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Choosing the best print management company

Why use print management services?

Print remains a critical part of the marketing and communications mix. Contrary to popular assumptions, the global printing market is expected to grow from $750 billion in 2021 to $796 billion by 2027. As well as growth in advertising print, where it is being used to create a physical experience in retail, print is still the only medium that can be relied on to reach almost everyone in their homes. It was a printed letter that the Government relied upon in 2020 to tell the nation about the seriousness of Covid 19.

However, print production and the sourcing of print products is a specialist activity. In-house print rooms and disconnected print buying strategies can drain resources, particularly as demand increases. This can negatively impact the cost and quality of print and, therefore, end-user engagement. Outsourced, professional print management can offer a scalable solution with multiple benefits.

Person holding pile of printed papers in a print factory

CDS has extensive experience providing print management services to a wide range of public sector organisations. Over the last 27 years, we have been particularly successful in the public sector, serving local authorities at Borough, District, Metropolitan, County and Combined Authority levels. We are the single supplier of print management contracts to the Ministry of Defence, Transport for London, Birmingham City Council and the Greater London Authority. We have helped these organisations improve efficiencies, reduce unnecessary costs, and communicate effectively with their diverse target audiences.

What are the differences between print management, print buying and print production?

Print management definition

Print management creates business value by making organisations more efficient, removing costs, reducing risk to brand and reputation and ensuring regulatory compliance.

Executing a communications strategy to reach the right people in the correct format and the right context becomes easier. Internal resources are freed up to focus on core business by removing the burden of dealing with the process, production, and delivery of printed materials.

Working with a professional print management partner decreases the risk in your business through access to a fully managed and strategically sourced supply chain. This then ensures transparency and confidence around areas such as CO2 impact and compliance with regulations such as those around modern slavery. At CDS, we are accredited to seven ISO standards, including ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems.

Print production definition

Print production refers to the manufacturing of print and is a critical component. It includes creating printed content, from planning, preparing files, merging multiple data points, monitoring quality and delivering the printed output.

CDS has a purpose-built 20,000-square-foot secure unit in Aylesbury that provides critical, time-sensitive, personalised communications requiring quick turnaround and print-on-demand services. Specialist capability includes transactional communications with multiple variable data inputs to produce parking permits for the Commonwealth Games or penalty charge notices for Local Authorities. CDS also provides warehousing, stock control and fulfilment services with an option to add online ordering of call-off and catalogue items.

Print buying definition

In contrast, print buying is much narrower and more tactical in focus. Print buyers, whether internal or external, are only responsible for scheduling, pricing and selecting printers and managing the production of printed products.

What are the benefits of print management?

Outsourcing print management removes the non-essential involvement of employees from print-related tasks and streamlines workflows within your organisation.

Advantages include cost and process efficiencies, the potential for significant savings, and access to technological advancements and the latest innovations. The best print management companies are multi-channel specialists that can help your organisation with digital transformation.

Having the right print management systems in place is crucial, but one of the key differentiating factors between print management companies is people. You will want to work with a team of highly experienced, customer-focused individuals who will help you meet your key objectives.

Their ability to deliver a good customer experience, offer expert advice, efficiency, and relentless pursuit of value for money, with a collaborative, flexible approach, can transform how your organisation communicates with its audiences. In addition, at CDS, we add an extra specialism in a strong focus on inclusive and accessible design, helping to ensure you reach the broadest possible audience and that everyone understands your communication.

Print management companies will have systems to manage every stage of the print process and provide transparent, insightful reporting and management information.

Person sat at desk looking at computer monitor

What systems do the best print management companies offer?

Secure, user-friendly systems are essential for good print management.

At CDS, we use our in-house software solution called Print Portal, but other print management organisations should be able to deliver similar functionality.

Print Portal is a secure browser-based online print management system accessed by CDS staff, authorised client users and approved subcontractors. Unique user IDs/passwords provide defined levels of access. The system manages the end-to-end process for both ad hoc (bespoke) work and stock requirements, including:

  • Registering enquiries
  • Request for quote
  • Registering design jobs
  • Logging hours spent on jobs
  • Market testing
  • Issuing quotations and estimates
  • Receiving and assigning purchase orders
  • Placing an order and attaching artwork
  • Issuing proofs for review and signing off
  • Job management
  • Job tracking through to delivery and distribution
  • Stock management and online ordering of catalogue items
  • Tracking delivery and distribution
  • Invoicing
  • Customer feedback
  • Audit trail and archive of every job
  • Benchmarking
  • Comprehensive management information, including historical data

As a large digital agency, we are fortunate to have the expertise to innovate and evolve our print management software system, making it even more user-friendly, flexible around self-service and efficient in line with our digital transformation strategy.

Digital is evolving at unprecedented speed. When engaging with a print management company, it is vital to understand its systems, capability, reliance on third-party software and roadmap for innovation.

Person sat at desk looking at a computer

How is the supply chain managed?

Print managers should proactively manage their supply chain to provide the capacity, quality and expertise required to fulfil and deliver the contract. 

