Buying Print Today? Same as It Ever Was
One of my favorite things to do in this business is listen to a group of print buying professionals. Just when I’m anticipating what they’re going to say...they surprise me. It simultaneously humbles and delights me.
So it was last week during one of the sessions at PBI Boston, our one-day regional conference—or get together, or party...OK, OK, it was all three.
The last session of the day was titled, “How to Source Printing in 2012: Best Practices.” I had selected three savvy pros from different industries to share their own philosophies on the subject. They had communicated with each other a bit via email, but as far as I know, they hadn’t shared their presentations.
I certainly didn’t know what they were going to say, but considering this is 2012 and the industry is in the middle of a ginormous shake up, I figured we’d hear about new strategies for finding printers. There I sat in the front row, fingers poised over my keyboard, waiting to type every word uttered.
What they said was so shocking, it blew me away. I could barely type.
Turns out, the tried-and-true, age-old practices of print buying are still—to this day—the best and most effective ones. There were no secret apps, no “silver bullet” formulas, and no shortcutting software to turn the business of buying commercial printing into a routine, foolproof task that anyone can do.
Au contraire. You have to be mindful and detail-oriented, creative and intelligent.
Here’s what we learned about sourcing print from these pros:
1) Buyers need to know their clients.
Who are you producing/sourcing for? What matters to them? Getting to know them is half the battle. Get inside their heads and make sure you appreciate what will make them happy in terms of the results.
One speaker made us laugh: “Art directors want the best, the most expensive and the coolest. Clients want it cheap and they want it yesterday.”
2) Ask every question, of your clients especially.
Don’t assume anything. Print buyers are the go-betweens. If you misinterpret your client, then you give bad direction or specs to the printer, and the job doesn’t come out as the client expected. It’s your fault if you didn’t dig deep enough.
3) Choose the right vendor.
Pretty obvious, right? It’s not so easy, unless you’ve covered points #1 and #2—and have the experience required to discern which printers are most appropriate and the best fit for you.
4) Be consistent.
Work with your company’s style guide and brand specifications. Printers need this sort of baseline to work from.
5) Work with a stable of vendors.
Don’t spread your work around too much. Spend a lot of time and budget with one printer, and that company will be more likely to get things done for you.
6) Pick a new printer as if you’re hiring a new employee.
Printed samples and specs are like the rep’s resume. Go over them carefully. Prepare questions ahead of time.
7) Try to keep changes at a minimum once a job is at the printer.
Proofing is key. The buyer should look at everyone’s comments on a proof and consolidate them for the printer.
8) Strategic outsourcing (aka “Know Your Vendors”) works.
You can improve relationships with your printers if you handpick them carefully. Have core vendors.
What I loved about these tips from the trio of experts was that they are the same common-sense best practices that print buyers have been using for decades. They still work, and they make a great checklist for anyone new to the field.
One of the speakers delivered this quotable quote: “Print is a highly customized, highly service-oriented commodity.”
If that’s not a lovely, oxymoronic sentiment, I don’t know what is.