Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Evolution and Devolution – The Rise and Demise of Print Management

Some three years ago I was sacked from my job working on behalf of a Print Management company based at a major pharmaceutical companies offices for alleged ‘gross misconduct.’ The alleged offence was caused when I sent an E-mail to a co-supplier following a telephone conversation where I, formerly a moderately successful sales man in Direct Mail, was often guilty of providing scant information to colleagues whose job it was to quote from my sketchy notes and often with little or no time to produce the work in. In the ‘subject box’ of the E-mail I had typed ‘urgent hand enclosing job produced with usual unrealistic time frame following scant information.’ This was a reference to me and to the industry I worked in and not about the client. I then, as a jokey aside, and within the body of the text suggested ‘having family born in the East End has its positives. If you need any of my client shot let me know,’ FACT. I have no family, living at least, from the East End.
This E-mail, only ever intended to be read by myself and co-supplier, was inadvertently forwarded to my client.  When I tried to apologise for this error of judgement, bearing in mind the oft ribald verbal conversations had with clients who cheerfully told me they would ‘shoot me or give me a good seeing to’, if I didn't achieve timely delivery, I was informed I could neither explain to the client nor say sorry to them as I was told it was now a disciplinary matter. In other words I was never allowed to explain myself or apologise to the client.
 I fought the case but lost.

 I only bring this matter to light as if I didn’t those who represent Print Management concerns would suggest I am acting out of spite. I am not. I am acting out of a sense of seeing service being replaced by what amounts to deception. Here then is my views on the subject of print management, saving money and, old fashioned concept perhaps, service.
John Lydon, ex-sex Pistol, once famously said ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ That self-same quote could be applied to print management. Perhaps that is too contentious, perhaps it would be better, less confrontational to suggest this…print management does not save you nearly enough nor is it the only way.

Printing is an evolutionary process. It has a history that stretches back to ancient times, to China in 220. Since then the method of printing has evolved and grown, sometimes taking little steps forward but occasionally large ones.

Print Management, or farming as it was formerly known before someone decided to add a whiff of pedigree to what was often a noxious business, has flourished in the last twenty years or so. It is no exaggeration to suggest Print Management leads the field with old fashioned print houses playing subservient kiss chase.

From a clueless clients perspective, and by that I mean a client who has no, or little knowledge of, print practises, having a ‘middle man’ to resolve, provide and monitor co-suppliers, saving the client bother and money, obviously has appeal.

As part of the evolutionary process this added ‘conduit’ appears to have worked. But has it? We live in an ever changing world. Technology has transformed not only our lives but the industries that support our life styles. The point of a large corporation appointing a Print Management company is to save money whilst improving service.  The fact is this does not happen, or at least only by some small degree. There is ‘smoke and mirrors’ manipulation that satisfies those clients keen to save money and who overlook the mechanics. Anyway as a continually evolving industry things have changed. There are ways to improve on this outmoded model which ameliorate both service and cost savings.

But what is hidden from the client’s eyes? What secrets are kept under close wraps behind the signed contract?

Material costs are not the only subterfuge. A PM company takes a brief from a client, an urgent one that requires a rapid, almost instant response, sending the quote to the client for say £2,000 and then, as the client has raised their purchase order for said amount and after the PM company has received a series of cheaper costs, what is to prevent the PM company from selecting another suppliers cost, for example £1,500 or even £1,000, instructing his new supplier to invoice him for £2,000 but then raising a credit for the balance? What indeed is to prevent the Vendor managers working for said PM Company contacting a cheaper supplier and screwing him down another £500 thereby increasing their revenue by 100%?

Alarmingly this happens and quite regularly too. It is neither business like nor honest nor honourable. It is in fact nothing short of back door buggery.

