Top 10 tips to consider when outsourcing print management
As a busy marketer, managing your print requirements can represent a significant drain on your time. You may find yourself spending hours each week maintaining the links between a complex range of suppliers, ensuring that communications are streamlined and that there are no weak links in the chain. Our Top 10 Tips could help you to avoid costly mistakes, protect the quality of your brand, avoid data breaches, and get ahead of price hikes in the paper market.
What is print management?
This simply describes the process of outsourcing your print requirements to an industry expert that can source the best prices from a range of printers, handle print production from proofing to finishing, and organise storage, distribution, and fulfilment. The benefits of using print management include:
• Advice on types of printing and the best processes for each brief
• Access to enhanced buying power and reduced print costs
• Help with the print production process including online project management
• A storage system for your digital assets
• Help with managing print stock
• Access to the latest print software and associated technologies.
Types of suppliers
Choosing a print supply can be a complex task. You could decide to go direct and allocate your work to a traditional printer with their own presses. However, not all printers have the same equipment and value for money can vary depending on the type of job and the finish you choose.
Print brokers are proudly independent but if they don’t have a close working relationship with the printers they recommend, you may not be sure to get a high-quality result. Brokers seeking lowest price solutions are not necessarily best placed to deliver efficient workflows or ensure that projects run smoothly.
A print management company is best placed to manage large volumes of print such as business or operational documents, sales and marketing materials or retail and point of sale collateral. They should have the capability and expertise to access a wide range of print techniques and equipment with additional services on hand should they be required. With all your print requirements managed through a single print management company, you make significant savings by harnessing their high-volume purchasing power.
Once you have decided which type of supplier to choose, it can be helpful to draw up a checklist and score shortlisted suppliers according to the measures that matter most to you. This can be done whether or not you are making the selection as part of a formal tender process.
1. The right advice
First and foremost, we know that print is a significant element within your portfolio of responsibility. And yet, it is a complex, specialised discipline which, without the right advice, can contain many pitfalls. A good print management company could become your trusted advisor across the full range
of print requirements within the marketing mix.
Outsourcing to a print management company could give you an extra pair of hands within your team and free you up to spend more time with your customers, at conferences or events, meeting up with peers to share best practice, or taking time to reflect, plan or just be curious.
Ideally, you will want to choose a company that can work with you in partnership and offer added value services and innovative ideas rather than simply meeting a brief.
2. Relationships built on trust
Print management companies have relationships with a network of printers that they regularly use which gives them better leverage on price than you would have on approaching an individual printer. Be sure to choose your print manager carefully and make sure that they are not simply squeezing their suppliers on price to maximise their own mark-up. Paying a fair price improves relationships throughout the supply chain and boosts the likelihood that a printer will go the extra mile in delivering over and above expectations.
A good print manager will act as an extension of your team, becoming familiar with your detailed requirements and able to translate these into technical recommendations that save time in the decision-making process.
When you are deciding who to work with, it’s always a good idea to seek references from prospective suppliers’ satisfied clients. Ask for honest feedback to help you build an accurate picture. It can be easier to build a relationship with a company that you can physically visit from time to time. Make sure you conduct due diligence before placing large orders including a check on the financial stability of your chosen supplier.
A locally based company will be available for meetings and consultations, or to deliver samples, hard copy proofs or advance copies. And, by working together, you can both contribute to the local business community.
3. The right skills for the job
Some printers focus on high volume runs of ink-on-paper while others specialise in merchandise, point of sale or promotional items. Print management companies have access to a range of print techniques and specialisms through their network so that you can leave it to them to place your jobs with the right supplier.
Before you book in your print job, make sure you have considered that your choice of printer has the skills, equipment and technology that are right for your job. Of course, it remains your responsibility to achieve best value for your budget and that is why you might spend a great deal of time searching the market for the most cost-effective suppliers. And because printers differ widely in their expertise and the kit they employ, that means a lot of legwork to cover the wide range of items within your marketing plan, extending from printed brochures and leaflets, to point of sale and exhibition stands to promotional items and corporate merchandise.
