Cheered by festive catalogue creativity

Over the weekend my quest to unearth this year’s most interesting Christmas catalogues began in earnest.

A visit to Peter Jones resulted in a considerable amount of print booty. The John Lewis festive ‘annual’ all 336pp of it, is a wowser. Slick gatefold cover AND it includes an insert with die-cut paper bauble shapes. Love it.

Its autumn/winter Home catalogue (172pp) is also tip-top. It too involves creative use of inserts – including a clever recipe card, a translucent page of glassware, and an 8pp ‘design icons’ throw-out. Good work team John Lewis!

Elsewhere, Muji’s little 60pp sock-shaped number is both cute and attention-grabbing.

And Christmas catalogue stalwart Boots has set up point-of-sale displays that are like a mini Argos to encourage people to order from its catalogue in-store.

The beginning of the 2013 collection caused me to look back on something I wrote on this topic last year, and I have an interesting update for you.

In this blog I cited the example of a firm that had decided to ditch its catalogue in favour of email marketing.

I wondered at the time how that would pan out, and the answer it seems is (surprise!) not terribly well.

For this festive season said customer has returned to print with not one, not two, but three catalogues to drive sales of its range.

Because ultimately it needs to use the best channels IN ORDER TO ACTUALLY SELL THINGS.

Digital marketing may be cheap, but if it doesn’t actually deliver the desired result then it becomes a very expensive decision all round.

“Look I saved all this money on print and mailing costs”

Later… “Um, we haven’t hit our sales targets”

One marketer at least has learned the high cost of a cheap price.

The power of no

The Power of Now is a pretty famous book by Eckhart Tolle. As it turns out there is another book, The Power of No, which is described as “the perfect book for women who may have been passed over for promotions, dated a string of losers, or just want to carve out a little extra time for themselves.” I must buy a copy.

The word “no” came up in a recent PrintWeek Q&A with Tony Bates of Fast Graphics in Nottingham. It was a small but profound comment.

In answer to the question what is your favourite phrase or saying, Bates answered: “‘No’ something us Brits don’t do well.”

He has a very, very good point there.

The other day I had an illuminating exchange with a major supplier to the printing industry, who said his firm’s performance had been transformed after the sales team were urged – indeed actively instructed – to use the ‘no’ word in negotiations.

“But we can’t say that to our customers who want all the good stuff we do for an ever-decreasing price,” was the gist of the initial reaction from startled sales bods.

After the message was reiterated by the firm’s big boss, the sales team did indeed start selling properly, ie a negotiation where they were prepared to close their book and leave the table when faced with unacceptable or unsustainable pricing demands.

“Walk away from these bad deals, but let the customer know that we’re there for them if they need us in the future,” was the boss’s message.

Lo and behold, said customers have come to appreciate the genuine value provided by this supplier, specifically when it comes to keeping those very expensive printing presses running optimally.

And the supplier’s profit line is improving through shedding unsustainable business while gaining better prices that reflect the quality and value being delivered.

The supplier was facing the same sort of pressures faced by many printing companies, stuck in a cycle of acceding to never-ending requests for price decreases. These printers could, equally, benefit from a ‘no to duff deals’ policy.

A famous advertising slogan revolved around the phrase ‘the bank that likes to say yes’ and I see NatWest is using NatYes in a current ad campaign.

All well and good, but ‘no’ is far more powerful when wielded correctly.

Exceptional print, exceptional printcos

Print has much to celebrate, of that there is no doubt. Last night’s PrintWeek Awards recognised and rewarded fantastic printing, and fantastically well-run businesses.

If I were to sum up the evening in one quote, it would be this one from Claire Deacy, a member of our esteemed judging panel, who said: “FABULOUS night at the #printweekawards and congrats to all winners and commended. UK Print is thriving…. get involved!”

We wanted to celebrate the Power of Print, and the entries didn’t disappoint. A veritable cornucopia of print-based delight was on show.

It seems to me that print’s ability to provide differentiation to all that screen-based information, through format and substrate choices, is increasingly being recognised by smart marketers who want to get real results. Examples of this came up time after time.

And boy, do we have some well-run companies in this industry. I salute all the entrants who delighted and inspired us. Special congratulations to the winners, of course, but to all who were in the mix you really should be proud. You are an inspiration.

Sense of proportion over printing error

Printing error. A dread phrase, often used incorrectly.

In the case of the cock-up at Clays, whereby Bridget Jones inadvertently segued into David Jason, it really was a printing error, and one that was caused by human error.

It’s an interesting incident for all sorts of reasons. It was described as affecting ‘a small number’ of books and that genuinely seems to be the case. It appears that only some  of the pre-publication copies were affected. Unfortunately they are the copies that go out to journalists and reviewers, who were able to make high-profile hay of it all.

