Special report: Printing and pre-press: SMW’s Lexus job aimed for the top

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.

Hutchinson cites equipment and inside quality control as the two most important elements in choosing a printer

By Gary Hutchinson, Senior Print Production Manager SMW Advertising

A tight schedule, the heavy nature of the ink coverage, and the large number of ‘critical crossovers’ were among the factors that made the production of two brochures for Lexus, Toyota’s upscale car division, a challenge, says Gary Hutchinson, senior print production manager at Toronto-based SMW Advertising.

With only six working days for printing and bindery, Hutchinson decided to split production of two, 24-page, self-cover brochures between teams of Toronto-based film suppliers and printers: Batten Graphics worked with printer Arthur-Jones Lithographing, while Partners Imaging supplied film to Matthews Ingham & Lake.

‘I didn’t want to burden one [team] with both jobs, since they were both coming due at the same time,’ Hutchinson says.

He says the brochures, for the LS-400 and ES-300 models, required the best quality printing money could buy because of the luxurious nature of the automobiles being advertised.

Although the print run was small – only 12,000 copies each, split between English and French – the challenge was to ensure high quality images while using recycled stock, as dictated by Toyota’s corporate policy.

Hutchinson ordered a 200-line screen to ensure premium quality representation of the transparencies (the larger the number, the sharper the image; newspapers normally use a 65-line screen; consumer magazines generally use screens between 133-150.)

As well, the brochure had a die-cut pocket glued on the back, in which were inserted paint chips showing the available colors.

And finally, Hutchinson says there were a number of critical crossovers, where a photo spans the fold, that required careful attention to ensure everything lined up properly.

‘It was a complicated job,’ he says.

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

A. Equipment, inside quality control, sales rep experience, price, and, last but not least, the turnaround time.

Q. What services do you consider essential?

A. I want them to offer printing, finishing, packaging, shipping, and, sometimes, with our bigger clients, we need them to offer warehousing. That way, you can print a large number and, as they request it, the material can be shipped across Canada.

If you run a half a million pieces, but you only need a couple of hundred thousand now, you don’t want to go back on the press in two months to run another couple of hundred thousand.

You can save a lot of money if you can forecast your long-term needs.

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

A. Their knowledge and reliability.

Most of the ones we work with today are pretty knowledgable, but you always get the calls from people, and when you ask them what kind of equipment they have, they really don’t know.

The first thing I say is ‘Send me an equipment list and maybe we can talk later.’

Q. Do you routinely use the three-quote system?

A. Definitely, for all jobs. The only time when we would not do that is when we don’t have the time to source out three quotes.

We are shopping for our clients and price is a key issue.

I actually made up a form that I can fax to the printers [to reduce the chance of a] discrepancy between one printer quoting one way and another printer quoting another way, which is a big-time issue.

You’ll give specs to one printer and he’ll send back a quote, which is slightly different from the other printers’, but he’ll get the job because his price is lower. This way, they can’t play any games.

Everyone has the same specs, and I am not [put in the position of] trying to check them against each other. That way I can guarantee the client is getting the best deal.

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. All my film is supplied by my film shops, except for very simple jobs. They are more experienced, they have better scanners, better equipment.

As well, there is an expertise gap between the two that has not quite been brought together.

Q. Do your printers have to have finishing capabilities?

A. I prefer it, but they don’t have to have it, because the kind of finishing that I order is so complex, there is no way I could expect the printer to have all the machinery to do it.

I mean, you’ve got scoring, folding, die-cutting, gold foil stamping, embossing, perfing and special binding, and I can’t expect a printer to have all that equipment.

I do expect a printer to have the basics: folders, stitchers, trimmers and things like that.

But when it gets into the specialty finishing work, I would expect them to source it out.

It’s like anything else, let the best be the best and you source it to them.

Q. What do you think about the industry trend toward mega-mergers?

A. I just hope some of the smaller shops can survive, because if we lose all the smaller shops, I think the competitiveness of the business will be lost.

As you know, smw is Canadian-owned, we’re all shareholders, and I think people put more effort in when it’s a smaller shop, sometimes.

The larger they get, the more you get lost in the shuffle.

If you are not buying millions, you are not their most important customer.

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

A. There’s no straight route to produce a job anymore.

You don’t just have mechanical and art, and boom, it’s a done job. There are many ways to get a job done, which means we as production buyers have to learn more, we have to think more, we have to think in different ways to produce a job.

Before, doing a brochure, I would have a reflective piece of art, a transparency and a mechanical.

Today, I could have transparency, a reflective piece of art, a digital file in one language, a dupe transparency, and a digital disk with the type on it. You are gathering up more things in different areas to produce the same piece. It gets more complicated.

That’s where [extra-curricular and in-house] learning has really helped me out.

Q. How are you and your printer managing ever-decreasing time lines?

A. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.

How are we managing it? We’re planning as much as we can, getting involved as early as possible.

In-house, I get briefed as early as possible so I can help them decide which way we should go. Then when it comes to outside suppliers, I brief them up-front, to eliminate problems down the road.