Three years ago Amnesty International UK hired Centurion to become its major supplier of print services. It has recently renewed the contract and believes working with a print management company is the way forward.
In the past, the sheer scale of its print requirements made managing the process difficult. A few years ago it reached the stage where no one had overall responsibility for print services. Maggie Paterson, Amnesty's head of publishing, says: "As the organisation grew, there was an abundance of people commissioning design and print. It became apparent a lot of people were spending their time getting quotes from printers and briefing people."
The duplication scenario was played out across the organisation. "We have a big campaigns team which works with a lot of different groups,
explains Paterson. "One deals with local groups, others with the media.
Then we run various campaigns. They were all being supplied with different information and materials for printing."
The organisation has centralised internally as well as externally. Most material, such as the bi-monthly magazine Amnesty, which is distributed to 170,000 supporters, is produced by a five-strong publishing team, although the marketing department continues to take responsibility for direct mail.
The publishing team works closely with Centurion as its main supplier.
She says: "It's a logical thing to do, providing you have a good relationship with your supplier and a good sense of what print costs are. It works well and they secure economies with printers because they are placing a lot of work."
It isn't easy to quantify how much the relationship saves Amnesty but Paterson is convinced it is significant. "If we didn't use them we would have to employ at least one extra member of staff who would have to constantly check print costs, keep in touch with the industry and keep an eye on quality. Then we would need someone to go out and get quotes for materials for 12 different campaigns each year."
In addition to the usual service, having a relationship with a company that knows everyone in the printing industry has the kind of advantages that can't be budgeted. As Paterson explains: "If for some reason we suddenly wanted 20,000 leaflets produced in three days it would be far easier for them than us to identify someone who could turn it around on time."
Paterson is quick to refute suggestions that hiring a management company means you lose an element of control. "A good thing about Centurion is they operate an open book policy so we can always check with them things like why they went with a certain printer. We also have the right to renew and review the contract.
When a small voluntary organisation in Tower Hamlets, east London, decided to publish its own quarterly magazine, most people expected a cheap, grey rag few people would be bothered to read. What they got instead was a polished, 12-page publication designed and printed to professional standards.
The organisation, Boundary Estate Tenants and Residents Association (BETRA), pays a print specialist ?xA3;1,600 to produce 600 copies. The printers take care of everything from buying the paper to design and print. All BETRA has to supply is the words and pictures.
Three years after the group was formed to give people living on the London estate a voice, secretary Terri White believes outsourcing printing services has proved an effective way of achieving that goal.
"We have come up with a very reasonable magazine at a decent rate,
she says. "It has helped us not only to communicate with people on the estate, but also to raise our profile and make a good impression when we send the mag to people such as MPs and councillors."
BETRA, which funds the publication through grants of ?xA3;2,250 from the local authority and ?xA3;3,250 from Millennium Awards for All, outsources the job to a print co-operative called Calverts, a long-standing collaborator in voluntary-sector publishing. As White admits: "We simply haven't got the skills or equipment to produce a decent magazine ourselves."
Print remains a fundamental requirement across the sector whether it's for annual reports, binders, brochures, stationery, directories, inserts, leaflets, direct mail, posters, point-of-sale material or membership magazines.
It isn't just small groups with skill shortages that are increasingly turning to one single, outsourced supplier to manage all their print services. The RSPB, even by commercial standards, is a publishing beast. Its quarterly membership magazine, Birds, is the 24th highest circulation magazine in the UK with a print run of 640,000.
The charity has its own in-house writing and creative team but its relationship with external printing partners remains crucial and it benefits from taking time to research the industry. The RSPB's commercial manager Tim Norman says: "You need to be able to embrace print technology to the degree where you can talk to people and ask the relevant questions that will benefit your organisation."
One of the benefits of the RSPB's industry knowledge is an acute awareness of costs, which it uses to buy paper direct rather than through intermediaries at an additional charge. "We are able to ensure responsibility for the paper stays with the printer but control of the price rests with us,
Naturally, the sheer size of the RSPB is in itself a powerful negotiating tool but still it leaves little to chance. The tendering process for Birds takes in around a dozen companies, practically every company in the land capable of handling such a huge print run. "Because of the size of the magazine, we don't have to dig too hard to find them,
Outsourcing appears to work for big and small and is endorsed by Acevo in a best practice guide. "Outsourcing,
wrote chief executive Stephen Bubb, "can be a very useful way of utilising scarce resources but requires ongoing monitoring to maintain its effectiveness."
Yet many not-for-profit groups continue to adopt a random approach, taking individual decisions to outsource as they arise instead of using bulk to negotiate a discount. Richard Evans, director of voluntary-sector services at print management company Centurion, estimates outsourcing can save charities between 10 to 20 per cent a year.
