Having shaken off its image of decline, the UK print sector is now one of the most innovative and efficient in the world – and has reinvented the way it works with its customers
Against a background of recession, the challenge for the traditional printing industry has been huge. The sector has had to reinvent itself as a provider of a range of services, not just print, while finding a way of offering products and services that embrace the internet, rather than exclude it.
Take commercial office products and services supplier OfficeTeam. “Traditionally the focus of our stationery business was on business cards, letterheads, forms, and so on,” says head of new business Andrew Borrill. “Now the value is with marketing and communications print which has to be of superb quality, personalised and sent out quickly from a dedicated database.”
Because of the huge cost of keeping abreast of modern print technology, OfficeTeam decided to divest itself of its in-house print operation and seek out strategic print partners to service local markets around the country. “As well as providing the latest technology, we look to our print partners like Precision to deliver a high level of customer service,” Borrill says.
“This means not only coming up with innovative ideas but being aware, for example, that their output must be fully compliant with our clients’ brand specifications.”
It’s all about embracing the new opportunities, according to Jane Cahillane. She’s head of print production at Dewynters, the advertising, marketing and design agency for the arts, sports and live entertainment sectors. “The advances within the industry, from traditional lithographic and screen processes to the burgeoning digital technologies, have afforded us as a supplier the opportunity to offer a range of products and services that were, 10 years ago, either prohibitively expensive or simply not possible in the time available,” she says.
“From a creative point of view, we can help our clients realise their artistic vision thanks to the introduction of new materials and technologies – they are continually pushing for bigger, better more original print solutions. Recent advances mean we can offer cutting-edge technologies, using the latest market solutions at extremely competitive prices.”
Today’s successful companies are all highly IT intensive and innovative, but they approach their business in different ways. Some have gone down the road of specialisation while others have become fully-fledged “integrated marketing communications” operations.
From a creative point of view, we can help our clients realise their artistic vision thanks to the introduction of new materials and technologies ” – Cahillane
Along the way they have embraced the latest in printing technology and data management to compete with the cost and speed advantages of electronic media. By utilising digital processes to tailor printed material specific to individuals, it has been possible to meet customer demands and shorten high speed print runs down to “one at a time” production.
Precision Printing is one example of this. After listening to its customers, the business moved into digital printing in 2005 and had tripled its turnover to £14m by 2011. “In 2005 we might take 50 litho orders a day with an average value of £550,” says managing director Gary Peeling. “Today, on top of the litho business we take more than 10,000 digital orders a day, but the average order value is £2.30.”
His customers want him to print lots of small and short orders at “very low cost, at a high quality and quickly”.
Precision has developed a dynamic printing process for clients, triggered by data input or by an order via the web. “It is possible to link output directly to a company’s systems to trigger an automatic print event using data that is five minutes old to produce an instant physical response that customers enjoy. Print on demand is growing incredibly quickly,” says Peeling.
IOS (Innovative Output Solutions) is a variable colour digital printers and provider of direct communications services, including direct mail and marketing campaigns, e-marketing and communications, bills and statements and e-billing. According to chief operating officer, Andy Young, the pressure is always on to get closer to clients and understand their needs.
“We are no longer talking about print in isolation – it is just one of the output channels we offer,” Young says. “We have had to become channel ‘agnostic’, embracing e-solutions, too, including email, SMS and personalised websites. We have to talk the same language as the client and have the appropriate tools in the toolbox.”
Ideally, IOS gets involved as early as possible with the client to understand what it is trying to achieve, and then suggests methods of communication that will be most effective and cost efficient. “We ask, ‘how can we help you solve your business problem?’ Then we produce a solution…. and there may be some print work at the end of it,” Young adds.
The UK is now considered a mature market for this holistic approach to communications management and one that is, in many ways, ahead of the game globally. IOS, for example, is in the process of exporting its UK model to the US.
Meanwhile, specialisation has been the route to success for North Yorkshire’s Ryedale Group. According to marketing director, James Buffoni, this family firm saw the writing on the wall in the 1980s. “Basically it was realised that to develop the business we needed to talk with our customers,” he says.
Out of this dialogue came the company’s core specialism – printing on to plastics for plant labels and plastic cards. “The process involves highly engineered ink and substrates. It is product engineering, not just printing, and that’s where our business has been ever since. Now we are not printers, we are communicators in niche markets.”
He believes the way forward is to link print with electronic technologies and select the most relevant communications route for his customers: “We have to be open minded, seeking out whatever technology is appropriate and packaging it up for the clients. Print on its own is just a commodity.”