Outsourcing print management takes the headache out of making decisions that could have a significant impact on your brand. A print manager will ensure that the printer has the project management tools to keep track of complex projects, and that their print software and associated technology is up to date.
They will check out the printer’s approach to data security in the light of GDPR, so you can rest assured that your data will be handled safely, and you can avoid any breach. Crucially, a print manager will understand the financial stability of a printer reducing, the risk of trusting them with a high value job.
4. Do not compromise on design
Many factors affecting print are inherent within the design, so it makes sense to use a print management company that incorporates a design studio, whether you only need artwork amends or a response to a more detailed brief. With all the expertise in-house, they will be able to advise on how your design brief translates into the finished item, taking production costs into account.
In briefing the design team, you need to be clear about your expectations of the finished item and how this meets the needs of your target audience. Is it a disposable means of highlighting a time-limited offer? Or will it be something that customers keep and refer to repeatedly? Understanding how your print item will be used, and how it will be distributed, influences its format, size, weight, and the type of the stock on which it is printed. Ask for stock samples so you can visualise the final tangible item and assess the quality.
You need to know from the start whether you will require your item to fold into an envelope or point-of-sale dispenser. A designer should be able to advise on formats to ensure that your strategic objectives are being met.
In the same way, you should expect a designer to advise on the implications of finishing including different types of binding and whether your item would benefit from being perfect bound or saddle stitched. Some designers might recommend lay flat binding which enables the item to be fully opened for easy browsing without cracking the spine.
A good design team will be able to advise you on how finishing effects such as UV varnish can create impact and boost the stand-out of your brand. UV varnish cannot be applied to uncoated stock, so always ask the studio to advise on paper choices. Your project may benefit from lamination, using gloss for striking impact, or matt for a tactile high-quality effect. Colour is of paramount importance in representing your brand so look for a supplier with a Fogra-standard pre-press facility that will ensure colour accuracy in print.
You might choose metallic inks and the design team will make sure you are aware of the impact this will make on the overall printing cost. Foil blocking can also create stunning effects but has similar implications for cost. Foiling and embossing can be requested on areas that are too intricate, causing detail to be lost.
5. A supplier with the know-how
Like the idea of saving time and money on print? Making changes to the way you plan print runs and getting the pagination right can streamline the process and reduce costs. The UK spends £14bn on print each year and there are 10,500 printing companies at your disposal. From digital to sheet-fed or web offset printing, the range of kit and capabilities is vast. Many printers do not own the full range of kit in-house and may outsource your job to another company, potentially without your knowledge.
A print management company is unlikely to own printing presses and will be completely open about its decision-making process in selecting the best printer for your job, taking direct responsibility for the quality and timeliness of the finished product. The advantage to you is that your entire job can be handled via a single contact.
Print on demand software could save you time and money by enabling you to develop a library of pre-designed templates that can be edited online and produced as required. Items including fliers, business cards, brochures and catalogues can be personalised digitally and called-off just when you need them even in short runs.
6. Dedicated to your business
Print managers can advise on all aspects of print and production and may be able to look at the way you operate from a fresh perspective. Having a dedicated account manager is a definite bonus because, in time, your contact will get to know your business and be able to offer a strategic overview of all your requirements. It is worth checking up front what type of account management resource you can expect to ensure that projects run smoothly, and deadlines are met.
For example, it always pays to consider whether you could print multiple items on identical stock at the same time, even if they are not all required for the same deadline. Types of paper say as much about your brand as what is printed on them and inconsistencies can affect perceptions.
Before you make a choice of print management company, it is always wise to carry out some research into the way they work and their position in the market. Seek out their USP whether that is based on production efficiency, buying power, or economies of scale. And always be sure that quality is not going to be adversely impacted if prices are low. To make certain, it might be worth considering a trial on a smaller, low risk item to put your mind at rest. It is always reassuring to work with a business that shares your culture and values, so it is worth digging deep to find out what makes them tick before you make a commitment.