One large corporation that I know of elected to go down the familiar route of awarding a contract to a print management company but for all the wrong reasons. The said conglomerate had no concept how the print industry worked, in fact no interest at all in the vagaries of putting ink on paper for they were administrators who had neither technical aptitude nor any desire to understand dot gain, work and turn, sheet fed, web  or ink jetting. As administrators they turned to yet another set of like-minded individuals, the print management company who, and make no mistake here, are largely run by experts in Excel and Microsoft word but who are themselves nothing more than administrators.

This decision created yet another link for the process to shuffle down, to be squeezed through an ever tightening conduit. From having the creative agency who designed the piece, a trans-creative agency to translate the various languages, a print management firm to finger PC keyboards, a series of suppliers eagerly awaiting the artwork and finally the storage facility - much better surely to take the PM out of the equation leaving the design to the agency and the printing to the supplier?

   By its very nature print management is informed by the laws of free trade. It has one objective, much like any business, and that is to turn a profit. However, making a margin is one thing but making one whilst pretending to be ‘transparent’ is another.

Transparency is a noble concept but in reality nothing more than camouflage often used to disguise a darker truth. For example, who really benefits from paper purchasing? After all, one third of all printing costs are taken up by the purchase of paper. Does the client ever receive the retrospective rebate given by mill or merchant or does that hidden resource line the coffers of the PM facility?

I had the pleasure to work for a very old, established firm of printers when I first entered this industry. They were a company of business gentlemen who, much like businesses today, sought to make a decent profit. In that they were no different. They had won several Queens Awards for industry and prided themselves on delivering, usually overnight, a quality product with an impeccable service. There was no need to speak of transparency as this business held

raison d'etre is to reduce costs at any cost; at all cost. Not so the client benefits but rather to scrabble around in the clients purse when their backs are turned. Far simpler to reduce staffing levels, which effects efficiency while putting an unwarranted pressure on existing account managers, then toss the project to the cheapest supplier demanding of them an unachievable schedule. It is a road to nowhere in a vehicle driven by masked men with swelling swag bags.

This manner of working is unsustainable in the long term. Not only that but demoralising to those subject to its principles. It not only accepts that redundancy is part of that process, it encourages it. It is also, in evolutionary terms, something from the Palaeolithic period. PM is as contemporary as a dinosaur, as filled with life as the Dodo, as swift as treacle and as dated as the Domesday Book

The method I have devised cuts out the middle man, employs those required effectively whilst ensuring the client not only reduces their costs but optimises efficiency. He who controls material costs controls profit. By the same token, if you shrink the conduit back so that throughput flows you improve margins by efficient working practice.

Will there be a return to common sense again? I seriously hope so but equally doubt it. Of course these companies align themselves with the popular opinion held by many corporate procurement teams that getting the lowest price is fundamental.


 “There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey. It is unwise to pay too much, but it is also unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot… It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” - John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

Am I advocating a relaxed attitude to spending money? Categorically not; my concept offers both savings and an improvement on service and on client control. The time to devolve power to the client is here. In the long term it is the only sustainable option

As with all evolutionary processes the trick is in recognising the change before it happens; of staying ahead of the game when others fail to move with the times. It is as much evolution as it is devolution. If businesses who procure print are to increase efficiency they will have to embrace the change.

The change is nothing that should invoke fear or consternation for it involves a revolution that only beneficial.

The current method of having administrators relies upon their communicating through a system of ever shrinking conduits. Far better to have an interface that connects to all parties, that monitors all parties, and that quality assess all parties whilst reducing those tenuous links. This includes paper suppliers, creative designers, printers but also the Royal Mail (or similar alternative.) This interface offers complete control. Financial through to Production to Delivery. It also affords complete quality regulation ensuring all suppliers are audited.

In summary the modern day business needs to own all it purchases. Simply allowing a third part to buy on their behalf is money wasted especially when what is being bought for you should be by you. Once you invest in an interface that grants the power to control both production and material costs, profits increase along with productivity.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

1 comment:

Thalia Graves said...

It's all so cloak and dagger! I'm very sorry you lost your job over this.
I do insurance billing and coding. We're very bound by HIPAA rulings. There's a lot of shredded paper that leaves the building!

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