Thursday, 31 January 2013

Paul Snoswell

Paul Snoswell, print buyer at BP (British Petroleum) for over 22 years, sadly passed away last week, aged 77. I was privileged to have known Paul both as a family friend and professionally and in many ways, he was instrumental in me starting a career in the paper and print industry.

You may well be wondering why I am writing about this person who most of you will never of heard of. Firstly he was a huge personality in the printing industry from years gone by and he deserves to be remembered. Secondly, the very position of "print buyer" has largely been forgotten but is one that in a now bygone era of design and print was paramount . It should be remembered that in the pre-digital age, print was the foremost communications medium and therefore, it's production and distribution, especially to a global organisation like BP, was incredibly important.

Having trained as a Stereotyper (hot metal, lead platemaking) Paul then served in the RAF for his National Service. After a short stint as a sales rep, he was approached by one of his advertising clients - the advertising agency Mather & Crowther (now Ogilvy & Mather) and joined them as a production executive. He later joined Thomas Cook as a print buyer and after six years moved to BP as assistant print buyer. Four years later, when his boss Denis Peacock moved on, Paul became print buyer for the whole of BP.

Although in overall charge of the company's print output, due to the shear enormity of the organisation (over 300 subsiduaries across the world), Paul acted as a print buying trouble-shooter for many of the departments based at Britannia House (BP's headquarters) and other companies in the BP empire around the world. The two largest publications that were produced were the Annual Report, the print run being a massive 450,000 copies in 1986 (!) and the Statistical Review. In 1986/7 the annual report was designed by Lock Pettersen (now Tor Pettersen) and the Stastistical Review by Ron Ward Design.

British Petroleum Interim Report
The position of "Print Buyer" was an exceptionally responsible one and certainly in the context of a large organisation such as BP, print buyer was a management position with real gravitas with access to all the senior executives, including the Company Secretary, Chairman etc. Also, large companies which spent millions of pounds on print needed to have a manager to take financial responsibility for a considerable outgoing. The role of print buyer is now largely defunct, certainly in large corporations, reasons are many and varied. Print is now a less important medium, the overall quality of colour reproduction is now much more achievable by the most basic printer. Outsourcing of design and communications has resulted in print being "bundled up" as a package with responsibility being assumed by the design or marketing agency and at a time when all organisations are trying to reduce head count, corporations cannot justify what is now seen as the luxury of having someone oversee the printed output - a job that was once regarded as essential.
BP printed literature in colour

Having retired in 1987, it is unlikely that many people active in print and design will remember Paul or the many print companies that he worked with (sadly, most of which are now defunct) such as Metcalfe Cooper, Libra Press, Dixmotive Press, Hunterprint, Stukeley Press, Tanbryn Litho, RR Donnelley et al. A measure of the importance of print buyers is that when Paul retired in May 1987, there was a two page article about his career in the trade magazine "Print Buyer" (yes, there really was a magazine published with that title!)
Print Buyer Magazine May 1987
Thanks Paul. You will be fondly remembered by those that knew you.
Posted by Justin Hobson 3.01.2013

1 comment:

  1. Paul encouraged me to enter the print industry shortly after I left school. He helped me and a good number of my contemporaries who had chosen not to go into further education to find a path. I will always remember him fondly for this reason.
    I think the article is highly relevant as it is important to see where today’s industry has evolved from. Paul retired in 87 when print was starting to change in way that none of us would have thought possible at the time. The race for technology to replace labour, PCs, Apple Macs and of course the internet all dealt body blows from which there would be no recovery.
    The BP report and accounts is good example. I remember the 450,000 copies as it was my first year in the job. The logistics of getting all the materials in the right place at the right time and then finally delivered is staggering. Within only a few years the vast majority of these copies would be on a CD with an accompanying letter to the shareholder. It’s probably a PDF on a website now!
    Just before I left the print in 2004 I remember being told by somebody in one of the newly created facilities management companies that we were a service industry not a manufacturer. All I can remember is the 1000s of individual jobs that we nurtured through the factory to produce bespoke products we could be proud of and the customer would be pleased with.
    I learnt this from Paul. When visiting him in his home he would show me the latest creation he had been involved with. He would be talking about what had been achieved in the tight dead line and how the quality had been maintained. He would be talking about the problems they had encountered and what had been done to resolve them. Pride in the job, pride in the work, and pride in the end product. There seems to be little room for this in today’s world. It’s all about price, price, price, with the facilities management companies bashing the suppliers over the head at every opportunity, while creaming off the profits the printers need to re invest in machinery and to pay their staff for working long hours. It’s a wonder there are any printers left in the UK.
    The facilities management companies have not replaced the Paul Snoswell’s of this world – they have only succeeded them.
    We shall all miss you Paul. Thank you.
    Justin - Turned into a bit of a rant about FMCs
    I did avoid saying "Sponging Middle men" "PC spread sheetjockeys" and " the only way they'd get dirty hands is if they fell over"


Thanks for your comment! If I like it, I'll add it on. Cheers J