Evans' view is borne out by the NSPCC, which in April outsourced all but a tiny fraction of its print work to print management company Alistair McIntosh. The contract is worth ?xA3;2 million. "We spend more on print materials than anything else,
says Belinda Turner, the NSPCC's purchasing manager.
"Previously it was typical, total fragmentation with decisions made at a local level,
she says. "There are other incremental savings such as only having one invoice as opposed to 40 a week,
she says. "Plus it will bring about so many quality improvements such as brand compliance. Everything we send out will have our correct logo and details."
Medium-sized charities or those that need to restructure in the wake of growth could benefit most. "It's something that has only been around the voluntary sector for about two years but the commercial sector has been taking advantage of it for a decade now,
adds Evans, whose customers include Scope, Age Concern and The National Trust. "The voluntary sector is worth ?xA3;8 million to our business but the potential is at least ?xA3;20 million."
Evans describes the main benefit of outsourcing as "enabling voluntary organisations to concentrate on their core activities.
He adds: "What we do isn't rocket science but printing is a complex area and operating this way takes the aggravation away from using a printing company."
Not surprisingly, printers themselves take a somewhat different view.
Chris Chadbon, sales director of Newgate Press, says going through an intermediary can be "a waste of money".
"If a charity has its own designer then usually that person is perfectly capable of doing what a print management company does,
he says. "And it won't cost you an extra 20 per cent."
But Chadbon, whose customers include Shelter and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, agrees charities often don't go about organising their printing in the right manner. "What happens is design agencies tend not to target charities because they think they are cost sensitive,
"So charities trot off to their local printer, try to cut corners and end up with a rotten job."
One of the reasons why charities shy away from the area is because they fail to understand printing jargon and struggle to keep up with the fantastic rate of technological progress. In recent years digital publishing has begun to replace the traditional letterpress or lithography and this in itself has bred a whole new language. Around three-quarters of Calverts' customers are from the voluntary sector, and sales and marketing director Arthur Stitt says many lack a basic understanding of how printers operate.
He says: "Design and print is quite a technological industry and it moves so quickly. A lot of people think it's a case of pushing a button and it's done.
"But fonts have to be supplied, images have to be a certain resolution.
Sometimes charities say 'you can download our logo from our web site' but they don't understand that a 72 dots per inch image is fine on screen but for print it needs to be 300 dots per inch."
A partnership arrangement immediately eases this problem. Most relationships start with a meeting to inform the printer about your aims. This enables the managing company to formulate a brief for their designers, whose initial creatives showing a concept and style are shown to the charity for approval.
Once the artwork is agreed, the literature is produced and final proofs shown to the customer.
Different technology is suitable for different jobs. If a charity wants a complete stationery order, Calverts handles the lot on a single lithography printing plate. For orders of up to 500 A4 sheets, it uses digital printing.
"With digital, every sheet you print costs the same amount of money,
explains Stitt. "With lithography, the more you print the cheaper it becomes because the bulk of the cost is in making the plates and mixing the ink."
For those who decide to work directly with a printer, Maeve McAnallen, production manager at Save the Children, advises charities to stick to three basic considerations: quality of work, cost and service. She says: "Ask other organisations whose materials are well produced what printers they use. Many commercial publications, such as colour brochures, have the name of the printer on the back.
"Also, you need to consider the appropriateness of the printer for your specific job. For example, whether it's two or four colours, how big the print run is, and how you want it finished.
"Do not necessarily choose the printer with the lowest estimate; consider the quality of their work and the efficiency of their service as well."
A CHECKLIST FOR CHARITY PRINT BUYERS
- Decide whether it is best to outsource part or all of your print services or deal direct with a printer
- As a rule, outsourcing relationships tend to suit larger organisations that spend more than ?xA3;250,000 a year on print services
- If you deal direct with a printer, make sure it is best suited to your requirements. Does it offer full colour? Can it cope with your print run? Make sure your specifications are clear
- Put the contract out to tender and then come up with a shortlist of three
- Ask a representative from each of the three to show you examples of their work. Then ask for written estimates - Remember, digital publishing is often cheaper for small orders
- If you outsource, agree a service level agreement outlining details of response times for estimates and queries, quality assurance procedures and how suppliers are selected, reviewed, and audited
- Agree payment terms and the level of financial transparency
- Check whether the company offers open book accounting, which gives you instant access to all information
CASE STUDY: AMNESTY FINDS OUTSOURCING HELPS TO MANAGE THE COMPLEXITY OF PRINT BUYING