7. Keeping track
Print can absorb a significant part of your budget so establishing the size of your print run is a delicate skill on which you will welcome professional advice. Check that quality control systems are sufficiently robust to avoid wastage or costly reprints. Ask potential suppliers to provide details of their on-time delivery rate to check that they are likely to be able to meet your deadlines.
You might also be able to make use of a print-on-demand service for your frequently used items where repeat orders are accessible via a web interface, so you can make changes to the copy or imagery without having to pay design costs.
A good print management company should be able to offer web-based access to stock control for your products. This should enable you to monitor your stock levels, make orders online and produce reports. The most sophisticated systems hold clear product images with detailed descriptions, and each item is allocated its own dedicated stock code.
8. Protect your brand
Your brand will be affected by customers’ perceptions of your print item. Think carefully about how it is printed, and the process for getting it out on time. Environmental credentials count in print whether it is the source of your paper supplies or the materials used to produce your promotional merchandise.
It may help your brand credentials to use a supplier that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), demonstrating that you take environmental issues seriously and enhancing your corporate social responsibility (CSR). Check out suppliers’ commitment to achieving net zero carbon goals.
Of course, print is not limited to paper. Technology allows printing to be applied almost anything from vehicles to pencils. With the current focus on the use of plastics, you may need advice on recyclable or sustainable materials including for promotional items and clothing, from cotton to bamboo, and from metal to wood.
You will also be looking for the peace of mind that your print management company is operating according to the highest industry standards and is accredited to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 as well as being a member of the appropriate professional organisations.
Remember to check out the data protection arrangements in place for safeguarding your valuable and sensitive customer data, and make sure any supplier can comply with the Data Protection Act (2018) which now replaces the GDPR.
9. Load off your mind
Ultimately, your print item or piece of promotional merchandise could lose impact unless it reaches your customer at the right time. When specifying print requirements, you will need to factor in where stock will be stored and how it will be distributed.
Printers may want to deliver the entire consignment as soon as it is complete and may not have the space to retain it indefinitely. Print management companies can organise storage for you, and some even have their own warehouse where they can keep your items safe and secure until you need them.
If you have thousands of items bulk packed on pallets (BPOP), they might arrive stacked in bundles onto a pallet then shrink wrapped. Taking delivery of your stock at your premises requires the means to move heavy boxes, or even pallets, around.
Alternatively, you could receive a shipment of shrink-wrapped bundles where items are wrapped in a film and then sent through an oven that shrinks the film around them making them secure and less likely to be damaged. Items might be carton-packed in bundles before being shrink-wrapped onto pallets for extra protection.
A print management company will also be able to assist you with storage and logistics, so you can move your items to where they need to be including to your customers’ doors. They should offer flexible access to storage facilities that you only pay for when you need them, reducing costs and minimising wastage.
Keeping track of printed items can be a huge headache but with online self-serve portals, you can call-off stock as required and keep track of where it goes, using data analysis to inform future print decisions.
10. The final mile
It can be helpful to combine the storage of your printed materials with fulfilment through a single supplier. From merchandise to marketing campaign material, you may need a partner that can fulfil bulk orders or pick and pack items as required.
Engaging with a print manager means that you can scale up your operation as your business grows, or to meet seasonal demand. A great print management company can offer full-branded custom packaging that will delight your customers.
Postage is an additional significant expense that can sometimes be overlooked as part of the fulfilment process. A print management company can advise on your choice of stock to make sure that the finished weight of the item will not be prohibitive to post. Uncoated stock can be bulky with a high pagination, creating extra weight. Make sure your item will fit through a standard letterbox if it is part of a mail drop to consumers.
Print managers can help you to navigate the minefield of delivery services, including access to Royal Mail. There are many savings to be gained by getting advice on the right postal service option, or the most efficient way to present your mailing that will help you to reduce costs.
Business continuity has been at the top of all our minds since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and you should be looking for reassurance that your print management company is appropriately prepared and insured with a robust disaster recovery plan in place.