There are quite a number of conferences and seminars on offer to printers – they’re a useful way of raising an organisation’s profile and of bringing in revenue. The question, of course, is how much use they are to the printers who attend?
Last week I went to an event organised by the publishers of Print Business Magazine, called Forward Thinking Printing, held at the Stationers Hall, near St Paul’s in London. Stationers Hall is one of only a handful of truly iconic venues for the printing industry, guaranteed not to disappoint with a rich tapestry of history adorning the walls, plus decent catering.
The event was reasonably well attended with some 30-odd printers, and we had some good, lively discussions with everyone joining in. All too often these events end up with a group of sponsors lecturing the audience about the kit they’re trying to sell. But in this case the panels were a good mix of printers and vendors and Gareth Ward, editor of Print Business, proved an effective moderator, keeping the emphasis firmly on the printers. I won’t go through the whole day, as I’m sure that Print Business will do that in its next issue. though there were a number of themes that are worth highlighting.
This included the way that printers market themselves. Thus, Timon Colgrove, managing director of Hunts, talked about the need to create an emotional engagement with customers, saying that they will be more forgiving if they like you. In a similar vein, Paul Manning, managing director of Rapidity, commented: “Web to print is making us more distant from our customers”, adding: “You have to go and talk to them.”
Colgrove also discussed the way that people have embraced mobile technology, saying: “Generation Y has technology deeply embedded in their personal and work lives. Their displeasure can go viral just like that. Yet 83 percent prefer their important communications on paper ( according to an Ipsos Mori survey, apparently). Print is seen as a channel of trust and authority. Anybody can send an email but if you have printed something then that’s an investment.”
Indeed, the role that print plays in the marketing mix was a recurring theme throughout the day. Roger Pitt, managing director of Headley Brothers, said that marketers were increasingly realising that their digital messages were being lost in a sea of other digital collateral, adding: “What’s great about print is that we have the opportunity to simplify their messaging so if you are in the business of communicating then print is a really good medium to operate with.”
Philip Dodd, managing director of Healeys talked about the challenges of making a profit out of digital print, saying that his first experience was with an Indigo that he bought because Benny Landa said that it was the future of print, joking: “The more I used it the more money I lost.” He’s obviously learned from this because digital now accounts for 20 percent of the business, and is heading towards 25 percent. Healey’s digital sales have trebled in the last year since acquiring a Kodak Nexpress.
Paul Fitch, Kodak’s UK sales manager for Nexpress, said that he has seen a significant growth in the volumes that customers are putting through the Nexpress machines recently, which he attributes to customers migrating less profitable work from litho to digital.
However, Dodds believes that he needs both litho and digital and so Healeys has integrated digital into its litho operation as a complete service offering rather than selling the digital as a separate thing. Instead Dodd said that digital print is a key part of his marketing, explaining: “Creative companies want creative ideas. They want samples, they want examples of interesting print. They want you to bring them some ideas so they don’t have to think so much.” Thus Healeys is using the capabilities of its Nexpress, such as spot gloss and dimensional printing to impress customers, as Dodd explained: “We are using digital to get the volumes in for litho.”
However, as consultant Richard Gray pointed out, the value of digital jobs tends to be lower than litho so you do need a more efficient workflow, both in terms of software and the way that jobs move through a print factory, to realise a decent profit margin. Dodd added: “About a third of our digital work by volume is personalised print and this tends to be longer runs, up to 28,000. There are also jobs down to just £50 and it’s because of the increase in these that we have spent the last eight months configuring a new MIS because we can’t afford the admin.”
One of the panels directly addressed the issue of data management. John Charnock, consultant, said that increasingly marketers will use data analysis to plan campaigns, rather than just going on a hunch. He acknowledged that many printers are unsure how to deal with data but pointed out that many suppliers offer free courses on how to handle data that printers can take advantage of. Charnock added that printers could offer data services to their customers, even if this meant partnering with a specialist.
Graham McLachlan, sales manager for Kodak said that data can help to make print more relevant because personalised campaigns can generate higher response rates. But Andy Lydiatt, sales consultant for ProCo, countered: “There’s an argument for saying that print makes the data relevant.” He explained: “Somebody has to deliver it and make sure that when it hits the door mat it’s fit for purpose.”
To counter all the talk about digital printing, Komori presented its H-UV technology, which gives the advantage of instant drying without some of the disadvantages associated with conventional UV printing, such as dot gain, and how power usage. According to Stephen Turner, sales manager for Komori UK, there’s no need for a coating unit so customers only need to buy a four colour press, with a single HUV unit on the end, which uses 65 percent less power than a standard IR dryer, though he accepts that the inks themselves cost more.
Mark Plummer, managing director of Platinum Press in Harrogate, which was the first company to use this technology, said that jobs can be sent out straight away and invoices quicker, adding: Everybody is expecting things quicker and now we can schedule jobs much quicker.”
Finishing was another important aspect that was discussed. Gary Peeling, managing director of Precision Printing talked about his experiences using the Scodix spot coater, saying: “It drives engagement with the public. It can be used in very small quantities so there’s fantastic upsell in short run printing and you can try it out and test various ideas.” He adds: “It allows us to have creative conversations with customers.”
Peeling also said that a lot of customers were asking for case binding. There was general agreement that most people found it hard to throw away case bound books, regardless of their content. Peeling also noted that increasingly finishing kit manufacturers were targeting the short run sector.
Looking back over the day, it was clear that all of the attendees, including those that are still heavily reliant on litho, believe that there will be much more investment in digital technology and that digital printing will play a much bigger part in their businesses in the next few years.
Most people also agreed that having the right staff, and having them trained, was an important part of the mix, with Pitt saying the staff were a key part of squeezing the most out of any investment in kit, adding: “If you don’t have the people then it’s very likely to fail.”
All the printers that I spoke to said that they had benefited from this event if only because they had met and talked with other printers and learnt things that they could apply to their businesses. Dodd, for example, found another Nexpess user that was charging more, encouraging him to put his prices up, while Colgrove talked with another Anicolor user that encouraged him to experiment with spot colours.
This is the second year that Print Business has run this event, and I’d say it’s definitely worth finding the time for next year’s event. Heck, I learned a great deal during the day, and I’m not even trying to run a print business!