What Matters More Than Price?

By Deborah Corn

I have been working in the Production arena for 23+ years, in many capacities. When I started, layout was done by paste-up; no computer programs even existed other than the typesetting machines, and a stat camera and an X-acto knife were your best friends.

Some of you reading this have no clue what I’m talking about or remember life without a cell phone or a remote control, let alone using a wax machine. I only mention this to give you a little reference to my experience in this field, and to point out that as it changes, so must you.

The Bang for Your Buck Challenge
Changes these days for print producers revolve around emerging marketing technologies and being more integrated with the digital world than we have been required to in the past.

What hasn’t changed, and probably never will, is that we continue to be pressured from our agency and clients to get the most “bang for the buck.” The economy has shrunk budgets considerably, yet we are still required to produce award-winning materials and keep clients happy, without sacrificing quality.

A big part of my responsibility is working with designers and art directors and ultimately bringing their projects to life. In the best-case scenario, we work together creating the concept so they don’t get all “designy” like creatives do and want to produce things we can’t afford.

Working together on parameters allows the designer to do his or her thing without having to redesign later when I see the comp and know we don’t have a budget for nine PMS colors for example … yes, it’s happened and for a postcard no less!

The Pre-emptive Spec Swap
Another topic best to discuss upfront is paper. Part of my job is to know what will work and what won’t, as well as be able to recommend stocks best suited for simple things such as folding and scoring, or more elaborate finishes.

Knowing a ballpark budget or the cost approval habits of the client gives me a pretty good idea which stocks and grades I can discuss with creatives (and quote on) to keep within the most “bang for the buck” scenario.

So keeping all of that in mind, when I send requests to printers for quotes, the specs are not random or an after-thought. But numerous times over the past few years, I’ve encountered what I’m going to call the “Pre-emptive Spec Swap.”

Ninety-nine percent of the time this discussion starts (before a quote has even been generated), with the printer recommending a stock switch to the “house stock” in order to save us money.

I find this a very interesting approach. First, I’ve always assumed that if I spend the time with art directors and designers creating specs, they mean something. Second, I assume that printers will quote what I ask for, as they have always done in the past.

Fighting the Fear Factor
This economy seems to have many in a free fall, and the fear of losing a job on “price” sends some into playing defense before the game has even started.

Now let me say, I totally get the proactive paper pre-empt since paper is a commodity and prices rise and fall. If it’s a bad week/month, then I’m going to be shocked when my quote comes back and probably ask what can be done to lower it.

Ninety-nine percent of the time the response is, “Change the paper.” But I don’t want to change my paper. I don’t want to change my specs at all. So what are the options?

Before you throw up your hands, see what you can give and what you can work out with your printer and your paper merchant. For example:

  • Ask your merchant if they can negotiate better pricing for your preferred stock at the mill and pass that savings to you and your printer.
  • Ask for comparable alternative stocks and paper samples, then review them with your team. Don’t just settle for a lesser grade without exploring options with your merchant.
  • Talk to your printer about other jobs you have or other jobs they are running. See if you can work out ganging up jobs on press and reducing or splitting set-up costs.
  • Ask about a volume discount if you can send a certain amount of business their way in a time frame you agree upon.
  • Question delivery method and look at the schedule to see if you can squeeze out an extra day (or a few) to lower shipping costs.
  • Look at your proofing costs. Do you really need two or more rounds of digital proofs or can you see text corrections via PDF or an online approval system?
  • Question why a bid is so high (or so low) based upon others you have received. Really examine and question each line of a quote, and don’t forget you have options on where to buy things.

If you develop relationships that expand beyond customer/client, you can work with your service providers as partners in your process.

Even in this economy, with a little effort, all of us can work together and not abandon quality to stay profitable. The bottom line is always more than just dollars and cents.


Copyright 2012 Deborah Corn.

“Hello PaperSpecs! How exciting to be among the “pulple” … and many thanks to Sabine for inviting me to share some thoughts and open up a dialogue with this awesome group. I am certainly looking forward to our adventures!”

Deborah is presently the COO of PrintMediaCentr, a global platform providing information and resources to the print and integrated marketing industry, and principal at PrintProQuo Print Production and Integrated Project Management Consulting. She also works behind the scenes with several print organizations and companies helping with their social media marketing, and has founded Print Production Professionals, the largest independently owned print-related group on LinkedIn, which she also independently manages.

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