Choosing a Printer For Your Marketing Materials: Not as Easy as You Think
When choosing a collateral-materials printer, there are many factors to consider: Cost, quality, turnaround time, services offered, experience and more. The list can go on and on. So how does one go about choosing the right vendor for your needs? The answers to these questions may not be as clear-cut as you think. This report, and this channel, is dedicated to providing you a roadmap for making the best decisions for your company.
Why it Matters
Finding the right printer not only ensures the quality of your materials, but also ensures your company’s reputation. After all, if your materials arrive damaged, or even missing, your image is reflected. So how do you find a printer who will provide quality materials? Here are some of the criteria.
1. Choose your list of candidates by word of mouth. Begin by finding a group of printers that you can choose from that offer a given range in quality and cost. You’ll want a printer who can provide the basics, one who provides premium services and one that can get large jobs done in a short amount of time.
"Word of mouth is key in finding a quality printer," says Lori Birney, circulation director of Philadelphia Style and D.C. Style magazines. "By nature, a sales rep will tell you everything you want to hear, and then some. If you really want the lowdown on a printer, then ask another circ director. They probably won’t be able to share pricing info, but they’ll share details like the quality of the print job, the accessibility of the customer rep you work with and, overall, if were they generally pleased."
2. Find a one-stop shop. A quality printer will not broker out any basic tasks, according to Richard Rukaniec, a consumer marketing consultant. "If your printer is doing the print forms for a direct-marketing package and wants to hire someone else to do the envelopes, don’t bother," Rukaniec says, "You might as well do the envelopes yourself."
Having the printer do each and every step of the process will also make it easier to handle any problems that may occur.
"Sometimes if you piecemeal a direct-mail campaign, for example, coordinating is difficult because each piece is being shipped from a different location," says circulation consultant Nicole Bowman. "You may pay a little more for a printer to do everything, but you know it’s all there, that the forms will fit in the envelope and that if any mistakes are made, they’ll fix them and send them out at all at once."
3. Become familiar with the printer’s work. "It’s very important to always get an equipment list and to review samples of the printer’s work before making a final decision," Rukaniec says.
But when reviewing the samples, keep in mind that not all printers are equal in their selection or presentation. According to a report by PrintBuyersOnline.com, the following should be considered when evaluating samples:
Quality control. Samples that have offsetting or crooked folds show that the printer didn’t take care in selecting the samples or that the quality is below average.
Compatibility. The sales representative should only show samples that pertain to your industry, product or specifications.
Labels. Each sample should have a label attached that provides, at least, the company name, phone number and Web address. Samples often get mixed with other samples, so without labels, you may not be able to find ones you like later on.
Quantity. Less is more. Sometimes it’s better to see one or two great samples than a stack of 20.
Background. The sales representative should be able to tell you how the job was produced, including any specialized services that might have been used and other relevant anecdotes.
4. Choose a primary contact; then discuss your goals and expectations. Forming a good working relationship between your company and a primary contact within the printing company is essential. The contact should know the publishing industry well and know how to service your needs. Once you find that person, share your goals and expectations with them and be as specific as possible;that way, there will be no surprises as things move forward.
"We want a printer that can say, ﾑHey, I can save you a dollar this way’ or ﾑYou need to put the address on the closed fold as opposed to the open,’" says Elvira Perez, director of professional development at Magazine Publishers of America. "It needs to be a personal relationship;after all, anyone can print. Quality may be 10 to 20 percent of what we look for. A print job is a print job is a print job."
When you’re ready to get the first project started, be sure to get a quote from the printer with all of the specifications, including these:
- The start date
- The project number
- The name of the project
- The type of output
- The flat size
- The finished (folded) size
- The number of pages
- The number of sides, single-sided and double-sided
- Paper stock
- Finishing instructions
- Proofs needed
- The delivery instructions
- The desired timeframe for printing
- Any special notes
- The quote requested
- The quote received
- Who it was given b
- And verbal/email/fax.
Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands
All publishing companies, large and small, have one thing in common;they all want to make the most out of their collateral printing investments. Unfortunately, studies show that as much as 60 percent of print materials are thrown away because of irrelevance, obsolescence and other reasons.
So how can marketers be sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck before they even call their printer? Well, according to a DM News article entitled "Manage Collateral Better to Cut Costs," written by David Lowndes, Comac Inc., the answer may be what he calls "communication optimization." According to Lowndes, communication optimization "aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of collateral, thereby cutting cost and time to market while enhancing results" using three steps:
1. Do a thorough analysis of the project. Before approaching your vendor with the next project, take into account the following factors, which can help you determine the type of materials you’ll need: Marketing objectives, quantity, the most cost-effective formats, audience demographics, desired response and industry norms.
"Before approaching the vendor, we work with the designer or marketing group closely on the concept and consider factors like the size of the job and what will work on a press," says Sherry Sanchez, director of promotion purchasing at Hachette Filipacchi. "We basically try to come up with the most economical way to run the job."
