How to move from traditional supplier to strategic partner in ten steps

Publishers of all kinds are grappling with falling advertising revenues and copy sales due to shrinking advertising budgets and tightening consumer pockets. Publishers, like the majority of businesses in today’s economic climate, require the optimum relationship with their suppliers to give them the confidence they are receiving the best service and prices.


The publishing industry represents approximately five per cent of the total revenue of the printing industry, which in today’s terms is $500 million. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) for July to December 2008 showed that gross copy sales were down 1.6 million copies to 72.8 million – a decline of 6.2 per cent year on year. This is coupled with claims from the Nielsen AdEx database that advertising fell by 10.5 per cent in January compared with the same period last year. Furthermore, and a clear warning sign, is that magazines were hit the hardest, with revenue plunging by 25 per cent.


These figures do not include the non-ABC titles, of whichmany are produced by smaller publishers in niche categories and many in the business-to-business sector, all of whom are also facing deteriorating advertising dollars as marketers either direct their funds to must-have brands or cut budgets and squeeze rates.


These gruelling market conditions will drive the weaker and unprepared publishers out of the market. The master brands will survive because they will have seen tough times before and will be financially robust enough to weather the storm. Those that made prudent streamlining changes last year will be better prepared, but others will be forced to take evasive action.


Many will decide to move online due to the nature of the category – IT titles will be early movers in this change. Some with a few titles in the same category will merge mastheads. Others will cut print runs, paper quality and paginations to the bare minimum, hoping they can survive the downturn.


Business demands will force some publishers to take a hard look at the frequency of their titles. The weekly business-to business category is now in the spotlight as the online platform attracts news and classifieds, so we’ll see weeklies and fortnightlies moving to monthly.


From my discussions with other publishers it has become clear that printers who understand what keeps their customers awake at night have the advantage over those who just print and deliver. Such knowledge enables printers to reach beyond selling on price alone.


Smart printers will use today’s extreme trading conditions to put daylight between them and their competitors, solidify their position in the market, retain customers and use their market leading service to recruit new ones. This isn’t a plea to printers to do publishers’ jobs for them: it’s a chance to get on the front foot and drive more business through the door.


Here are ten steps that all printing companies need to take to improve and enhance their professional relationships with publishing clients.


1. Understand the publisher

This sounds simple and obvious, but there is much more to it. Too many printers see themselves as a print and deliver operation, leaving the key factors that drive the initial decision and the final outcome behind the print product out of the equation.


It’s a change of outlook, but a crucial one, in long term relationships and understanding the business. All too often printers take briefs and email the quote and tender without even asking basic questions on the product and the market it’s servicing. The printer needs to ask more questions because the closer you are to the publisher the more the publisher will share.


  • Understand what makes the publisher tick, what drives their business, their vision, their challenges and their long term goals;


  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it might be about their competitors or the latest circulation figures – if there’s any news in the print industry make sure they hear it from you first;


  • Thoroughly research their categories, and be aware of the latest ABCs and market conditions so you are informed about changes and can comment with knowledge about the market;


  • Interaction is what counts, and the more you have the better versed you’ll be with their business needs. Pay attention – this will give you the edge when you need it;


  • Become a strategic, proactive partner by offering advice, contributing to their business with solid solutions.


2. Business planning

The print component of a publisher’s business plan is a material factor and not only does it absorb the lion’s share of the cost base but it’s also open to market fluctuations when the paper component is added. As business planning becomes more challenging in this economic climate, prudent publishers will want to lock in long-term prices so they at least have a stable cost base.


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