PostScript

Then: Seven years ago, Strategy asked the men and women who buy printing - the print and production managers at advertising and direct marketing agencies - on what basis they choose their printers and what services they consider essential. They were also asked about projects that pushed their printer to the limits.

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

Date: March 6, 1995

Then: Seven years ago, Strategy asked the men and women who buy printing – the print and production managers at advertising and direct marketing agencies – on what basis they choose their printers and what services they consider essential. They were also asked about projects that pushed their printer to the limits.

The most important elements in choosing a printer, as cited by the participants, were quality, service and price, as well as knowledge of direct mail production, attitude and innovation.

Essential services at the time included in-house finishing and packaging equipment; desktop publishing capabilities for last-minute changes; in-house bindery; the ability to add a third shift and/or 24-hour availability; and speedy estimating departments.

Among the several projects said to have pushed printers to the limit was the production of two 24-page brochures for Toyota’s Lexus division. Challenging factors included a tight schedule, the heavy nature of the ink coverage and the large number of ‘critical crossovers.’

Now: The printing and production industry has gone through serious upheaval since 1995, with the arrival of more sophisticated printing technology such as direct-to-plate (transferring a file directly to an imposed plate, without the need to make a negative) and the introduction of one-to-one printers (digital printers that can handle variable information). The new technology undoubtedly makes the job go more smoothly and quickly, but at the same time, print managers today are finding the job increasingly demanding as deadlines have been shortened and expectations raised.

So what do today’s print managers feel are top-of-mind in dealing with printers? Strategy turned to Lori Mayer, production director at Toronto-based tattoo direct + digital and Randy Tait, production director at Brann Worldwide in Toronto, to find out just how much things have changed.

Strategy: What are the most important considerations when choosing a printer?

Mayer: Equipment compatibility to the specifications of the job is always important, as are price, quality, deliverability and service.

Tait: First and foremost I look at the quality, because I need to know that at the end of the day we’ve got a good product coming off the press. The ability to deliver to a time-line is also very important because we have a lot of very tight deadlines. The third factor is cost but that depends on the client, and we always look at quality over and above cost.

Strategy: What services do you consider essential and why?

Mayer: If the printer has their pre-press in the same shop as the printing facility, it helps things move along quickly. It also makes the transition from digital files to ink on paper go more smoothly. Timing is also crucial. We need to know that the printer will consistently meet deadlines.

We are always looking for new equipment or technology that the company has invested in. We sometimes bring the printer in for a brainstorming session because they can introduce new and innovative ideas. It opens doors for the group and increases thought.

The other thing I really like is responsiveness to requests. There are some printers I really depend on. When I give them a job, no matter how complex, I know that the quality will always be high at the end of the day.

Tait: I like printers that have a myriad of capabilities in-house. They have to have the ability to do film and to have features such as direct-to-plate, so that they can make adjustments internally if there is a problem when we’re on press. In-house film capabilities add an element of additional control.

Strategy: How has the nature of your job changed over the past few years?

Mayer: I’ve become more involved in helping design the packages and have a lot more input as to dos and don’ts, which is very important in the direct mail business. We have to be aware of Canada Post specifications and what sort of cost will be incurred if we go out of bounds. Being involved at this stage and getting the printer involved means we can do a lot with a very small budget.

Improved technology makes everything a lot faster, but at the same time, our deadlines are becoming shorter, so once that happens we push the printer and push the equipment as hard as we can. Clients are well aware that the new technology makes things faster so they want everything to be turned around more quickly.

Tait: The changes to the whole printing industry have been fairly dramatic. Just six years ago I started using direct-to-plate, and at that time there were a lot of quirks in the system. The proofing system wasn’t up to scratch then, but in the last couple of years it has become almost as good as a film proof. Nowadays we have so much flexibility that we can make quick adjustments at press time without losing time.

Another change I’ve seen which is very exciting is the one-to-one printer. With this technology you can take a four-colour piece and have a good quality printed piece that has been personalized with a lot of variable info. That has been a tremendous boost to the direct marketing industry in terms of time and flexibility.

Strategy: Have you worked on any projects lately that have pushed your printer to the limit? What are the current challenges?

Mayer: All my projects push my printer to the limits because of the time issue.

The other challenge printers face is the tough competition for work. Basically anybody that has a computer can be a printer so they really have to differentiate themselves. We can afford to be very picky about who we choose to invest our money with.