Productivity versus Creativity

Challenges to the manufacturing mindset

Creative v Manufacturing

What is it about Print Service Providers? 

 Why is design as a service so limited, and mostly not even an offering from PSPs? 

At a recent DSCOOP conference a panel member who is a printer explained why they closed their creative services department. Their main client base for print included ad and design agencies. They complained that the printer’s creative services were competition and threatened to stop sending print work. That was the final straw that caused the closing. Before that there was a slowdown in creative work. The printer had 15 creative staff but the flow of jobs was dwindling. The problem was that creative staff were treated like the manufacturing staff. No new blood. Their attractiveness to the market diminished as they were perceived as the same-old, same-old.

In manufacturing it is considered a sign of stability to have low turnover. In the creative world turnover is planned obsolescence. Advertising and design agencies change staff like their socks: often. It keeps things fresh. It is a challenge for management with a manufacturing mindset to simultaneously execute on a creative freshness regimen.

Manufacturing often thinks of efficiency as having every service under ‘one roof.’ There’s the rub! Creative and manufacturing are oil and water, they tend not to mix well, if at all. As for the conflict of interest as described by the printer on the DSCOOP panel, it is understandable to remove things that make a client not want to bring you work. So, he fired the creatives. 

Creative agencies have a similar challenge with clients that will not mix well, even though they can be well served. Solution? Spin off to a satellite agency, under the same ownership, but structurally (re: physically) separate. It works because the solution required is confidentiality, but PSPs are reluctant to even try it. Granted, it is not simple. It requires major league management skills.

Spin Off model infographic

This issue also manifests for PSPs trying to add online services specifically Web-to-Print (W2P). Many printers resist deploying W2P because it might conflict with transactional sales. The solution for that situation is to start a separate business; think spin-off. The W2P business still funnels through the same manufacturing environment but is not in direct competition with the existing transactional sales. 

A successful example is Navitor which is owned by Taylor Corporation. They understand some customer sectors can self-serve, while others with complex needs require a higher touch service level. 

Management savvy and expertise makes this viable.

Why are design and creative services important to a printer?

Just look at VistaPrint, Overnight Prints, Canva; they each have powerful design capabilities online. They support these services because they add value beyond putting ink on paper and shipping product to a location. For PSPs with transactional customers creative services offer a deeper, more integrated relationship. Every PSP, save for pure play specialty trade shops, should have a creative department or partner. 

McKinsey surveyed the value of design in three hundred public companies all over the world. Revenue growth was 32% higher than companies without strong design capabilities. 

“Companies with top-quartile McKinsey Design Index scores outperformed industry-benchmark growth by as much as two to one.”

Because of the increase in the number of visual communication channels design needs are increasing. Data derived or inspired graphics are in high demand. This is especially the case with complex information sets in the products and services sectors. Human design from AI derived insights provides the inspirations for this level of visual communication. Perfect for print media and social channel venues. 

Design services must be linked to business health, a strong sales point to make to both online and transactional customers. It provides a way to use data, customer data, to create value that your customers will pay to have. This is the path to making the traditional PSP a better business partner and create value that is not readily matched by a competitor. This component of a PSP service is not just from the design department, it is a companywide decision and requires the highest levels of management to support the effort. 

“The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to pursue user-centric, analytically informed design today.”

A recent WorkLife article by Cloey Coleman states: 

 “Strong presentation and graphic design skills have typically gone hand in hand with certain commercial or creative design roles that require them. Now, they are being regarded as skills that every employee should sharpen, in order to excel in a hybrid or remote working setup.” 

While relating design to effective daily communication, it is also true for commercial enterprise as the McKinsey study details. Canva, the most recent mega-Corp to enter printing is design forward on their thinking. All their new hires are put through a design course to learn how to communicate better with their colleagues and teams. They are focused on the communication effectiveness narrative rather than a defined role mindset, a far more engaging and productive approach.

The world is more visual than at any time in history, and PSPs must respond by being more visual in their offerings to customers. Succumbing to a manufacturing sameness leads to price erosion. Creativity leads to unique positioning and higher value. Print as an industry must change to remain relevant and grow as businesses must do. Stagnation is not an option. Success, not mere survival, must be the goal.




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