Check whether they have the following in place:

  • A dedicated resource. At CDS, we have our strategic sourcing team to vet and regularly re-vet suppliers. Print experts in the client services team should monitor supplier performance on a job-by-job basis.
  • A supplier management system to manage financials (credit checks), legal (insurances) and compliance (BSI certifications) relevant to the work undertaken.
  • A supplier code of conduct and back-to-back contracts mirror client contract call-off terms and conditions.
  • The strategic sourcing team will carefully select suppliers, using criteria such as location and ability to compete for projects and ensuring the suppliers' strengths meet the customer's needs and sensitivities.

Key factors to consider when choosing a print management provider

Quotes should only be sought from approved suppliers who have been through a comprehensive vetting process. The quotes will go out to a select group of printers who can deliver the best quality and price within agreed deadlines. Price is important, but so are sustainability, social value and social responsibility. Commoditisation of larger blocks of work should also be considered within the supply chain to drive economies of scale.

Print management processes should be underpinned by solid internal quality processes certified to the appropriate ISO standards. As mentioned above, CDS is accredited to seven ISO standards, including ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems. 
Resilient and robust systems like CDS’ Print Portal facilitate quality assurance, but humans also play a central role. Expert account managers and client services executives can proactively advise clients on how to cut costs without compromising on quality. When assessing a print management provider, it is essential to understand who will be working on the contract, their level of expertise and whether they will be confident to make recommendations when they see opportunities to make improvements.

Physical inspections at the printers should be routine. Good print management organisations will have systems and procedures for proofing – online and physical as well as colour management controls and agreed-on standards with suppliers. They should also have systems in place for proof of delivery notifications. 

Typically pre-production services include:

  • Digital and hard copy artwork and proofs
  • Print ready artwork
  • Online publishing and eCommunications
  • Online templates
  • Photograph retouching
  • Image research and sourcing
  • Basic design, art working and page layout
  • Typesetting
  • Copy editing
  • Proof reading
  • Alternative formats
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Many companies write about sustainability, but it is essential to check the policies they have in place and what action they are taking. 

CDS is accredited with ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems. When vetting our supply chain, we also check for 14001 accreditation and Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation. We ensure compliance internally and across our supply chain with all government standards relating to sustainability – including those relating to paper, packaging and ink standards. 

CDS has Planet Mark Business Certification, an internationally recognised sustainability certification for businesses acknowledging continuous progress, encouraging action, and building an empowered community of like-minded individuals. 

We have an ethical trading policy which specifies how we must operate ethically concerning our workforce, customers, suppliers and the wider community. We ask our suppliers to prove that they operate ethically and comply with all appropriate legislation. 

CDS is accredited with ISO 22301 and has an annually tested Disaster Recovery plan to ensure business and service continuity.

A critical factor in obtaining consistent low prices and high levels of customer service from our suppliers stems from treating them ethically. We talk to our suppliers, help them shape their services to meet our client requirements, treat them respectfully, and pay them on time (maximum 30 days). CDS signed the HMG Prompt Payment Code. We value their expertise, and we listen to what they say. 

Other aspects include staff training, personal development support, and social value created for the client's business and suppliers. 

These are all factors to consider when choosing your print management provider.

To ensure you’re reaching your audience effectively, both in the format they need and at the right time, you may need to distribute print communications alongside a digital strategy. Take booking a routine NHS screening, for example, or paying a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN). In these cases, the organisation needs to notify the intended recipient of the impending action required and direct them to the online portal to take the next step. 

By outsourcing your print management and production services, you can ensure you send out printed communications with a streamlined digital journey to follow within the agreed timeline. It’s all about working closely with your service provider to create a personalised and holistic communication campaign, which achieves targeted, inclusive, and comprehensive messaging for all your customers.

Read about Transport for London’s successful print and digital campaign

More on print management services

Man using a magnifying glass to inspect a print job.
Group of people working with paperwork on a board room table at a business presentation. The documents have financial or marketing figures, graphs and charts on them. There is a laptop and digital tablet on the table.

How can CDS help?

Our business process outsourcing solutions for print management and production have helped our clients save an average of 15-25% of their annual printing budget. 

We provide bespoke, fully managed print services - from concept and print to finishing, fulfilment, and distribution. 
We’re also proud to provide high-volume, quick-turnaround digital printing from our secure production facility in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire – boasting a daily in-house print capacity of 2.5 million.  

We free up internal resources to focus on core business by removing the burden of dealing with the process, production, and delivery of printed materials.

What services do CDS offer?

We offer a range of business process outsourcing services that help our clients achieve their desired outcomes.  

We will work with you to simplify complex processes. Get in touch with our team to discuss your needs and how we can help.  

Our print case studies

An aerial view of London
Lambeth Council
Print management
Soldiers in formation
Ministry of Defence
Strategic print
Cars parked alongside a road
Commonwealth Games
Managing parking
View of London bridge
Greater London Authority
Mayoral elections
Action shot of a train in motion
Transport for London
Print partner
Doctor at work
Public Health Wales
Informational print
A person cycling
Clean Air Zone
Communicating with residents
Birmingham city
Birmingham City Council
Printed comms

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