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The Soap Box

Asking the right questions

Genevieve Lewis listens to print’s most influential trade associations and bodies as they consider key industry challenges and the steps print companies can take to secure a successful future

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The Little White Lies project called on Spectrum Plastics for help

Not ink on paper

Brendan Perring,
general manager,

A key message that the IPIA has been spreading throughout 2019 is that every single one of our industry’s print businesses needs to make the leap and realise that their product is no longer ink on paper if they are to thrive. The product of today’s business-to-business print-service-provider must be ‘adding value to their customer’s business’. 

A key example of an IPIA member that for a long time has lived this mantra is Spectrum Plastics, which recently completed a project for a high-profile customer that perfectly illustrates the point.

Spectrum was the production partner that produced the vintage special effects for the 12,700 run of celebrated cinematography title Little White Lies’ 80th anniversary issue.

Buxton Press printed the standard pages on the 116pp issue, however, the images in this special edition contained a special effect not seen in the mainstream for many decades. Utilising barrier grid animation, dubbed KineRama by Little White Lies, pages could be animated using acetate decoded sheets.

Using 200-micron gloss clear Staufen PVC, Spectrum printed traditional screen print to ensure it achieved the correct opaque coverage required for the barrier grid animation to work. Spectrum used UV ink as it gave improved control and the drying time is reduced.

The moral of the story dear reader? The next time you speak to a key customer, ask them for a meeting to discuss how your technical knowledge and team’s creative abilities could really help transform their outreach and engagement with their own customers. Take time to understand their goals and objectives, and then bring something creative and new to the table for them to evaluate.

The worst that can happen is they stick to their current format, but with a new appreciation of your wider capabilities. The best outcome is you convert a customer from a low margin commoditised ‘churn and burn’ job to high-margin bespoke work, where that margin is not coming from ink on paper, but your ability to provide them with valuable creative consultancy.

That awkward conversation

Charles Jarrold,
chief executive officer,

Are there some awkward conversations to be had in your business, but you’re not sure where to start in communicating them? If you’re like most, you’ll probably put that conversation off for as long as possible, or even better (you may think) avoid it all together.

Are there some awkward conversations to be had in your business, but you’re not sure where to start in communicating them?

Well that’s the worst thing you can do, for your employees and for your business. Whether the conversation is about capability, denying a pay rise, personal hygiene, misconduct or any other ‘awkward’ topic, you must address it. By leaving it until “next time” and letting it fester, you are procrastinating and as such the situation will become harder to manage and even more awkward.

First things first:

•    Understand which element of the problem is ‘awkward’
•    Don’t procrastinate

How do I hold the conversation?

Don’t put off awkward conversations that need to be had within a business

Prepare and practice:

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the issues you are addressing and consider in advance the desired outcomes of the conversation, e.g. an improvement in performance. However, do not plan a verbatim script as it is unlikely that the conversation will go exactly to plan.

Be professional:

Ensure you set a professional tone from the start. This will keep the conversation on track. Do not let your own awkwardness belittle the issue as this will result in the employee not taking it seriously. Avoid phrases such as ‘this won't take long’ or ‘it's really not a big deal’.

Get to the point:

A difficult conversation is even more difficult if you’re dancing around the subject. So, get to the point and don’t blur the lines with unnecessary compliments or ‘feedback sandwiches’.

It’s a two way street:

You may need to let the employee ‘vent’ at the start, but once they’ve calmed down, involve them in the discussion. Actively listen to them and value their input in agreeing solutions. By asking their opinion, they’ll be more engaged and receptive to the conversation.

Be open-minded:

Conclude the conversation with positives and look to the future. Treat the conversation as a conclusion (where possible), don’t hold a grudge and be sure to follow up on any actions you may have agreed.

What should I say?

Ensure you are empathetic and put the conversation into context, linking it to business reasons where possible. This will help mitigate the risk of bullying/harassment/discrimination claims. Before holding a difficult conversation, run it past your BPIF HR Advisor to gain an impartial perspective of any associated risks.

Off the record:
Remember that conversations are rarely ‘off the record’. Informal verbal conversations with employees can result in formal grievances being raised if not handled correctly.

Can I ask you?

Tony Kenton,

Make sure to ask the right questions, says BAPC’ s Tony Kenton

Knowing the right question to ask is often a lot more important than having the right answer.

Have you ever noticed, the people that we feel most engaged with are not those that provide us with loads of answers, but those who tend to ask us the right questions?

There’s a reason for this, and that is that they are making us feel listened to.

Having worked with salespeople most of my life, I can genuinely say that the majority of them rarely pause for breath in an effort to tell the client, what they do, why they are so good and what great value they bring. By the way, all good attributes.

Yet only if they thought to ask the right questions, that could have been so much more productive, after all, who knows better what a customer wants, than the customer themselves?

Asking the right questions is equally applicable internally as externally. As an example, recently when we were looking to increasing our production capacity, I mentioned to our production manager: “I’m thinking of moving two of the printers to a different shift to get more work done through the night so we can cut down on the interruptions and increase productivity.” I was so pleased with my rationale that I didn’t really give him room to try and change my mind. “I suppose if that’s what you want to do, it might work,” he said. “Good,” I replied, and so we moved them.

After the first quarter I had a chance to look at the figures more closely. Here’s the thing, although the new shift worked on paper and to some extent even worked in practice there had been other problems. Time off for illness had increased, re-prints had gone up, one of the printers had left.

I went over these issues with our production manager and he told me that he felt the move had led to a negative effect on the personal lives of our printers. His recommendation was to apologise and revert to the way we were doing it.  I asked why he had not been more vocal in his objections when I brought it up, to which he replied, “you didn’t ask me what I thought, you just told me what we were going to do”.

I am sure I am not alone and many of us have done this. We think we might be asking a question but in truth, we are not listening as we’re too busy presuming we’re right.

Public Notice:

  • Add value to business
  • Don’t avoid the awkward conversation
  • Make sure you ask the correct questions

To find out more about the issues discussed in this article please contact the relevant organisation via their website: www.bapc.co.uk, www.britishprint.com, www.ipia.org.uk

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