Special report: Printing and pre-press: Ruffo: `If you can’t respond quickly, don’t submit a quote’

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.

`If anything goes out of whack, they can just pick up the ball.

By Sandi Ruffo, Senior Project Manager, Padulo Integrated

What are the most important considerations when choosing a printer?

A. I would probably say service, then quality, and also price.

I tend to have favored [suppliers] only because I get good service from them.

The way I think of it, if they don’t have good service, they may have the best price, they may have the quality, but that doesn’t get me in the mail on time.

Q. What services do you consider essential?

A. I think that is specific to each project.

Most of the shops will put on a third shift, if necessary.

And I go in up-front, telling them, ‘Knowing my client, this is one of these projects that I can tell you from the start is going to be one of these last-minute things.

‘So if you are not prepared to be able to respond quickly to my needs, don’t [submit a] quote.’

It’s nice to know they have some film facilities, so if there is something wrong, it can be fixed.

And due to the critical time-lines in direct marketing, I tend to look for a full-service shop that has lasering and lettershop capabilities internally, so if anything goes out of whack, they can just pick up the ball and run with it.

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

A. I look for someone who is knowledgeable, someone who is willing to work with me.

Most important, though, is honesty up-front.

Whenever I am getting into a relationship with a new supplier, I say, ‘My expectations are that you will be up-front and honest,’ because in the long run, my client is dealing with me.

And if my rep isn’t honest with me, telling me the straight goods, I am passing on false information to my client. I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to say, ‘You know your mail date? I can’t meet it.’

In any relationship, business-wise or personal-wise, I want to work with somebody I can trust. If there’s no trust, there’s no relationship.

Another thing. I want my rep to know his business. I regard him or her as the expert in their field.

If they foresee a potential problem, and it’s something I may have overlooked, we can catch it before it becomes a major problem.

Q. Do you use a three-quote system?

A. Yes. I don’t have volumes big enough to do prearranged contracts.

I use the three-quote system because I am always working in the best interest of the client to get a cost-competitive quote. Just to make sure – and I am not saying anyone is cheating – but just to make sure that everything is fair value.

Sometimes I have dealt with [suppliers] who bid strictly on price, but if there is no service attached to that, a job can end up being more costly.

For the extra couple of hundred dollars, I could have got better service. But whenever someone dictates you go with the lowest quote, no matter what, that’s the chance you take.

Q. So even if you get three quotes, you are not necessarily going to go with the lowest bid?

A. No, no, no. There are other factors [influencing the decision.]

If I know this is a project for which the supplier is going to have to go to the wall, I tag my suppliers to the project I am doing.

But sometimes these things are dictated by the client’s budget and you really don’t have much of a choice.

Q. Are your printers handling your film for you, or do you buy the majority of your film from an independent film house?

A. I buy from an independent film house. Why? Because an independent film house is an expert in film.

I’m not saying that some printers don’t have an expertise. If they have an arm, a sister company that’s a film house, fine.

But if it’s being done internally, I don’t know that they have the same capabilities.

And sometimes, the prices are a little pricier.

Q. Do your printers have to have finishing capabilities?

A. It’s nice to have, but providing they can meet my deadlines, I don’t care if it’s finished on their premises or sent to somebody else.

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

A. I don’t know that it really has changed.

If anything, time-lines in direct marketing have gotten a lot tighter.

And I’m not sure if that’s because the mentality is, we are getting so sophisticated technology-wise, [clients] think it can be done faster, or because the packages are so much more complex than they used to be.

A few years ago, the standard was 8 1/2 x 14 letter, tear-off coupon, insert into a No. 10 [envelope.]

Whereas now, you’ve got six or seven components going into a package, and there’s a lot more data personalization.

On average, people are giving you maybe three weeks to getting a direct mail promotion produced. That’s compared to five years ago, when we had the same amount of time, but nowhere near the sophistication.