30 November 2015 Print Companies

Prime Group adds impact to direct mail

It is all about the response says Prime Group managing director Jon Tolley, where direct mail is driving the business.

Jon Tolley has had a big pillar box red front door installed in the meeting room at the Prime Group’s offices in Blidworth near Mansfield.

It is complete with brass door fittings and sits in a white painted brick wall alongside a window divided into small panes by white wood. At appropriate times in a meeting a member of staff will post a direct mail sample which lands with a satisfying thud on the door mat.

It doesn’t really matter that the letter has landed on the outside of the door, it is the impact that counts. “It’s all good fun,” says Tolley, a phrase that he repeats frequently.

For Prime, impact is everything. “We are heavily results focused,” says Tolley. “We know the metrics behind any campaign that we run.” As 95% of the work that goes through the digital presses is personalised in some way, there are a lot of metrics to keep track of.

The company runs two HP Indigo 7800s, an Indigo 10000 which was installed just over a year ago and a B2 Heidelberg Speedmaster SM74 when litho print is called for. There is now a display print division which not only adds decoration to posters, boards, promotional gifts and so on using inkjet, screen printing or pad printing, it is positioned at the heart of an innovation drive.

Tolley describes Prime as a “marketing production company” rather than a printer. It sets the business apart and changes the conversation with a client. “We produce marketing collateral to help our clients, find, win, keep and grow their customers,” he says.

This might be through print, but equally it might be through SMS or email, personalised landing pages, forms or other communication channels.

Tolley has a bias towards print, because he believes that at some point in all campaigns, print works best. “Print is a consequence of what we do. It’s not the driving factor so if print is not the right channel we will not push it. Print is the right channel of course, but from the client’s perspective it may not be.”

Any campaign is dynamic. The starting point may be a data set that the client has and the end point increased sales, a greater depth of information about the customers, or frequently both.

In a current campaign targeting lapsed customers, the first response rate was 23%. “Then we re-engineered the message and reached 32%, re-engineered it again and got to a 43% response. We are now at 52% and will re-engineer it again in to a multi-touch, multi-channel campaign and hope to significantly increase that again. When we increase response from 23% to 52%, cost does not come into it.”

With these sorts of results (a 1% increase in response rate can generate £100,000 in additional revenue in a campaign, says Tolley) the cost of print and postage does not feature.

“It’s not a print job,” he explains. “It’s a mechanism for expanding the client’s business. Whether it’s launching a product, contacting customers to promote a service, for us it is always a mechanism to do something. When you understand what the job is trying to do for the client, it makes what we do more effective.”

Conversations start with a process of discovery, seeking to understand what goals the customer has, what its issues are and to find out what is currently going on.

“It’s a fact finding exercise that is usually conducted face to face,” says Tolley. “We want to get under the customer’s skin to understand what his pain points and goals are.” That leads to a presentation and the drawing up of a campaign strategy. “Even when the campaign is underway, we will not let it sit still.”

The metrics are examined and probed to find ways of increasing response and making the campaign more effective. This might be through changing the offers, altering the language (tone is very important according to Tolley), everything to drive up effectiveness. “There is lots still to do. We go behind the results,” he explains.

While print skills are undoubtedly important, programming is becoming more so. The technical team is the fastest growing department, he explains. A campaign might have more than 1.2 million possible variations meaning that the underlying data structure can be massive.

All responses build into the customer relationship management database enabling better and more relevant targeting in future campaigns.

Things become really interesting when Prime begins to tap into the client’s CRM. “We then start to extract data to feed into the processes and it becomes a lights out exercise. At the end of the day it is all about improving their results,” says Tolley.

“If we have a job we can prove this. We start by talking about where they are as the control point, what they are doing at the moment. We will then take this and re-engineer it to start to generate better results and we will monitor and track this.

“We had one client which was reluctant to go ahead, so we sent our samples to their marketing teams and received the response that ‘that’s nice’ and this persuaded it to go ahead with the campaign. It generated the extra revenue as we said it would,” he says.

Alongside the direct mail, the company produces ‘items of one’ in a range of consumer products from calendars to greetings cards to personalised children’s books.

Prime installed the OneFlow software developed by Precision Printing to track and manage this process. This arm accounts for a third of the £5.1 million revenue the company generates, and can manage 20,000 items a day.

Renz equipment handles the calendar binding while a PFI Bind6000 PUR binder from Duplo recently joined a Bourg perfect binder. The software ensures that the correct items are gathered in each package before being wrapped for posting.

Along with the vast amounts of direct mail, Prime is visited by two Royal Mail articulated trucks a day, both for this and direct mail.

“We are seeing a huge revival in direct mail because data has become really savvy which is helping to make print a valued part of the marketing mix,” he says.

Equally important is the user experience, understanding what it is that triggers response. The client might take what is called “the single view of the customer” but for Tolley that is the wrong way to look at it. “We have a saying: it’s the single brand view that the consumer has that is important.”

It shapes a lot of the thinking, that whenever a consumer encounters a brand, the experience should be consistent. This naturally extends across digital communications and direct mail and now into the expanding display and promotional products operation.

