the time.

HD It’s something that has taken time, but they know us and we trust them. It works.


Francis Atterbury Managing director, Hurtwood Press

Paul Harding Director, Paul Harding Print

Kay Heather Print production coordinator, Imperial War Museum

Sarah Turner Managing director, Carter Wong Design

Biggest challenges for you this year?

KH Can we mention Brexit?

PH It certainly slowed everything down. No one knows whether to do something or not.

ST Everything seemed to be put on hold. So the biggest challenge is getting new work, getting onto rosters.

KH Everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen.

FA In theory the good news is that it’s actually now more economical to print more things in this country, relative to abroad. But the craft element of our industry has been decimated over the years, so it’s hard to find the materials here. It would be great to bring the book manufacturing back, but there’s been a lack of support for the manufacturing that goes beneath print – so I’m not sure that Brexit will simply bring work back.

But putting Brexit aside, what are the other challenges – just the same old?

ST Well there’s still budget pressure.

FA Actually, I think that’s eased. I know that I’m in a different end of the market, much shorter run. But at a book launch, there’s a good chance that more money will be spent on the canapés than the books. So while printers and designers might think print is very expensive, relative to everything it probably isn’t – so I think if you can offer something special, then there is a willingness to perhaps push a budget. Looking at some of the entries today, there are some companies that are clearly so far ahead of their peers they could do that.

Is that technology or individual passion that separates those companies?

ST I think it’s their willingness to try hard and look at the incremental things that cumulatively make a difference.

KH I think it’s clear that on some of the projects the printer has been a creative partner, rather than just a supplier. That’s a challenge for printers though, as not all the people that commission work or their designers see the printer as a partner – and I think they’re missing a trick because of it.

How do printers become a partner though?

PH It’s about getting your work out to people, so they can touch and feel it. We’ve seen things here today and we’ve all thought that’s clever and we want to know who did it. 

Is that how suppliers make an impact on you?

PH It’s seeing their work, it’s word of mouth.

ST Relationships are still very important.

KH Knowing that you can trust someone.

ST My suppliers haven’t really changed that much over the years, don’t get me wrong they still have to produce the best work. It’s down to relationships, people just don’t pick up the phone enough – we rely too much on email.

FA I think that’s a young person’s thing [laughs].

On the subject of the younger generation, how do you think print could attract more young people?

FA I went to an event at St Bride’s recently and it was full of young people into letterpress. So they’re all interested in the product, but there’s just some kind of disconnect – and I don’t think the industry helps itself enough.

ST A lot of our guys when they come out of design college haven’t got a clue about print. Nobody seems to do anything; no one has open days for all the graduates from the local design college – but these are the people that will be buying or specifying print one day.

PH I teach a short course at St Martin’s about print for beginners and there have been designers who don’t understand the difference between RGB and CMYK. That’s an extreme example, but I definitely think there’s an opportunity for the industry to better engage with the designers of tomorrow.


Richard Filmer Print operations manager, Arcardia

Mike Painter Packaging and marketing print procurement, Burberry

Nancy Rothery Procurement specialist 

Peter Stead Director, Formgraphics

Has Brexit had much of an impact on your businesses?

RF Well, I’m in retail, so it’s been tough – but signs are encouraging.

Was it just the fear of the unknown and people holding back when the result came in?

RF I think so, but the figures seem to suggest that it’s not had much impact.

MP For me the exchange rate has killed us a little, losing against the dollar when you’re buying overseas is a problem. It could get to the point when it is cheaper to buy in Europe.

What are your other challenges?

MP Previously I probably would have said budgets, but things are different at Burberry.

It’s probably still the same challenge, regardless of the size of your budget you’re still expected to get as much as you can for it?

MP That’s very true, if you work in procurement then regardless of the brand and budget then you have to justify things. But it is great working for a brand like Burberry, where the focus is on quality first.

NR There has to be a justification for any expenditure. And that’s a challenge for all of us, working with our suppliers to find solutions that don’t impact the brand adversely and achieve the same impact as a potentially higher cost product. But that’s forward planning.