If the faulty books had been in the supply chain in numbers, there would be pictures all over the interweb. I haven’t seen any.

It reminds me of an apocryphal tale told to me by a print company owner many years back: irate publisher phones print boss to complain about a faulty copy of their super-duper glossy magazine, which has been sent back to them by a subscriber.

Print boss responds: “Oh thank goodness you’ve found it, we knew there was one copy that slipped through.”

Oh how we laughed.

In the case of the Bridget Jones book, the clever folk at Random House made the most of the PR opportunity by making a joke about it, and the story resulted in a huge amount of additional publicity for both launches, across all the major media outlets.

Whether the behind-the-scenes conversations between the publisher and printer are quite so laugh-a-minute is another thing.

Reputationally, it’s not great for Clays, but as mix-ups go it could have been way worse.

Amid the schadenfreude at the incident, lots of print bosses will no doubt be thinking “there but for the grace of [insert chosen deity here] go I”.

Be it a nuclear reactor, a jumbo jet, a giant cruise ship or a printing factory; no matter how whizzy the technology, when humans are involved there will always be the potential for human error.

We all just need to have a suitable sense of proportion about it.

Upbeat book vibe

It’s ‘Super Thursday’ for the book trade and there is lots of talk about the anticipated Christmas bestsellers.

The vibe seems upbeat, and I experienced something of it last weekend when I made a trip to my favourite independent bookshop (The Open Book in Richmond, since you ask).

I was there to pick up a birthday present book for my best friend, but, such is the joy of this little bookshop, I immediately went into book magpie mode and purchased a second book for the BF, a new book for me, and found several candidates for the ‘things I might like for Christmas list’.

I also – joy – got myself one of those natty Books Are My Bag canvas bags. A small additional detail being that the bags are personalised to the individual bookshops, I hadn’t realised that before. So, doubly-excellent.

I felt good about my spend on lovely printed stuff, and it marked another small milestone on my personal journey to avoid buying books or other goods via Amazon. I don’t like its manipulation of tax structures, it falls foul of the ‘what if everybody did this?’ test.

Imagine my vexation, then, to see that the Bookstrust’s Children’s Books Week is supported by Amazon Kindle.

There are two things wrong with this picture. One is the previously mentioned Amazon tax thing.

Two, while I quite understand Amazon’s ambitions to rule online shopping AND e-books, the association sits a bit oddly because the undoubted convenience of e-reading just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to children’s books.

Memories are made of the colours, textures, and shapes of the actual, proper printed books involved.

It won’t just be nippers who’ll be delighted to receive book-based gifts this coming Christmas. As the man from Foyles says: “People have realised the value of books and how special they are”.

No boundaries with web-to-print

Food for thought at a recent update with Heidelberg.

Sales director Jim Todd highlighted the potential web-to-print opportunity for printers here in the UK. At the same time he noted how continental players were muscling in on the UK market.

Take Flyeralarm, the German behemoth that started off as a web-to-print operation that outsourced all its print. It became so successful that it brought printing in-house (rather like Moo, in some ways), but on something of a more industrial scale. Flyeralarm now run 23 (23!) large-format sheetfed presses in Germany.

And yes, it is picking up a load of work from the UK as well as from its home market and other countries across the continent.

According to Todd’s calculations this one company is producing the equivalent of 5% of the UK’s sheetfed production.

That’s impressive from Flyeralarm’s point-of-view, but a bit, well, alarming.

It’s surprising and a bit disappointing that these web-to-print juggernauts seem to all be based on the mainland. Be it Flyeralarm, Vistaprint, Saxoprint, Unitedprint… the list goes on.

And Flyeralarm even has a shop in central London now, to go with its 13 other stores in Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria.

Why hasn’t anyone here on the small island done something similar? Is it a lack of ambition or indeed our ‘island’ mentality?

Sweet taste of show success

Last week’s Labelexpo show was buzzing.

It was the biggest show to date and had that happy combination of lots of interesting new technology – including a host of new digital label presses for visitors to pore over – and new and improved label applications.

I saw two booths (there may have been more)  highlighting labels developed specifically to stick firmly to tyres. Then there were labels designed to stay put in humid or refrigerated conditions, as well as labels designed to separate cleanly from PET in the recycling process.

The level of technical know-how deployed to meet the aims of sticking/not sticking was immense.

Back in the summer, after the Fespa exhibition Newnorth’s Dave Hennessy described the show as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for print”. Well, Labelexpo was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for labels.

On the subject of delightful confections I’m also minded of other hugely-enjoyable and engaging events – GFSmith’s Beauty in the Making and Monotype’s Pencil to Pixel.

This vibe achieved by all of the above is precisely the sort of thing that Ipex needs to create next spring.

