Posts Tagged ‘seminars’

Savvy Printers Play Nice with Print Brokers — part 2

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

If I owned a print shop — which I don’t — but if I did, and I wanted to attract brokers to sell for me, I would do these things:

  1. Make sure the brokers are fully informed of your capabilities and preferences. By preferences I mean that two printers have identical equipment, but one prefers short runs and the other prefers longer runs. Normally pricing will reveal this to a good broker, but wouldn’t it be quicker if the printer identified their sweet spot right up front?
  2. Provide brokers with sales materials, especially if you have a special new piece of equipment or an exciting announcement. Think about this: it is difficult for a broker to take the business elsewhere if they are using your promotional materials to secure a project.
  3. Try to avoid competing with the broker unless they are after one of your established accounts. If one of your sales reps has a desire to go to battle over a broker’s customer, hold them back. Open discussion may solve the conflict. Be courteous and discuss it with all involved parties.
  4. Be sure to honor the broker’s trade secrets. There are some brokers who like to keep their sources hidden–I’m not one of them. I opt for efficiency. If my customer has an urgent question, or needs to STOP the press I want them to be able to do that. Yes, over the last twenty odd years I’ve had to scrap relationships with printers who didn’t honor the gentleman’s or written agreements we made, and yes, I’ve had customers seek a better price by going behind my back, but the truth is that it has happened very rarely. And in the end, customers and printers who engage in this unethical behavior can’t  be relied upon anyway. It’s good riddance to bad rubbish.
  5. Attempt to cultivate them as part of your sales team. Why not? They bring business just like your commissioned reps do. The more involved they are in your company and on good terms with your staff, especially your sales staff the smoother things will go. If they are treated like Darth Vader instead of Luke Skywalker when they come through the door, you lose. They’ll take their business elsewhere.
  • Invite them to attend sales meetings from time-to-time, especially ones where there is a special guest or new information to be presented.
  • If you have a sales contest, find a way to include brokers too.
  • Reward profitable brokers with surprise tickets to favorite sporting events, dinners at local restaurants, or weekend trips to nearby resorts. By the way, it is very easy for printers to trade for these spiffs and the out-of-pocket expenses are greatly reduced.
  • If you send your sales reps to a seminar or rally consider sending brokers too.
  • Make sure brokers are invited to other company functions.
  • If a broker is having trouble landing an account that would fit your particular niche, work together just like you would with your own sales rep to secure the business. This way you both benefit.

The bottom line is that print brokers are really and truly a part of any smart printer’s sales force. The good news is that they don’t receive salary, or commission. You don’t have to match their Social Security, or 401 K. You can keep money that you would have spent on a sales rep’s health insurance, expense reimbursement, company car, and overhead. If you have enough money to provide these benefits to your employees just consider what providing brokers with a nice benefit that is a faction of the cost of employee could do? They are possibly the best investment you can make for sales growth.

If you treat print brokers right, make them feel like they are a part of your team, let them know that they are appreciated you’ll discover an increase in trust. Many of the reasons cited by printers for their unhappy experiences with brokers were created by the printer’s disrespect. Respect the respectable brokers (yes, some brokers should be flushed — but not most — especially those who have been around awhile) treat them as part of your team and you’ll find that many of the problems printers have with brokers will disappear. Think about it. How can a broker be your enemy when bringing you business? You are only enemies when you aren’t fair with one another. Be fair.

When it Comes to Paper, Mind Reading is Not Practiced Here

Monday, November 9th, 2009

As a printing broker one of the most difficult challenges I face in trying to determine bid specifications is paper. Why paper? Because most people have no idea how many different kinds of paper are available. Usually I have to resort to questions like, “Does it feel about the same as the paper in your office copier?” Or, “Is it more like poster board?” These questions at least get me in the ballpark. Then maybe I can start pinning it down by asking about the surface of the sheet. “Is it smooth, or textured?” “Is it shiny, or flat?” “If you scratch it with your fingernail does it leave a shiny spot?” “If you hold it up to a light source can you see a watermark?” Anyone in the printing business will understand what I am talking about. It’s like a game of twenty questions, particularly if we’re speaking on the telephone.

Here is something funny–I was discussing a job with a customer the other day–and to help me determine the weight of the paper, he flipped the corner of the sheet over the mouthpiece. When I asked what he was doing, he half-seriously said, “You [Bill] have been in the business for so long that I thought you’d be able to tell how much it weighed by the sound.”  That was a first. I’ve had customers expect me to read their minds, but never has one asked me to identify the weight of paper by the sound.mindmatrix

Of course, the easiest way to figure out what kind of paper a customer wants to use is to have them provide a sample. Usually the stock will become immediately evident, but then there are those occasions when it is not a domestic sheet and importers don’t carry it either. I had that problem once with a local company who represented a skin care line of products manufactured in France. They produced a paper sample that neither I, nor three different paper merchants could identify.