And is that an opportunity for your suppliers to get more creative with you?

All Absolutely.

NR But then it should be happening all the time anyway.

And does it?

NR It depends.

RF Because we design in house, so we’ll have an idea of what we want and then we’ll tender it.

And then suppliers can come back to you with suggestions?

RF If there’s time, which there often isn’t – but we have a great design team.

MP I’m lucky because we have much longer lead times, so suppliers can make suggestions and do development work, and the ones that don’t make recommendations don’t get the work.

And on that, how do you go about selecting new suppliers – what gets a foot in the door?

RF Price is a factor, but we like to talk to people that offer something outside of the norm, people that are about more than just putting ink on paper.

MP Winning a PrintWeek Award!

I could kiss you, but I won’t. But seriously do awards matter?

MP I have approached people in the past because of them.

RF Of course they do, it’s a badge of honour. If someone’s won an award, then they’re worth looking at.

NR By entering awards people are proving that they’re happy to invest in themselves, which is important. 


David Borlase Print account & innovations manager, British Gas

Gary Evans Business partner manager, M&S Bank

Ryan Hennessey Head of marketing services, The AA

Trevor Janes Procurement manager, Tesco

Robert Portchmouth Print manager, Age UK

What’s your biggest challenge?

GE Timescales, they’re a continual challenge.

DB For me its Royal Mail and the pricing. 

Is that still an issue?

TJ It’s so expensive, you try to be creative but Royal Mail is killing direct mail.

RP Exactly, I agree with that. It’s not like dealing with a commercial company, there’s no flexibility.

DB They’re a bit like a government, they can change the rules at a week’s notice, I think that is holding back the industry.

TJ MarketReach is doing some good work, but it’s just not enough.

DB We’ve had some good conversations at the DMA about how it all links together now and they’re trying to back an understanding of print and how it works and making sure print is part of this omnichannel world. We like to think we’re omnichannel, but we’re probably multi-channel – being omnichannel is a whole different ball game – it’s about truly understanding your data.

TJ And as budgets are put under strain, when you look a piece of DM compared to any other channel then it can be hard to justify.

But it still delivers the results doesn’t it, isn’t that all the justification you really need?

RH It does and it’s an essential part of any marketing mix, but volumes have fallen away probably because of postal increases, that’s probably a fair comment. Even more important is making sure you use good quality data into highly targeted direct mail. Some of the things we’ve seen today with people using variable digital are quite encouraging.

On that, do you guys get marketed to a lot – with people sending you brilliant examples of what they can do?

TJ There’s still a lot of innovation in the sector, absolutely.

But are you having to ask for it, or is it being fed to you?

TJ We build it into our supplier’s KPIs.

DB It’s the same for us.

So how would a new supplier get on your roster, I’m guessing a LinkedIn invitation doesn’t cut it anymore?

TJ What we ask anyone who knocks on our door is what can you do that none of our other suppliers can.

RP Or how can you improve on it.

DB We actually use PrintWeek too. Obviously we want suppliers to have all the ISOs going, but then we look at things like driving innovation, latest kit, and sometimes we’ll approach them before they approach us.

And once you’re working with someone, what makes a great supplier standout?

RP Innovation, initiative, customer service.

RH I think customer service is key. We place a very high value on the service element, when you’re spinning as many plates as we are it’s critical to know that your supplier has your back.

RP A good supplier needs to be part of your team, from design through to delivery

What does good service look like though?

RP It’s all encompassing really.

GE I was thinking it’s about avoiding problems when possible, but we all know that things do go wrong. So it’s about focusing on solving those problems not looking for someone to blame.

DB It’s about attitude all the way through the business from the bottom to the top.

Do you still get excited about print?

All Definitely, yes, absolutely.

So what was the last piece of print that excited you?

TJ You’ve just packed it away in one of those boxes. 

Tickets are now available for the PrintWeek Awards, the industry’s flagship celebration of print, at the Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London on Monday 17 October.

For more information, visit printweekawards.com or contact lucy.allen@markallengroup.com on 020 7501 6782

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