Whilst newspaper sales trends might be heading in the wrong direction, print can have a long and healthy future. The trick, as Newsprinters MD Darren Barker tells James Evelegh, is to increase publisher collaboration across the supply chain, maintain a quality service and significantly reduce the cost base.
Newsprinters offers an end-to-end service focused on delivering cost-effective and value-adding client solutions.
“There is no magic wand for print,” Darren Barker, the new managing director at Newsprinters tells me. “Circulation is down, ad revenues are challenged, newsprint costs are up. This means that publishers need to be looking for forward-thinking printing and distribution partners with a laser eye on tight cost management to ensure they’re making the most of the revenues.”
There are elements of the decline which are clearly structural. But, Darren argues, print is still a very valuable category. “Thinking about newsbrands – despite falling newspaper volumes, the category still generated £1.8bn last year. In context, that’s £0.7bn more than the bottled water category. So, the task for Newsprinters is to ensure that we’re delivering a best-in-class service, and that we’ve tackled excess costs. That’s the way to ensure that Newsprinters has a long-term role in newspaper print and distribution, and that’s what my management team is absolutely focused on.”
Darren took over as managing director in June, having spent almost twenty years in various circulation and distribution roles at News UK, and before that, at Menzies Distribution.
“It soon became clear to me that our mission, both here at Newsprinters, but also across the industry, is to create the conditions for print media to survive long-term. We need to challenge legacy thinking, manage the cost base, sense-check all our processes and collaborate with our traditional competitors to unlock mutual benefits.”
Compete on the newsstand, collaborate in the supply chain
Newsprinters operates out of three print sites – Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, Knowsley in Merseyside and Eurocentral just outside Glasgow. The company provides print, logistics and circulation services to a portfolio of well-known national, regional and free newspapers.
It’s a scale operation, says Darren: “What we offer is significant fire power, UK-wide coverage and a range of primary and secondary distribution services – including our own extensive retail distribution network and also a home delivery operation in the London area.”
Darren Barker: “We need to challenge legacy thinking.”But from the off, it was clear to Darren that Newsprinters needed a reset, to adapt to the current market and to take an industry-wide perspective. “The industry as a whole is carrying too much fat, that’s clear. There is over-capacity and duplication of effort both within individual publishers and suppliers and across the sector. While cost-base is key, there will need to be further consolidation of suppliers within the sector and we’ll be seeing greater collaboration between publishers.”
“As an industry, we need to grow our shared services across functions like print and distribution and look for new opportunities in our back-office services. We want to make sure that our business is fit for purpose so that publishers can rely on us to provide the services they need to make their supply chain work as hard as possible.”
“To become match fit for the future,” says Darren, “every player in the industry needs to go through a transformation process, and Newsprinters is no different. We have set a strategy which tests us to review every aspect of our operation to ensure our clients find us competitive and our business model remains sustainable.”
For Newsprinters, the Damascene moment came in May 2017 when the company went from being an internal cost centre within News UK, to being a separate subsidiary with its own P&L.
Darren said: “This was a game-changer, which prompted a reawakening and a total change of mindset. What followed was a root and branch reappraisal of everything we did.”
“As an internal department within News UK, Newsprinters had been cocooned and shielded from harsh market realities. The business was too wasteful, spending money in the wrong places, and, over time, one major consequence was that it had lost some of its competitive edge.”
Six point strategy for client-focused transformation
“In a nutshell, our transformation journey, which is ongoing, has involved reviewing all our processes, stripping out costs, sweating our assets harder, and restructuring our operations. And all of this with a clear-eyed view that we had to reposition ourselves as a company to ensure that we were more client-focused. We needed to listen more than ever to what our clients expected from us and look for ever more creative ways to deliver it at the right price.”
“Whereas, previously, we were seen as News UK’s print arm who also printed some other titles; now we see ourselves as a supply chain provider with News UK being one of a number of publishing clients, all requiring the same focus and dedication.”
