Classic Production Errors;and How To Avoid Them
Production errors happen most frequently when the production team is trying to fill empty pages a day or two before going to press and isn’t sure when, or if, materials will arrive. "If we were to receive everything specified by the time specified, we could guarantee the quality that everyone demands," says Fran Fox, senior director of production/marketing for Dwell. "That just doesn’t happen. And the later in the production schedule that the material comes in, the less time we have to make sure it’s correct before going on press."
We spoke with Fox and other veteran production specialists about avoiding production errors and learned that, besides patience, it takes planning, cooperation, follow through, and putting things in writing. For example:
Dealing with Sales
Salespeople are under a lot of pressure to sell more pages, but production’s hands are tied if the team doesn’t have the name of a contact person. Sometimes the salesperson simply says, "run the last ad," which happens too frequently, according to Fox, and results in production picking up the wrong ad. "The only way to get it right is to have everything in writing," Fox insists. "Like everyone else nowadays, we’re lean and mean, yet we can spend up to half a day trying to find a contact. Perhaps 90 percent of insertion orders don’t name a production contact person."
Salespeople should also advise advertisers to call production with any questions regarding the specs or an extension. "Just because I verbally give an extension to a salesperson doesn’t mean that the advertiser agrees to it," adds Bill Lyons, production supervisor at Dwell. "As far as I’m concerned, the page remains open until I get written confirmation that the client intends to meet that date."
Dwell also includes a 16-page classified section (128 ads), which is huge volume to turn around in a short period of time. The advertiser directly supplies copy and an image, but often either doesn’t read or doesn’t understand the specs. Dwell’s production specialist e-mails a proof to each advertiser, requesting a quick approval, but some don’t bother to respond, and then complain about the quality. "How do you make customers happy," Lyons asks, "when they won’t play ball?"
Dealing with Proofs
To avoid problems on press, Dwell requires a contract proof. Produced according to SWOP standards, it guarantees that the file, when printed, will match the proof. "The proof problem is quite serious," suggests Fox. "Some books have gone to virtual proofing and will accept and convert native applications. Others have an in-house prepress department, so they can find and fix problems in a matter of hours. That would take days for us."
Putting in an internal prepress department was one of the best things that Cygnus Business Media has done, according to production director Brett Apold. "Internally controlling the pages longer, basically, right up until plate stage, allows us to catch potential errors before turning the pages over to the printer," he says. Those errors might be typos, color problems, or other factors in either ads or on editorial pages.
The internal prepress department also flight checks all of the ads that Cygnus receives and generates a low-resolution PDF of each ad. Production then e-mails those PDFs to each advertiser as a final check and requests a signoff to ensure that the ad is correct. "We try to get final signoff on all ads before the book goes out," Apold says, "but we don’t always get a 100 percent response. For the most part, though, the system works very well. We pick up things that otherwise would have gotten by us." Cygnus has had the internal prepress department for about nine years. Apold was there prior, and says he has "absolutely noticed a difference."
Dealing with ‘Home-Grown’ Materials
One of the biggest problems for production may be relying on electronically delivered materials without thoroughly checking them out. "You have to be very careful," says Robert Smrek, director of periodicals production at IEEE. Many of IEEE’s advertisers are small companies that create their own ads and simply send Smrek a PDF. "We receive all kinds of ‘home-grown’ materials," he notes.
Smrek recently received a complaint about a printed ad that didn’t match the advertiser’s proof. "We couldn’t figure out what happened," he says. "The PDF that we supplied to the printer looked fine." After some experimentation, Smrek’s team discovered that importing the advertiser’s PDF into a Quark layout changed the ad’s internal makeup. When the same PDF was imported into InDesign, it matched the proof perfectly. The advertiser had created the PDF from an InDesign file. When converted into Quark, things changed. IEEE has both Quark and InDesign available, of course, but no one thought to ask about the original file format.
"It was obviously too late to fix that ad," Smrek says, "but we always try to figure out what went wrong to avoid the problem happening again. You can’t just throw up your hands and say, ‘Well, it’s just one of those things.’ You have to solve the problem. Otherwise, the magazine will lose a lot of money."