It’s a major coup that St Ives’ Patrick Martell has agreed to be president of the show, and I like what he’s had to say about focusing Ipex on how to use print. The regular reader will know that we at PrintWeek are big champions of the #powerofprint.

Come next March it won’t be an Ipex as we’ve known it in the past, but I’m really hoping that Martell and co can help it gain that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feel.

Getting personal about promos

This comment from Will Parker of Reflex Labels, in our feature about 20 years of digital printing, made me smile and also rang true.

He said: “I remember predicting that everyone would have their own Coke can… well it’s taken 20 years, but Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke project has made people realise it can be done.”

The Coca-Cola project still makes my mind boggle in terms of the logistics involved, the good news is it does seem to be proving suitably successful. Every time I find myself in front of a chiller cabinet containing soft drinks, I have to have a little sort through all the Coke bottles to see if I can find any familiar names. And I’m hardly the main target demographic for the campaign, judging by the billboard ads.

And I’ve also noticed a couple of other well-known brands turning to the personalised promo route. Stella Artois has 50,000 personalised glass chalices up for grabs, in a cross-media promotion that involves special codes on promo packs and a website where you enter said code to find out if you’re a winner.

And Powerade (a Coca-Cola company, probably not coincidentally) has a similar thing going with its personalised sports bottle offer, this time linked to PIN number printed on the reverse of Powerade labels.

All three of these examples involve massive brands, but there are plenty of opportunities here for printers dealing with smaller businesses to pitch personalised promos for their clients’ clients.

A word of warning, though, also from the direction of Coca-Cola. Be alert to the potential for user-generated variable content to result in unfortunate unintended consequences. “You retard” is not a terribly on-message message… in this instance, the recipient could have done with something a little less personal.

Plenty of life yet in ‘old school’ cards

I was irritated by a stripling a few weeks back.

Said stripling called me ‘old school’, repeatedly, (or would that be old skool in yoof speak?) because I’d asked him for a business card.

Let me say now that I hadn’t asked him for his card because he was fascinating, or hot.

Rather, I thought  I might as well try and generate a bit of additional printing for somebody, somewhere while this tiresome tosser flaps his lips at me.

The funny thing is, that even though he made an impression, albeit an irritating one, I can’t even remember his name let alone what he did for a living.

By contrast, I’m currently looking at the business card of another young chap I met at the same event, who delighted in the fact that his card was something of an attention-grabber because it involved two layers of contrasting materials, with silver and white foil.

There is plenty of life in the business card yet, particular for those who are clever about the creative possibilities of these small printed rectangles.

Which brings me on to KMS Litho in Hook Norton, which laid down something of a challenge in the business card stakes this week by producing a triplex business card for design agency client Wetdog Creative.

The cards consisting of 540gsm GFSmith Colorplan sandwiched between 300gsm Antalis Printspeed making a total of 1140gsm. Is this the world’s heaviest business card?

Oh, and just for an extra bit of punch there’s an embossed design element as well.

As Wetdog says: “they rock!”

Talk about making an impression. Unlike the sans-card stripling.

Excited, and why hide it?

We’re due an update this month on Landa’s progress with rolling out its Nanography digital presses.

To recap: the launch of the Landa range of presses was a sensation at last year’s Drupa. Founder Benny Landa held out the promise of taking digital printing into the mainstream by printing onto standard offset stocks using his water-based Nanography process, a variant of inkjet.

With, at the last count, more than 400 presses across the range on order the B1 model has proved the most popular and will be the first model to ship commercially. Landa has been busy in the interim period lining up beta sites for this press, as well as the financing to take the plan forward.

Maybe other models will also be part of the beta programme, we don’t know about that yet.

In previous interviews the firm has been adamant that the first presses will be at customer sites by the end of this year. Again, we will no doubt hear more on that soon.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some curious comments about Landa from other manufacturers. The general tone being “you’re being very positive about Landa/why are you being so positive about Landa?”

Why on earth wouldn’t I be? Benny is, after all, the print equivalent of Steve Jobs.

The industry at large is also very interested – that’s why this interview with Benny was our most-read feature of last year.

And I’m generally keen on print innovations no matter where they come from. I remember being completely over-excited when Heidelberg unveiled its new slope-sided Speedmaster design at a previous Drupa – anything that’s cool and involves print kit gets top marks in my book. And Landa made printing look very cool indeed.

Equally, here at PrintWeek Towers we don’t exist in some sort of unquestioning, ‘wonderful world of Benny’ bubble.

Our in-depth piece about the Landa technology and presses featured close-up pics of the glitches in the output, pointed out that the samples lacked any text or flat tints, raised the question of de-inking and included comments from experts who thought commercialisation of the range was likely to take rather longer than Landa’s estimates.

So. Expect an update in the not-too-distant future, and expect us to tell it how it is. And expect excitement where excitement is due. 

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