So, I asked Darren, how did Newsprinters go about instituting these changes? He said that they focused on six areas:
1. Let fresh eyes question everything
“People get set in their ways. They do things because they’ve always been done that way. Often, the best way to enact change is to see your company through fresh eyes. The transformation at Newsprinters is being led by a new leadership team. Even though I have been at News UK for eighteen years, print is a relatively new area to me, so I am able to ask lots of questions. Our new team also includes a former head of HR at Tesco. Because they have fewer preconceptions, new people are ideally placed to ask the difficult questions. The most powerful word in any change programme is ‘why’.”
2. Work out what we want Newsprinters to become
“Posing this seemingly simple question has had a profound impact on our business. We used to see ourselves as a printer who also offered some distribution services. We no longer want to be defined as a ‘printer’, or indeed as a ‘distributor’, but as a ‘supply chain provider’, offering print, distribution and a range of ancillary back-office services; an end-to-end offering. This change of mindset has meant that, as a company, we can now take a more holistic approach to providing solutions for our publishing clients.”
3. Focus on all costs – become more competitive
“P&L responsibility really helps to focus the mind. We now question every pound spent. As anyone who’s been to one of our print sites will testify, they’re impressive to look at. Huge buildings, encased in pristine white cladding, surrounded by landscaped lawns. The challenge for us is to spend money where it matters, invest in our infrastructure and services, and not the decorative frills which aren’t really important. Lowering our own costs means that we can offer more competitive rates to our clients.”
4. Break down the working silos
“Essentially, the fewer barriers between colleagues, the better. Previously, our print, logistics and commercial teams worked in their own individual silos. We’re working hard to fully integrate all of our teams and are preparing to house them in one open plan office. This enables us to remove complexity, improve understanding and responsiveness and improve our service delivery. Our commercial team, by working much more closely with print colleagues, now has a much deeper understanding of the processes, and is better placed to offer more compelling and deliverable solutions proposals for our clients.”
5. We need to listen more
“As we strive to make substantial transformation to Newsprinters, the best people to help make this change are our people. Being at the sharp end means they have a clearer idea than anyone of the best and most efficient way of doing things. They want the business to succeed and have been really receptive to the need to do things differently.”
6. Be truly customer-focused
“Last, and by far and away the most important point: make sure that we as an organisation are truly customer focused. The needs of our customers should always be the start point in our conversations, not our own views or capabilities. It’s not about us! In the past, we’ve been guilty of expecting clients to fit into our way of working. What’s important to us now is to provide clients with all of the services they want at a price they want to pay. Becoming much better at listening is one the most profound changes we’ve made.”
Single point contact for supply chain services
Why would now be a good time for newspaper publishers to pick up the phone to you, I asked Darren.
“The industry has to change to survive and this means removing waste, using resources more creatively, building collaborative relationships and working with others to deliver a sustainable future for the printed product. The transformation process that we’re going through means we are ever more focused on delivery – on providing the best possible supply chain solution to all our customers.”
“Our goal is to help publishers by becoming a single point of contact to enable them to get their products to market efficiently. Providing customers with services to meet their individual needs by genuinely listening to their requirements is key. We can provide customers with a London-centric wholesale service, national or local print and distribution solutions, retail copy allocation and subscription mailing services. And these are just a handful of the options we offer to help customers consolidate their supplier base, remove duplication and get to market more cost effectively.”
“We know the outlook is challenging, but as a business, I’m confident we have a strategy to make Newsprinters a dynamic and effective supply chain partner.”
“Too often, publishers look at their own operations and think that their needs are unique or that their challenges are simply “too difficult”. The reality is that we all face common problems and I believe Newsprinters is now excellently placed to help provide effective, resilient and creative solutions; working closely with our clients to create value by listening and understanding their needs. Give us a call – we’d love the opportunity to help simplify all of your supply chain requirements.”