Managing Small and Medium Sized Clients
An Interview by Stephen Marshman

SGK Account Director, Jonathan Blakeley, talked to Stephen Marshman about the unique approach his team takes to manage small and medium-sized clients.


Hi JB, great to talk to you today, I’m really excited to have the chance to ask you a few questions about the clients you look after, and what you do for them that’s maybe a little different from the traditional model at SGK. But first, tell me about your career in the industry, and the roles you’ve held at SGK.

My journey started in retail marketing and progressed through category and own label management in two UK retailers. It became pretty evident that my true passion was packaging, print and brand development, thus my move to SGK. My adventure with SGK to date has taken me all over Europe, Asia and beyond, working with retailers, global brands & specialist pharma clients. I’ve been lucky enough to work on brand strategy, new product development and graphic development, structural packaging development and change management, to name a few! 

So today, you are a commercial leader at SGK, heading up a number of accounts but the type of clients, and maybe more specifically their size, is slightly different from what we might see in other parts of the business. Can you describe what the service model looks like?

We view our small and medium-sized clients as ‘growing.’ Our goal is to give them the very best tools to undertake this journey, irrespective of size. So rather than ‘shoe-horn’ them into a global client solution, we take the parts we think will suit them best to create their own bespoke offer.

A prime example is our workflow solution HubX. We offer this free of charge to all our new clients, so they immediately plug into our global workflow solution that beats in the heart of all our businesses around the world. This helps us drive process efficiencies and demonstrate measured results.

And how did this model come about?

SGK is a leader in graphics management on the European and global stages without a doubt. Clients move on, and pretty soon we started getting inquiries from former clients in new roles with smaller companies, asking if they could bring some of the ‘magic’ to their new companies. We realized that we could combine the best of both worlds, by adapting our ‘global best practice’ for a smaller client. When we start exploring the possibilities as our relationships deepen, we frequently have to ‘pace’ ourselves, as there is so much to offer.

How do we guard against these clients just becoming lost in the noise of the huge global customers SGK works with?

Oh, that’s so frustrating isn’t it when the quality of service depends upon the relative size of the business? We counter this by creating a client service team that is specifically focused on growing clients, so they don’t get lost in the mix. It really helps that our emerging clients are close to us, the success of the team is built on open & collaborative relationships. We just achieve so much more this way. Together.

Presumably, whilst not processing the same volume of artwork as the largest clients, you are still able to offer these clients the same range of services.

It thrills me to be able to help our growing clients using best practices we may have refined with our larger clients because they get big client service all the same. I’d actually take this one stage further, as they don’t just get big client service, but, given the SGK global footprint, they benefit from our worldwide collective experience. We look to have regular reviews with our clients, so we can talk about service and ways we can work better together. It’s a rare event when we can’t bring something new to the table, to discuss and pop in the development plan. 

Playing devil’s advocate here for a moment, say I’m a marketeer who manages packaging, I say to you that I’m happy to have the artwork created by the same small design agency who we worked with from day one, and we are also happy to have all our pre-press managed by the printer, why then do I need SGK?

‘Day One’ relationships understandably have a lot of emotion wrapped up in them, which can cloud the realities of the fast-moving packaging graphics sector. What was right at the start isn’t necessarily right today. We work with our growing clients to understand how and why they are working the way they are & talk about alternative ways of approaching the opportunity. It's interesting that you mention pre-press being managed by printers. The multinational brands moved away from this model a couple of decades ago, as they saw the benefits of keeping their assets separate. Emerging clients are more likely to start with this relationship and then de-couple when the time is right. When the time is right, we move our clients to a centrally held model, which is far more flexible. 

Can we also help them in areas such as the requirements to take that physical packaging that we manage for them into the digital world?

This is such a natural extension to the brand management process; it makes logical sense & becomes an integral step when creating artwork and repro. It’s always interesting to look at the current digital offering of our clients, and view their digital brand presence in terms of consistency, clarity and call to action, does it help the consumer make that split-second purchase decision? We’ve had many discussions which have led to defining a new brand ‘digital’ presence, and once defined we apply this as part of the production process. Hero renders, for example, where we dial up branding and dial down GDAs and technical information, follow the same process.

Is this an approach that works across multiple sectors too?

The process of review, setting the ‘style’ and production delivery is the same. There are clear differences between pharmaceutical digital representation and grocery imagery, but the underlying principles are the same.

So, clearly, we have a model that works for these clients, what about the technology to support this process?

This comes back to our ability to offer global firepower to our growing/emerging brands. We use tech that’s been trialed and refined from other global locations within SGK. Much of the development rests on the creation of digital frameworks with associated shadow and texture ‘baked in’, married to super-efficient automation.

What do you see as some of the challenges small to medium-sized companies face today in getting pack and content to market?

So much must happen in such a short space of time and be delivered to a very high standard. That’s a very high bar. Consumers are hungry for fresh innovation, be that product consumption, packaging graphic design & print delivery, or pre-purchase information & product attributes. We build a data supply chain for our growing clients, primarily automated, so that graphic files and web content is delivered to the right place at the right time.

Given the turbulent time supply chains have experienced over the last two years, do you think this has made smaller companies think slightly differently about who they partner with for services like artwork and pre-press?

If they haven’t thought about this, perhaps they should! The current environment is placing unprecedented pressure on agencies large and small, and many have and will fail. We have a process for onboarding clients in these circumstances, & one of the most important steps is to have a large mug of tea and take a deep breath. Certainly, it’s very rewarding to see the relief on a client’s face when they realize it's ‘going to be ok’ with SGK!

So finally, to summarize, you are talking to someone from a small but rapidly growing company who recognizes that they need to review how they get their packaging to market, what’s the most important thing they should consider? 

It’s not all about size, it’s about the journey. And SGK is the perfect partner to take them on this great adventure as they grow and develop.