Special report: Printing and pre-press: Bell piece personalized with calling patterns

In our last report on printing, we asked the marketing executives at a a cross-section of printing companies what they were doing to distinguish their services from those of their competitors, and how they were communicating those differences to their customers.This...

In our last report on printing, we asked the marketing executives at a a cross-section of printing companies what they were doing to distinguish their services from those of their competitors, and how they were communicating those differences to their customers.

This time, we asked the men and women who buy printing Ñ the print production managers at advertising and direct marketing agencies Ñ on what basis they choose their printers, what services they consider essential and how they and their printers are managing to meet ever-tightening deadlines.

We also asked them to tell us about a project that pushed their printer to the limit.

Printer had to understand what Bell wanted to achieve with this piece, including large-scale personalization

By Gladys Bachand, Vice President, Production Manager, Leo Burnett

The sheer complexity of a direct mail piece to launch Bell Canada’s Real Plus Long Distance Savings Plan required Montreal-based Datamark Graphix to be more than just a printer, says Gladys Bachand, vice president and production manager at Toronto-based Leo Burnett.

‘[Datamark's Toronto-based rep, David Engel] couldn’t just be a printer, putting ink on paper,’ says Bachand.

‘He had to understand what we wanted to achieve with this piece. He had to be able to handle not only the printing, but all the data and personalization, on a large scale, within pretty tight timelines,’ she says.

The self-mailer, which was delivered to 1.5 million Ontario residents, was not only personalized, front and back, with the recipient’s name and address, but contained details of the individual’s calling patterns.

As well, each mailer specified absolute real savings over three months, based on that person’s long distance bills for the previous quarter.

Bachand says the job was made more difficult because of the large volume, the tight schedule, and the co-ordination necessary between agency, printer and Bell’s data department.

Q. What are the most important considerations when choosing a printer?

A. We still look at the same three things that every production manager has always looked at, and will probably always look at: which is, quality, price and service.

The other thing we would look at is their innovation, their creative ability, their resourcefulness, and whether they are on the leading edge of technology Ñ that is pretty important, because things are changing quite a bit.

Q. What services are essential to you?

A. It’s pretty important that they have a full range of in-house finishing equipment, in addition to a full menu of printing presses.

And if they can’t offer every finishing capability under one roof, they have to be resourceful; they have to be able to offer that to me from an outside source.

In addition, it’s important that they have a full-service estimating department and they can turn around estimates quickly. We are being asked to quote, or estimate, jobs faster than ever before. So I don’t want to be in a three-day line-up waiting for a quote.

We have to be reasonable, obviously, depending on the type of job and how much finishing is required, but often, these days, we are demanding same-day quotes.

The standard five years ago was three days, and everybody was happy with that.

Q. What qualities do you look for in a printing rep?

I think the No. 1 thing I look for in a rep, and this would apply to a film rep, too, is that they have sound technical experience.

I want to be able to deal with a printer’s rep who knows his business better than I know his business, because otherwise he’s no help to me.

And, of course, service, service, service, service.

My phone could ring all day, and does ring all day, with printing reps wanting to get work from Leo Burnett, and I am shocked, sometimes, at the experience level of these people. In fact, I’m insulted.

The situation is improving, because with a lot of printers going out of business, people are starting to realize it’s not as easy as it looks.

Q. Do you routinely use the three quote system, or do you have pre-arranged contracts with printers based on a volume discount?

A. We do both. We are working on a three-quote, three-printer system, and in addition, we do work on a volume discount with all three.

So it works out very well. Everybody is on the same playing field.

Q. Are your printers handling your film for you, or are you still buying the majority of your film from an independent film house?

A. We are definitely buying all our film from an independent film house and I don’t see that changing for a long time Ñ for the simple reason that I firmly believe you should buy your film from a film specialist and you should buy your printing from a printing specialist, and they are completely different services.

And although I know a lot of printers do offer film services, I believe those services have been set up for a different type of client than an agency.

Q. Does your printer have to have finishing capabilities?

A. Definitely. It varies, among printers, but I think there is a standard and obviously, the more they can offer [in the way of finishing services] the more of a help they are going to be to me.

As I said earlier, we are turning around our work quicker and quicker, and the more I can do under one roof, the better for me.

It has gotten to the point where if I can save half a day, transporting press sheets from my printer to an outside die-cutter, that’s a help.

Q. How has the nature of your job changed over the past few years?

A. We’ve had to become more than just production managers. We have had to become more involved in our clients’ businesses, and become part of a solution to their marketing challenges.

For instance, I will often be part of brainstorming sessions, to determine how we will solve a marketing problem from a production standpoint. Maybe I know of some new technology that is available that can help bring a creative solution to the problem.

Q. How are you and your printer managing to deal with ever-shorter time lines?

A. It’s just a sign of the times. It’s what everybody has to do to get the business. There’s not really a lot of choice involved.

From a printer’s standpoint, he can’t afford not to give me an estimate when I need it. They are staffing up and they are working smarter and faster to meet our needs.

Another thing Ñ printers are probably working more shifts than they ever have in order to meet our deadlines. Where they were working two shifts before, they are often working overtime, or even putting on a third shift, in order to meet our deadlines.

The whole upfront artwork stage is now a much faster process, so that is really helping.

But printing is still printing. And although there are better presses out there, they still print 8,000 to 10,000 pieces an hour, and that really hasn’t changed.