Some of the problems come from the paper industry itself. Paper has been around a long, long time. Just like a foot became a length of measurement by the King’s shoe print, paper weight had rudimentary methods of comparison. How many shovel-fulls of this or that went into the mix. For example here is a list of some weights you may encounter when buying printing: Cover, Text, Book, Bond, Ledger, Tag, Duplex, Blanks, Bristol, and Index. To make it more confusing you can buy 80# Cover, or 80# Text but they aren’t the same thing–not at all. 80# Cover is heavy more akin to poster board, and 80# is similar to your office stationery but probably a little heavier. People will often say something like the paper is  eighty pound and be sure they answered the question, until I ask, “Cover or text?” That’s when they get stuck.

Most stationery is printed on bond and you can often recognize it by a watermark. A 24# bond sheet weighs about as much as a 60# offset. Confused? We haven’t even gotten started yet. No wonder customers can’t figure out what they want the printing/paper industry has made it impossibly difficult. Not on purpose, but there it is.

If your job requires interaction with printers, I have some recommendations to simplify communications:

  1. Always try to provide a sample of the paper you would like to match.
  2. Create a paper sample book. Put various papers in a binder and label them with their weight, finish, and color. By doing this you will have a ready reference to help you.
  3. Watch for paper that crosses your desk. It might be direct mail, catalogs, or invitations. Slip them into the pocket of your binder if you like them and have your rep identify them later.
  4. If you find a paper that you particularly like and want to use it often, ask your print rep to get you a swatch book to keep with your binder. The paper mills put them out to display their wares and they will show you all of the weights, textures, and colors that the paper comes in.
  5. In many markets, the paper merchants will conduct seminars to teach customers about various aspects of paper like weight, thickness, surface, and brightness. Ask your printer if there are any learning opportunities like that in your area.
  6. Avoid using phrases like, just regular paper, something cheap, you know what we like, or something like we did last time. Honestly we want to help, but most of us in the printing business are terrible at reading minds.

Graphic Designers & Printers–It’s a Love/Hate Thing

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I envy the printers for one thing in particular, they are updated regularly by paper merchant reps who call on them with the latest developments, updates, and changes. I get my information either second hand or by attending seminars and showings hosted by the merchants. In the last two weeks I attended a seminar on preparing art files for printing, direct mail, and the danger of the opt-out initiative, and digital printing advancements. I never know what a customer is going to ask of me and I have to be prepared.

Yesterday, Sappi paper sent Daniel Dejan, their North American ETC Print/Creative Manager to town to speak about graphic design and file prep. I thanked Daniel for his presentation, but didn’t thank him enough. You see the printers depend on the artists and graphic designers to keep the presses rolling. The graphic designers need the printers to produce their products. But to hear them talk about each other, you’d think there is a war going on. The printers say that graphic designers don’t even try to prepare their files correctly, that they think because something looks right on the screen it will print right. Designers on the other hand, think that the printers are screwing up their files, and if they just knew what they were doing the jobs would all run smoothly.

Stop the bickering. Mr. Dejan framed the problem as having its roots primarily in the graphic programs and in the designers failure to take the finishing steps necessary to make sure their files are correct.

I can tell you from my personal experience that computer design has completely overhauled the printing industry. When the first design programs were introduced, they created more problems than they solved. Over the years we have seen definite improvements. The programs are much better but still far from perfect. Could they get even better? Yes. Are they striving to implement technology that would fix the disconnect between printer and graphic artist? Not really. Daniel says that he has recommended changes that are possible, but are shrugged off as being too expensive, or time consuming, and aren’t worth doing. money trashedMillions of dollars every year are wasted in printer and designer time because the needed tweaks aren’t happening. Printers and designers need to get together and insist that the software is improved. Maybe working on changes that would throw up red flags when art is incomplete or wrong isn’t sexy, but it would go along way to reducing wasted hours and angry phone calls.

“The single most important thing a designer can do to communicate the job to the printer,” according to Daniel, “is to provide a hard-copy dummy. Herein lies the rub, most files are now emailed to the printer or go by way of ftp. It used to be that the print rep picked up the art and delivered it to the printer. Hard-copy dummies were more common then. We have gotten away from them today, but they are still critical to successful communication. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that we need to take a step backward and have the print reps pick up the disk and hard-copy dummy to take back to the shop. We’ve lost an important communication opportunity along the way.

The second most important task for the designer is to pre-flight their own files. A good pre-flight program provides information about problem spots like low-res photos, but also tosses all the false starts and junk that accumulate as the design is developing. It’s like delivering a finished statue without cleaning it up or sweeping the debris around it. It’s not just ugly; it confuses the rip and leads to wrong fonts being selected, and other problems.

Every printer in the world would love for Daniel Dejan of Sappi to personally instruct the graphic designers, but that isn’t possible. What is possible is that the word gets out about dummies, and pre-flights and most of the problems would be resolved early.

As for Adobe and the others, come on, give us a break. Listen to Daniel, take his advice, and endow your programs with the tweaks needed to help stop the war.

Sappi’s website is www.sappi.com. If you would like to discuss other design-print problems with Daniel, his company email is daniel.dejan@sappi.com.

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