How to select and work with printers
Over my career of 20 years in designing for print, I’ve seen a huge amount of change in our field. Predictions about the demise of print have been around since the advent of digital communications, but in 2013, print is still an important part of the marketing mix for many nonprofits.
So, if you’ve made the decision to include print, how do you decide on the best way to spend your budget? A good way to approach this is to ensure that you develop strong relationships with preferred print suppliers, who can do the print work and can help you get the best value for your donor dollars.
Communicate your print needs effectively
Once you’ve made a decision to include printed items in your marketing mix, it is important to have a good idea of what kind of finished piece you want before approaching a printer for a quote. For example, if you’ve determined you need a 3-panel brochure, have the answers to these questions before you approach a printer:
- What size is your piece when flat and folded?
- Will it be full bleed, or would a white border around the whole piece be acceptable?
- Will it be a full colour piece, or one colour?
- How soon do you need them?
- How many do you need?
These factors will all impact price.
It’s an even better idea to go to your printer in advance of designing a piece, as the printer can make suggestions on the most economical sizing, process and paper based on your time and your budget.
Finding a print supplier for your nonprofit
Chances are, if you print one piece, you’ll be printing another in the future. If you don’t yet have a steady relationship with a printer, it’s to your advantage to develop and maintain one with these specialists, much as you do for any other supplier in your chain.
Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen a consolidation in the printing industry with fewer players. Within that spectrum, there are printers that concentrate on certain types of printing. This has become a necessity because the equipment to manufacture specialized material is costly.
Where to look for a printer
When you are starting the search for a new printer, ask your designer or your colleagues at similar sized nonprofit organizations for references. If you can find a supplier that has done work with other nonprofits, that is ideal. They will already have some sense of how the demands of nonprofits differ from a corporation.
When you’ve made contact, request printed samples of the type of materials you’ll be printing, learn about the equipment and output capacity of the printer, and arrange face-to-face meetings with the owner and account manager.
Source the right match for your print needs
Once you have meetings organized, make sure you do your homework in advance by assessing your core printing needs including annual quantities. If your organization mainly prints small quantities of posters, flyers and brochures, a general offset printer or perhaps a good digital printer will suffice. If your organization is doing more sophisticated direct mail packages, you will need to involve a larger printer with more resources and equipment. If one printer can provide for a majority of your needs, they may be able to offer volume discounts.
Be aware that the printer may also outsource work further to other trade printers who handle things like die-cutting or bindery. When there are ongoing diverse printing needs, and no dedicated in-house resource to manage the printer relationship, a print broker, who does the legwork with printers directly may be helpful.
Develop a relationship of trust and respect
Once you’ve made your decision to work with a supplier remember that reliable, quality printers are worth their weight in gold. Develop close ties based on trust and respect to bring better value for your donor dollars, and peace of mind for you.
Be a good client
Make an effort to respect the average turnaround time and the effort that it takes to complete a typical print project. For your supplier, what is a reasonable turn around time for a large offset printing job or a “quick and dirty” digital print run? If you stick to this guideline most of the time, it becomes easier to request an occasional favour, such as a compressed deadline or a minor cost reduction if your budget dictates.
Tap into your printer’s expertise
A solid printer can become one of your trusted advisors in your marketing process. If cost is an issue a printer may be able to suggest small modifications to a design sizing, paper choice or even colour to keep your expenses in line. Of course, learning this information in advance of the design process is ideal.
Don’t abuse the desire to provide service
It’s important to avoid ‘using’ printers to continuously provide quotes (perhaps to satisfy a 3 quote guideline) when you don’t intend to use them. My recommendation is to develop a small roster of perhaps three preferred suppliers that have strengths in different areas. This gives you the flexibility of obtaining competitive quotes, and provides reassurance to your suppliers that they’ll be awarded jobs when appropriate.
Enjoy the ongoing benefits of a great printer relationship
I’ve worked with some printers my entire career. On an ongoing basis, they’ve provided high quality printed material. When things have gotten tight in terms of budget or time they’ve always maintained a high level of professionalism and met their deadlines. Most importantly, they have become my partners in branding. They are intimate with graphic standards, offer file improvements, colour expertise, and even spot the occasional typo. These are the supplier relationships that can make your communications work all the more rewarding.