If You Can Read This, Thank a Printer
When I first began doing print production I was at Foote Cone Belding (FCB) in NYC working on the Citibank account, and it was very unofficial.
My official role was traffic manager. But more specifically, I was the traffic manager for Citibank Investment ads, and even more specifically, only for newspapers and only in five markets. Even within those parameters, I could easily release 40-60 ads per week—if not more.
My life pretty much revolved around media plans and the SRDS, composite sizing, versioning, veloxes, and making sure the correct ad with the correct legal and interest rates went to the right paper in the right city in the right market.
Working in traffic pretty much means you are one of the last people out the door for the day, and more often than not, it’s way into the night when that happens. It’s not uncommon at all for others to ask you to help them so they can leave, since you are staying anyhow. And that is how I began to learn about print production.
The print production manager I worked with taught me about specs and releasing files so I could cover for her when needed. She could have left it at that, but I was lucky and she would also let me tag along when she routed proofs to the team. I remember how cool I thought the light box was, and making comments with China markers. I definitely saw the creative aspects of print production and working with the creatives to make art was very appealing. I wanted in!
Not every story has a happy ending, though. FCB lost the Citibank account and poof most of the 40 people working on it were reassigned or let go. I moved on to traffic at Deutsch first, then Ammirati, Ogilvy, Showtime and Y&B Advertising—all before landing at Stein Rogan + Partners in 1999, which was an interactive ad agency. That, ironically, was when I first started doing actual print production.
I had worked with so many amazing people along the way that shared their knowledge and mentored me that I could do the production job now—or so I thought. I certainly knew a lot, but my area of expertise was limited to ads in newspapers, magazines and OOH.
I never had to produce something as simple as a letterhead or complicated as a diecut folder or multi-page brochure. Paper? Scoring? Die-lines? Uh-oh. It wasn’t just about providing specs and making sure the files followed them and the pub or media company received the materials on time. I had to start from step one!
This is when I realized that when you are in the deep end of the pool, sinking or swimming aren’t your only options. You can call for the life guard to come and, in this case, it was my printer who jumped in and rescued me.
Admitting you don’t know something is not easy, especially when you’re being paid to know it. So most of the time, asking a co-worker for help—let alone in the cutthroat world of advertising—can be very difficult. Printers, on the other hand, are career neutral, and the smart ones know the more they help ME, the more I will rely upon them to make sure I don’t screw up...and more work will come their way.
I created some bookmarks for PrintMediaCentr last year that said, “If you can read this, thank a Printer.” It wasn’t just a nod to the fact that ink met paper and with the proper execution words appeared. It was my personal “Thank you!” to every printer out there who took a moment to explain a process, or postal regulations, or varnish options, or paper grain, or lettershop, or VDP, and so on, and so on, even up to today.
To the printers out there, I realize times have changed from when vendors would come up to the office and discuss projects with us, but I would suggest you make a special effort to get to know NEW EMPLOYEES—and especially entry-level production people. You have an awesome opportunity to become not only a safe person to turn to with questions, but also a mentor.
You don’t have the time? You should make it! Not only will the people you help provide you with better files, and better jobs to print, they will work with you as much as they can. Like me, they will consider you their partner and, when possible, take you along as they move along during their careers. One very common thing about production people you probably already know—we are loyal!