It has inkjet printing, but also screen printing and pad printing for decorating direct to object. There are also five flatbed inkjet printers. The facility comes up with some innovative and cool ideas, says Tolley.

“Consumers are channel agnostic,” he explains. “It’s about consistency across different products and interactions whether in store, online or viewing a catalogue. As far as the consumer is concerned the brand should be the same whether he is buying online or in the store or by click and collect for the next day.

“The display division is a niche that is growing nicely for us and it has helped open opportunities in other areas, including direct mail where we printed a large sheet of card using the screen press and cut it down to insert in envelopes.

“It is about providing multiple touches to keep the brand in front of mind. What is happening there is phenomenal.”

Prime is ready to work with a client either directly or in combination with a chosen agency. While the agency will understand design and be able to interpret the client’s wishes, it will not know about postage rates, formats or materials.

“We can get great results working together,” he says. “They do not always understand the variables in the printing techniques which can make a massive difference.”

As an example he points to the B2 format Indigo 10000. It was installed at the end of August last year at a point when the technology had settled down after the inevitable early teething issues.

“We waited until the time was right because we know we would have regretted making the installation too early,” he says.

It can run in EPM mode, which uses three colours to print instead of CMY plus black. The result is both faster throughput and a reduction in costs. “Using EPM and running a job five-up can make a massive difference to cost. This is 77% more efficient than running the same job two up in four colours on the Indigo 7800s and 33% more cost effective in per click rates to do that.” Not all customers are aware of these benefits.

The new press was plunged in on a job that recorded 1.3 million clicks. “It was 32% more profitable than it would have been without the Indigo 10000,” says Tolley. Prime is equally happy to print most of a job on the litho press and to feed it through the Indigos to add personalisation in black. Personalisation becomes effective across tens of thousands of copies, not just a few hundred.

The HP Indigo 10000 will also open the way to printing new formats and materials, including carton boards. There are samples in the meeting room which are used to spark conversations and ideas, but nothing that is ready to roll yet. “There has definitely been a shift in the mindset of the big brands regarding the concept of personalisation and what can be achieved in terms of raising brand awareness. What Coca-Cola [Share a Coke campaign] did acted as a wake up call for many and seeing what that did in terms of increasing market share and consumer impact has made them sit up and listen. They are now more prepared to take risks.”

If they do, and Prime is working on a project that could add £2 million to its revenue, the sky is the limit. Tolley reckons that sales will raise this year and that next year would increase to £7.5 million. The business is capable of £12 million he reckons.

Currently Prime occupies two sites. It moved to the first on a reclaimed coal mine in 2007 and opened a purpose built factory a short walk away in 2013. This houses the production equipment while the first unit has the offices and downstairs the large format operation.

There is space alongside the second factory to build another of the same size, though these are sketched ideas rather than architectural plans at the moment.

The production plant was purpose designed with presses down stairs and the hand finishing and packing operation upstairs. The Technotrans chillers needed for the digital presses are retained inside the plant and are used to heat the environment inside the factory. It means, says Tolley, that the heating bill for the unit came to £232 for last year.

As the business grows the opportunities to expand will increase. Tolley is not averse to the idea of participating in mergers. The mood has changed from acquiring distressed businesses to bringing together strong companies. Prime has struck up a partnership with a company in the US to act as its European production site and vice versa.

“That works really well for us,” he says. “We are not dealing locally any more and we need to have contacts across the Pond. We can never become a global organisation in ourselves. That would take a ridiculous amount of investment, but we can find people to work with who are a good fit.”

The dating bureau in this instance is Dscoop, the Indigo users’ organisation that delivers shared experiences, education and the ideal environment to have these conversations. Tolley stepped down from the global board and as European chairman at the end of October but retains an ambassadorial role.

Tolley is now involved with the Young Entrepreneurs group, a bunch of youngsters drawn from all sectors of the industry united by their enthusiasm and the different perspective they bring on how print should be developing.

“I wanted to give something back,” he explains. “It’s about being able to think back and what advice I might give to my 20-year-old self. It is a very nice thing to be able to do.

“If I had to do this to myself I would say: Learn more. The biggest learning experience I have had over the last few years is training myself to become a lot smarter, finding out about how to be a businessman. If I had had that advice it would have accelerated that learning process a lot sooner.”

It has fostered an enthusiasm for learning education and training across the company. “We encourage learning as part of personal development. There is a library of books that everyone is encouraged to use.

“It’s all good fun.”

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Jon Tolley

Jon Tolley

Jon Tolley had the front door and window facade built in the Prime Group meeting room.

At appropriate times in meetings a direct mail sample will be posted through the letterbox which lands on the mat with a satisfying thud.

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“Using EPM and running a job five-up can make a massive difference to cost," says Jon Tolley.

"This is 77% more efficient than running the same job two up in four colours on the Indigo 7800s and 33% more cost effective in per click rates to do that.”

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Currently Prime occupies two sites. It moved to the first on a reclaimed coal mine in 2007 and opened a purpose built factory a short walk away in 2013.

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