03 April 2020 Events

SGA Live puts spark into print publishers

A conference staged by Stephens & George for its customers is full of good ideas for publishers, which can feed back into stronger print products.

There was snow in the air of central London as magazine publishers gathered in Regent Street for SGA Live, an annual conference and networking event staged by Stephens & George, which aims to help customers with ideas to improve their business. It was the sort of weather that would be familiar in South Wales, less so in London. Many customers had been to the Merthyr Tydfil factory the previous month for the opening of the company’s new press hall and its latest long perfecting Heidelberg Speedmaster XL106.

On that day managing director Andrew Jones had reported Heidelberg as saying that this was, at least temporarily, the most advanced Heidelberg press user in Europe, thanks to the line up of five XL106 perfectors, each with CutStar and the less than three minutes per section changeovers that are standard at the company. Without such automation it would not be able to cope with the short runs that are standard across magazine publishing. Its mailing line copes with an average run below 4,000, and now with paper wrapping coming online. Already some 17% of magazines of the 880,000 magazines a month being mailed by the business are sent out in this way and the inquiries and interest are climbing.

This is part of a wider commitment to sustainability, one that the magazine printer has perhaps not made a major issue of. It recycles almost 100% of what goes through the factory, a cue for the first speaker to the stage at the historic Regent Street Cinema, who was Two Sides’ managing director Jonathan Tame. Almost overnight Tame's propositions about the impact of communications via paper, about carbon balancing paper and the reduction of the industry’s environmental impact, are being listened to with keen interest, rather than merely politely.

He explained how having tried talking to one printer several times in recent years to no avail, that printer now wants an urgent meeting. “I told him I could not make any meeting for another ten weeks,” he says, “and then asked him: have you got a customer putting pressure on? And of course, he had.”

That was not in Tame's presentation, though his points were being noted down keenly by members of the audience. Those involved in magazine production need to defend their use of paper against gung ho digital types in their companies and the facts about sustainability will be essential for that. “There is a very good environmental story for print and paper,” Tame explained, outlining 72% recycling rates, the management of forests for pulp, extensive use of renewable energy in paper mills and how 93% of water used is returned to rivers and lakes, cleaner than when extracted. In contrast the digital industry creates 9 million tonnes of electronic waste a year “which is very difficult to reprocess”.

S&G sales director Nick Plessing had noted that the printer needed to make stronger use of its environmental story when talking to customers and prospects. He also made notes from following presentations. Fiona Green, for example, outlined the marketing approach that publishers should take when building subscriptions. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, she said.

Her presentation was based on experience in sports marketing where the use of data and analytics lags behind the collection and analysis of data that is used to assess athletes and players. “Organisations have been slow to get to grips with data and how to use data to sell more,” she said. Her role is to help change this using customer data to identify different customer sets and “deliver the right message to to the right person at the right time”.

She didn’t want to use the customer relationship management phrase, this having been over used, misunderstood and maligned. Instead, she explained, it ought to be about intelligent customer management. And that is based on information about customer profiles to create archetypes: Netflix collects 36,000 data points per subscriber in order to deliver the ideal list of content and what it ought to produce; Boots has three personality types, all women, across 25 million customers.

While she was addressing publishers, the points can be applied to online businesses, to consumer print companies and even to printers with a variety of customers. Plessing certainly agreed: “The more we know about the potential customers we are talking to, the greater the chance of success,” he said.

“My takeaway from today is that sustainability is an issue that we need to communicate more, especially to the digital natives; that it is the prospects in the middle – neither the companies already committed to us or those opposed to us – that will make the biggest difference. These are the ones that we probably can convert if we work smarter to capture more data about them, more accurately, and learn to understand them better.”

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Speaker Jonathan Tame outlined the growing importance of sustainability at SGA Live: “There is a very good environmental story for print and paper." Those involved in magazine production need to defend their use of paper against gung ho digital types and the facts about sustainability will be essential for that. Certainly S&G will be more confident about telling its sustainability story.

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