Every package you see is printed with something – how else does the buyer know what’s in it? It’s the job of specialist packaging agencies to create that artwork, beautiful enough to make the product desirable and meeting to match the stringent brand and legal requirements.

Packaging agencies, especially those who specialize in the huge retail “private label” sector, have a unique set of challenges. Traditionally very labor-intensive work, they are faced every year with seasonal peaks and troughs that have been described by one agency operations head as “sublime then ridiculous, followed by sublime again before becoming utterly ridiculous”. We often see capacity requirements for a retailer’s brand artwork and repro balloon ten-fold in terms of staffing, and this is two times each year for only a month or two at a time. And While automation or templating remains a future hope to help take the strain off these pressures, it still now remains just that – a hope.

This is often (no actually, always) compounded by retailers who set drop-dead deadlines for final delivery, massively rigorous quality and accuracy standards (with penalties) and…wait for it…are regularly (no, always) unable to hit their own deadlines for providing the inputs needed for the packaging artwork. This often means that work cannot start until the merchandisers have provided the product details that define how the ultimate artwork needs to look.

Why should packaging agencies outsource work?

Every business has its challenges and to meet theirs, packaging agencies have to put in place strategies in order to remain sustainably profitable. For many agencies, outsourcing is one of those strategies, letting others take the capacity strain while they maintain the client-facing relationship and bring key consulting skills and other value-added expertise to the retailer.

For packaging agencies, there are two three main reasons to outsource work:

  1. Successfully deliver flexibility to handle wild swings in volume;
  2. Manage costs by leveraging offshore labor;
  3. Meet immovable deadlines by accessing deep wells of capacity.

It is not an easy and one-night task to choose an effective and continuously capable outsource partner. You have to invest a lot of time identifying the partner who wants to understand your unique business needs, who relates to the values of your business, who can actually add value to your services, who has the abilities to do your work, who shows how they can understand your brand.

What to look for in an outsourced packaging partner?

Experience: Serving a range of clients around the globe they have insights into best practice for working as a remote team, as well as technical innovations that you may not have come across.

Continuity: A firm with a history of focus on the graphic arts in general and packaging, in particular, will have solutions to problems that new firms to the business won’t have come across.

Cultural sensibility: A provider with global experience will have a pre-existing understanding of adapting to the culture of its customer and know how to train the staff about the culture of the customer.

Flexibility: While a vendor will promise to meet the scale demands of an agency, does it have the scale to fulfill the promise? Let them explain how they will do this, not just give the impression that they will cross that bridge when they come to it.

Technology: A vendor committed to this space will bring a wealth of technology expertise and maybe some unique solutions. Ask them about transferring large files, proofing and their ability to seamlessly fit with your workflow.

Team: Talented Team Dig in and don’t be shy with technical questions. You don’t need a vendor to replace your skills and knowledge, but they do need to understand the difference between printing processes, what they mean and how they affect the artwork. If they already use pro tools such as ESKO then you can see they’re sufficiently committed to making investments. Ask them to describe how to maintain brand consistency, how to ensure quality, how to turn around artworks for fast-track requests.

Cost Effective: If working with an offshore supplier then you should be seeing a real saving on your local onshore costs. However, get suspicious if they sound too cheap – is this a bait and switch?

Other Skills: Your relationship with the brand or retailer is a valuable one – can you leverage that to provide other services that your client point of contact can support? Point of sale, digital signage, active packaging, and video are all possible new revenue lines for you – and your partner should help you deliver those.

Outsourcing can help!

No agency these days expects to handle the demands of seasonal art-working themselves. But you can easily fall foul of remote vendors who tell you they can do everything and can be surprisingly cunning in trying to prove that. There is no substitute for seeing their facilities, meeting them and speak to their other clients. Even if they are competitors! Express KCS have separate teams working for competing clients, with different methodologies and SLA. Each get their own value from the relationship while benefitting from the accumulated experience and scale.