Printers’ Rant is Justified: Print Buyer Specs are Incomplete

Sometimes this industry amazes me with its fast-forward technologies and new ways of doing businesses, and then sometimes. . .not so much. Some things have stayed the same for ages and you’ve got to wonder. . .why? One example is print buyers’ bid sheets. Most buying companies are working off the same bid sheet that they did 10 or 20 years ago.

It’s true that we still need to communicate all the regular specs, such as how many pieces get printed, the type of paper and ink colors. But where’s the finesse? Today we have plenty of advanced capabilities for snazzy technologies like color management and variable-data printing. But where’s the nomenclature to instruct solution providers on what we (buyers) expect from these more sophisticated technologies and projects? It seems to me that we have a gap between what we are able to do and how to communicate what we want.

Printers are often criticized for the variance in their print quotes, but perhaps print buyers bear part of the responsibility. The less defined the specifications, the higher the variability in interpreting the specs and the more variance in printers’ quotes. Proper communication for a print project assumes that the buyer can correctly identify all the specifications. But specifications are just one part of the story. As industry consultant Dick Gorelick likes to say, there’s a difference between specifications and expectations. It’s critical to be able to communicate the more nuanced expectations of a print project that directly impact larger issues of branding and ROI.

In a PBO quick poll to printers last week, we asked 37 top printers, “What is your greatest challenge when working with current customers?” The majority, 54%, said that “receiving accurate and complete specifications” was more challenging than even getting enough “face time” with current customers or meeting customers’ increasingly short turnaround times.

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  • http://DavidSchwalje David Schwalje

    Yes, there is a gap between what craftsmen and technology are able to do and how print buyers communicate what is wanted / needed / expected. Those with experience on both sides of the communication gap understand the need to improve communication. Process improvement of the communication can take the form of paper based forms and web enabled communications, but with the more complex work human communication is driving the projects. What works best is to have the mutual goal of both parties earning higher margins (long term). The print buyers who work through how the print providers want to receive info will understand how they are limited by their system. Print buyers who educates their print suppliers (and vice versa) should and do enjoy efficiencies which allow them higher margins and the ability to process more work with less stress.

  • http://KevinRoland Kevin Roland

    My suggestion would be education and partnering with a good reputable printer. I have noticed an increase in the number of print buyers who do not fully understand the trade. There are some good books about the trade, written specifically for print buyers. With a little studying and forming a partnership with a good reputable printer. You should be able to effectively communicate your specifications and your expectations.

  • http://BoSacks BoSacks

    In 37 years of buying print, I have yet to get a quote that is delivered that same as my RFQ. Now Yes, I’m in the magazine business and every printer has developed a unique and special budgeting system, including RFQ quotation delivery. But they are never the same.They in fact can not be the same. But it has been a life long dream to get my quotes exactly the same for a simple and easy review. IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. And price isn’t everything. The plant has to fit the publisher and publisher the plant. and on and on… But a simple spec sheet and a simple quote would be a beautiful thing. <br />
    BoSacks<br />

  • http://MichaelLennon Michael Lennon

    Full bleed – can the buyers communicate with the designers and be more specific? Is it a background CMYK image, stripes bleeding off side(s) or a "paint job" as we production folks refer to those full solids for which we have to factor in higher ink costs on larger runs? That small piece of knowledge can also help to better schedule the finishing aspects of those projects.