Once finished, discuss the analysis with your vendor who may be able to suggest better and, perhaps, cheaper ideas.
"Always plan ahead," says Philadelphia Style’s Birney. "Ask for printing quotes several months before you need to begin working on a job. That gives you plenty of time to cross hatch the various quotes and make a smart decision."
2. Use advanced methods to improve effectiveness. Using production methods like personalization may help. After all, people will just throw away materials that don’t address their needs or interests. However, customization may result in higher costs, so be sure to separate your existing customers from prospects based on their value to the company.
"The more you personalize, the more attention you get, therefore, you get a better response," says one direct marketing consultant.
3. Automate the ordering and production of existing materials. This allows for better inventory management, ensuring that everyone has access to what they need. No matter which step you choose to work on first, the key is to produce materials that are relevant, current and available, therefore decreasing your company’s chances of discarding unwanted and redundant materials.
And what about saving time? Quick turnarounds are of great value to marketers and event coordinators. What can be done on the client’s side to ensure that the job gets done quickly? "Know the press times and know what paper is available," Rukaniec says. "Sometimes it can take weeks for paper to come in, so know what’s already on hand. Also, have an idea if what you’re designing can be mass produced by doing a test, which will save time in the future."
The Benefits of Having a Print Expert
Some companies have found that it’s best to leave all printing jobs up to one manager or production coordinator. "It’s a good idea to have one person on your staff who is trained in buying print," Rukaniec says. "If you’re not an expert and you don’t know all of the little nuances, you leave the door open for mistakes to happen."
Also, he adds, "The average marketer or circulator doesn’t know much about press sizes. A half of an inch can make a big difference as far as cost is concerned. And there are some designs that marketers create that may never fit on paper. A lot of money can be saved by not having to keep redesigning the same project."
Having one point person juggling all projects also proves to be more organized and financially beneficial, Birney says. "I think the advantage of using a point person like a production coordinator is that he or she will be in the know as far as what jobs are scheduling or [are] soon to be scheduled," says Birney. "That way, he can coordinate the timing in order to have multiple jobs run at the same time, thus benefiting with a better CPM."
DM News: "Manage Collateral Better to Cut Costs" Sept. 19, 2005
Goods For You! (http://blog.goodsforyou.com/#printSpecs)
InfoTrack: "Your Fulfillment Program: Assessing and Implementing Quality Assurance" (www.comac.com)
Print Buyers Online: "Evaluating Samples of a Printer’s Work" (www.printbuyersonline.com)
The Costs of Collateral Printing
Marketing-printing costs alone consume 1 to 3 percent of the average company’s gross revenue, so cutting corners where possible is important, especially for smaller publications. "I typically have a budget of about $8,000-$10,000 to market an event," says one marketing manager, "That’s not a lot of money in marketing terms, so I have to be really smart about where my dollars are spent."
Although a large b-to-b company publishes her magazine (as well as 134 others), its 7,200-paid sub circulation leaves her with a smaller budget than most. One of her recent orders was for 7,500 full-color brochures (11×18 with a tri-fold) for one event (her magazine holds eight events each year), for which she paid just over $1,000.
Now compare the budget that this marketing manager has to work with to the $103,000 marketing-materials budget for the event manager of a mid-sized b-to-b publisher to produce brochures for only six events. So how does this event manager keep costs under control? Does she need to? "Rather than trimming down the size of my mailing list, I’ve looked at ways to save on printing costs, she says. "Using the same printer we use for reprints has helped me consolidate all of my jobs with one vendor."
"I also design the brochures or postcards with the most cost-effective design," the event manager says. "I try and use paper sizes that are normally stocked to avoid having additional cutting costs. And choosing paper stock that the printer already has on hand helps us avoid additional charges. I’m also mindful of postal regulations on postcards, so we avoid additional postage costs and I use digital printing for short-run pieces."
The marketing manager also uses a few alternatives to print in order to promote her events. "Since we are set up to send out email blasts in-house and we have the luxury of running as many house ads in our publication as we want to promote an event, most of my marketing costs come from the two mailings we do to promote an event," she says.
Print Facts and Figures
- According to Industry Measure’s Winter 2006/2007 Design & Production survey, "collateral print projects" are at an all-time high for graphic designers. The category has returned to the top of the list of sales opportunities for the first time since 2005. Selected by 66 percent of design and production establishments, it hasn’t changed in six months, but has overtaken "cross-media communications campaigns" as the top opportunity.
- According to The Magazine Publishers of America, a 9.5 percent increase in paper prices combined with larger folio sizes and a larger circulation base for the average consumer magazine, caused total production expenditures to rise 5.9 percent in 2005 over 2004 levels, and approached $13.3 million.
- According to the Direct Marketing Association, U.S. advertisers spend $167 per person in direct-mail marketing to earn $2,095 worth of goods per person, scoring a return on investment of 13 to 1.