Sat, Aug

University challenge

Your starter question… do you want to get closer to those running inplants within higher educational establishments?

The Association of Creative and Print Managers in Education (ACPME) is running its annual conference in Glasgow 4-7 June. Are you going? Its communications officer Darren Lewis thinks it might be worth your while. And, of course, he thinks it worth his while to encourage you. Yes, it’s all about networking and partnership building.

Think on – universities are like small towns. With up to 40,000 students and 5,000 staff they consume vast amounts of print. For economic reasons, most HE institutions have dedicated in-plant creative and print units with professional managers responsible for producing and procuring communications. These in-plants vary in size and shape - from tiny copy shops to large units with creative teams, litho, digital, large-format, MFD fleet management, MIS systems and Web-to-print storefronts. Whatever their shape or size they share common goals – to ensure their institutions get value for money, that they support the core activities of teaching and learning and research, and create the best impression in the minds of their diverse audiences.

The thing is, Lewis confirms that no university in-plant produces all their print in-house. All of them partner with trade suppliers when appropriate - from the still ubiquitous prospectus and the larger print jobs, to building wraps, signage, the weird and wonderful of branded merchandise, and everything in between. So perhaps rubbing shoulders with those that run the inplants makes sound business sense. The conference is a good place to start, though Lewis would also point out that advertising in ACPME’s ‘pages’ - produced three times a year and distributed to 1,200 UK HE creative and print staff – would also give you more profile within the sector!

But back to the conference, where heads of service, creative and print managers and their key operational staff meet. According to Lewis, ACPME members almost always manage universities’ creative and print procurement. They specify and evaluate procurement frameworks, run institution-specific mini-competitions and manage print-related ‘preferred supplier’ lists. And they are known for lasting and loyal relationships.

This year’s conference theme is ‘creating the right impression’. That’s not just in reference to ACPME members putting print marks on paper - it is also about appealing to hearts and minds - changing perceptions and raising profiles. The jobs they’re tasked with not only have to impress the in-house ‘customers’ ACPME units serve directly (academic and support staff and students), but impact on how members’ institutions are perceived by the outside world.

“ACPME members play a supporting role in attracting the highest calibre students and staff, in bolstering their universities’ positions in league tables, in stimulating philanthropic giving, in contributing to scooping ever-more-significant awards, in showcasing the best research, in increasing student satisfaction - that leads to improved student survey results - and in demonstrating how their institutions fit responsibly into both the local communities they serve and the global market they now find themselves in,” says Lewis.

“Imagine the print that might be involved in ‘creating the right impression’ at one university for a single event alone. For an open day there might be campus dressing (temporary signage, lamppost banners, posters, display stands and hoardings to cover building works with marketing messages), printed giveaways from bags, to USB sticks and pens, maps, course brochures, prospectuses. Then ‘helper’ t-shirts, ‘follow me’ lollipop signs… the list goes on and on. It’s big business. It’s time-critical. It’s where trusted partnerships are pivotal.”

Perhaps it’s time to go back to school – for a day or two anyway.

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