I love design. I love helping brands tell their message through the visuals. And, just a couple of years back, I was happily taking on projects as an external physical branding designer. I was designing everything from packaging to infographics, and it would be a lie to say that it wasn’t a dream job.
Yet, by the end of summer in 2016, I took on the duties of a Sales Account Manager in a packaging manufacturing firm. It’s usually the other way around: people seek creative positions, not exchange them in order to deal with the managerial rut.
My transition was inspired by the following event.
One day, when I was still officially a designer, a friend of mine asked me to oversee the packaging process for the product he was launching. The product itself was ready to launch; the packaging was late. And nobody could point out what was the problem.
It was only when I actually got in touch with the packaging team that I first witnessed the chaos that’s plaguing the packaging industry: it was as if the designers, the manufacturers, the suppliers and the brand owner were all speaking different languages. Individually, every single one of them is great at what they do; when collaborating on a project, however, it all quickly turned into an expensive mess.
Imagine the following scenario: designers failing to prepare manufacturing documents; material suppliers failing to provide samples that match the brand’s style; no specific production schedule available. Sound like solid project management?
Since that episode, I’ve met with dozens of brand owners who run into the very same problem. They assemble entire teams of specialists, and yet the projects always seem to fall behind on deadlines, or, even worse—don’t meet the brand owner’s expectations or fit into the budget. After a while, it became clear to me: someone needed to step in.
Traditionally, manufacturing (and, thus, packaging) had been handled by big, established firms who invested into in-house packaging departments that took care of everything from packaging design to product distribution.
During the past 50 years, the business landscape changed unrecognizably, and today, even the smallest firms have the ability to push out products into the market. The packaging industry, however, is playing catch up in its efforts to meet the needs of startups and small-medium-sized enterprises.
Due to high up-front and maintenance costs of running an in-house packaging department, many companies choose to outsource their packaging processes to external providers. This allows even the smallest of firms to access top-tier packaging.
However, making sure that each and every business department’s interests are accounted for by the responsible packaging parties (e.g. the designers fully understand the marketing team’s vision, and the manufacturers will be able to turn that vision into reality within a given budget) is often far more chaotic than brand owners would like. Without someone to lead and oversee packaging processes start to finish, projects get stalled way beyond deadlines, fail to fulfill expectations and overstep financial boundaries. To put it in plain English, you can’t expect your hired guns to behave without an experienced general on the frontlines.
If you’re not that familiar with the packaging process, imagine this: the company’s purchase department is concerned about cost reduction; the distribution department needs to know the specifics of logistics; the marketing department’s only goal for packaging is to create an outstanding experience; the R&D are looking for ways to make the product better.
Theoretically, the model seems sound. But what happens when marketing’s vision doesn’t check out on the balance sheets? What happens when the packaging falls apart in the customer’s very hands when they receive it? Who’s in charge of tackling those challenges? The answer for most companies is: no one.
When there is no one responsible party to oversee the whole physical packaging development process, things go south. Packaging could be visually appealing but be smashed on the way to the retail; it could be durable but too heavy for cost-efficient e-commerce shipments; it could be light but unecological for target customers; it could be based on natural materials but too expensive for a brand’s budget. There are endless examples of miscommunication in the packaging process—miscommunication that leads to delays, errors and unhappy customers.
That was exactly the case when I joined Tygelis Group, a packaging manufacturing company. While the business was equipped with outstanding technology, it didn’t have anyone to look after projects and coordinate all of the parties involved.
And so, under my initiative, a new branch of the company—Tygelis Pack—has been established, with a sole mission of taking on managerial duties in packaging projects. We’ve discovered that in every packaging process, there needs to be an agent responsible purely for coordinating all of the parties and departments involved. Someone to facilitate the communication between departments and lead the whole process.
We started developing packaging projects by confirming project direction and priorities with the brand owners at the beginning of the project and then supervise those projects until fulfillment. Throughout the projects, it was our job to keep expenses and timelines in check—and, equipped with the new management model, we could. Even companies with already established packaging processes were inviting us to clean up the mess, so to speak.
While marketers, designers, R&D, purchase and other departments do their jobs, we are connecting the dots between them and filling the communication gaps by creating structural designs, doing prototyping, material matching, print and postprint operation testing, presentations of a process to the brand owners and organising roundtable discussions that include all of the parties. It is our job to keep everyone’s interests accounted for, and communication clear.
This model has paid off manyfold. During these past 2 years, we’ve achieved great progress: a startup client of ours raised millions of dollars in funding; another, a more established firm fighting for their market share saw their products swept off the shelves. We noticed naturally engaged clients posting positive things about packaging on social media. We witnessed our partnerships resulting in designers receiving awards and giving interviews to prestigious packaging design publications. Eventually, even our company ended up winning an award for the for sustainable innovative concept and structure.
Solving management issues in the packaging industry is not a one day job. However, through innovative management models, we’re fighting to bring the world more competitive and cost-effective packaging, faster. If that’s something that strikes a chord with you, contact me and we’ll discuss cost saving opportunities for your company.