Small Is Beautiful: How to Choose a Packaging Artwork Partner

By Stephen Marshman

Stephen Marshman

For smaller regional or national brands, or emergent organisations pursuing an ambitious growth strategy, finding a packaging artwork partner who has the best operational model to deliver what you need may be challenging.

While optimised quality and lead-times at the lowest price-point with a sprinkling of innovation will always be important, irrespective of scale, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. 

When considering a graphics partner for your packaging, smaller brands should focus on agencies who are both established and large enough to provide stability and security of supply but crucially, also have a service model that acknowledges that scale is important and is specifically tailored to meet their needs. 

Here are the top five features on your checklist:

Big Agency Appeal, Small Agency Feel

Small to medium brands should seek the best of both worlds—and their partner agency should be able to give them what they need. For the client, this means that interacting with the agency should feel special. You should get the sort of experience you’d expect from working with a boutique agency: a consistent account management team who are as passionate about your brands as you are and the feeling that all of your account team live and breathe your brands like you do. 

With the right organisational structure, larger agencies can create this. Where it tends to go wrong is when smaller clients are simply slotted in with those clients whose workflows operate at an industrial scale. There are fundamental differences between the needs of a client who processes hundreds of artworks a week and those that require hundreds in a year. 

If your agency doesn’t understand this, your business may fall between the cracks. As long as the large agency gets this account model right, its ability to scale quickly becomes a strength. Seasonal peaks and unforeseen fast track initiatives can easily be absorbed, and you will be investing in your relationship with a partner whom you won’t overwhelm as you start to realise your own growth ambitions.

Access to Best Practice

There is much to be said for the benefits of being able to tap into a raft of best practice tools, technologies and approaches that have been developed across a really broad range of clients. Having access to a wider innovation pipeline and incorporating some of these developments into their own processes is seen as a significant benefit of our partnership. 

Similarly, there is a wide range of expertise from which they can benefit, and this can be vital to a smaller enterprise. Companies with such a profile may not have the same strength in depth as large corporations when it comes to ‘in-house’ personnel in areas such as print technology or colour management. Where your agency has teams of specialists focused on these areas and grouped across multiple clients, it enables smaller clients to access this resource and benefit from this aggregated knowledge and expertise.

Scope of Services

In an era where the digital shelf is rapidly becoming as critical as its in-store counterpart, it is increasingly rare that your packaging workflow will exist in isolation from other areas of brand content development. For channels such as E-commerce, there are significant advantages in working with a supplier that can easily and efficiently produce your E-content deliverables as a bolt-on output to your packaging workflow. 

Even better, if you’re working with a partner that already numbers the biggest brand owners and retailers amongst its clients, it means you will automatically benefit from the work done to develop industry standards for e-commerce outputs, ensuring that your renders comply with the requirements of the various retailers whose on-line portals carry your products. 

There has never been a time in which brand content can reach consumers through so many touchpoints, and the breadth of channels through which your agency can consistently and efficiently repurpose your branded content should be a key consideration.

Entry Level Workflow Tool

When an organisation measures its annual artwork and pre-press spend in the millions, it’s not out of the ordinary for part of that cost to be invested in an artwork management system. 

For those brand owners with thousands of artwork changes a year, paying for a tool that has been heavily customised to meet the specific needs of your business process can be easily amortised across your total spend. If, by contrast, you measure your yearly volume in the hundreds or dozens of artworks, then it’s far less likely that you’ll have the budget to purchase a bespoke system. 

For smaller brands, partnering with an agency who can provide you with an off-the-shelf tool, at little or no extra cost, is a big advantage. If that software has been developed in careful consultation with a broad range of clients, all feeding in their collective user requirements, you will effectively reap the benefits of working with a best practice artwork management system, without it swallowing up a big chunk of your marketing budget.


There has perhaps never been a time when the security and stability of your marketing and supply chain partners has been more important. Of course, size does not automatically mean that an agency will be more robust. However, given the challenges that a global pandemic has posed, it is clear that there are certain characteristics that you should look for. 

These are unusual times and it’s important to trust your most precious brand assets with an organisation that can weather the storm. That might be a question of financial stability or the existence of global processes and systems that means capacity can be quickly and easily flexed. 

Ultimately, you need confidence that there is a healthy and rapidly executable Business Continuity Plan in place which means that when the unexpected hits, your packaging process will not be disrupted.

There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to finding a packaging artwork partner. It’s about finding a partner who uses their credentials to apply a tailored approach to your business; one with an organisational structure designed to meet the requirements of your business, no matter the size or scale.

About Stephen Marshman 

Stephen has more than twenty years’ experience in branding and graphics, having begun his career with SGK in 1997. Today he works as a Business Development Director, focused on helping organisations of all sizes implement best practice processes for the development of packaging and branded content. Specialising in artwork and pre-press for packaging, and with a proven track record of helping clients optimise their marketing supply chains, he has extensive experience of both the Consumer Packaged Goods and Life Sciences sectors.