When It Comes to Pricing Print Projects – Stand Your Ground!

Printers, Service Providers… lend me your ears. For far too long you have focused on price over value. Your need to ‘win’ the job has come at a great expense, literally, not only to your business but to the industry. The race to the bottom is not one you should be winning, or participating in. Let me tell you a story…

Back in my print buying days I was working on a global Health and Beauty account, a brand you know and may even use for shampoo, conditioner and hair styling products. I sent out specs to three printers on the brand’s approved vendor list to produce in-store graphics for a multitude of salons. Two of the bids came back within a reasonable range of each other, the third was out. My first instinct was that I must have messed up the specs, but I didn’t. They were the same as were sent to the others. So I called my rep at Sandy Alexander to work it out. This is a loose reenactment of our call in regard to words, not substance.

Me: Hello Sandy Sales. I sent out an estimate request to three printers and you are out of range. What is up?

Sandy Sales: Nothing is up. That is the cost of the job.

Me: Ummmm, well it is more money than the pricing I received from my other bids, and I’d like to work with you but I need you to be within a reasonable range of the others to justify it. Can you work with me on that?

Sandy Sales: Im sorry, but we stand by our pricing and all that it takes to produce the work to the standards we have set, and you expect.

Me: Ok. I’m sorry. Perhaps you didn’t hear me. I’m calling from GIANT BRAND X. We spend a zillion dollars on print every year. I want to work with you, I need you to lower your price.

Sandy Sales: I’m sorry, it won’t work out this time.

Me: (staring at phone with jaw dropped) Ummmm… ok. Well, thanks for letting me know.

In my entire print buying career, Sandy Alexander was the first and only printer that didn’t entertain lowering their price. They didn’t make suggestions for paper or substrate switches, or losing finishing or PMS colors to get the price lower. They didn’t make any suggestions to alter what I wanted and how they could execute it, in any manner. The price was the price, take it or leave it.

In corporate print buying world I had to leave it. But for the next five years, and four of those post-Brand X, I strived to be WORTHY of printing with Sandy Alexander. I finally got my chance at another agency, and yes, the work was worth every cent.

I don’t buy print for agencies and brands anymore, I don’t work with Sandy Alexander, I am not paid by them in any manner nor telling this story to promote them. I am sharing my personal experience to illustrate that YOU have the same power as they did to say NO!

“We can do it better, faster and cheaper” is not a battle cry, it’s the start of an obituary for your print business.

No one… and I mean no one sitting in a brand or agency wants to buy or be associated with cheap print. Don’t misconstrue that as buyers don’t care about price because they do. It’s their job and they are responsible for justifying every dollar that leaves the brand and agency. In some cases buyers sit through audits (as I have) to prove that vendor choices were in the best interest of the clients and companies we represent when higher bids are awarded the work. It’s not fun. It’s much easier to just give the work to the lowest bid and avoid interrogations, but there are exceptions and here are a few to think about…

• You have something no on else has.

• You have a plethora of equipment and I can send multiple jobs within a big campaign to you.

• You can work with/offer substrates others can’t.

• You can get it done faster.

That has value. All of it. Capitalize on the things that set you apart versus price. Send every agency and brand within 100 miles of your print shop the most expensive self-promotion piece you have ever created. Show off every technique and special effect and paper and substrate you can work with. Set the tone that “cheap” isn’t your motivation, winning awards is.

1200 or so print customers from brands and agencies have attended Project Peacock to date. Their focus was on learning something new, and trying something new. And they are. Project Peacock is opening doors to new relationships and opportunities for collaboration between big print buyers and printers. There is no expectation of cost, it’s a clean slate.

Take a page from Peacock and host a show-and-tell event, stat! Show off everything that sets you apart, and ONLY that. Don’t discuss cost, focus on opportunity. Get customers and prospects invested in championing new applications and using new print technology by showing them what is possible if they work with you… and STAND YOUR GROUND on pricing. Set the value of you and what you bring to the table as the differentiator. Just like Sandy Alexander did.

Project Peacock winds down for 2019 in LA on September 12 and Toronto on November 7. We are planning visits to Miami, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Portland, several Universities in partnership with GCEA, London and Mexico City in 2020, with a special Peacock event in the Printerverse at drupa.

Hope to see you at Project Peacock and if you have your own show-and-tell please let me know… I’m happy to share it with the Printerverse!

See more posts by Deborah


DeborahCorn-PrintMediaCentrDeborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse™ at Print Media Centr, a Print Buyerologist™, industry speaker and blogger, host of Podcasts from The Printerverse, cultivator of Print Production Professionals the #1 print group on LinkedIn, Head Girl in Charge (H.G.I.C.) at GirlsWhoPrint, host of #PrintChat every Wednesday at 4PM ET on Twitter, the founder of International Print Day and the founder of #ProjectPeacock. She is the recipient of several industry honors including the 2016 Girls Who Print Girlie Award and sits on the boards of the Advertising Production Club of NYC and The Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi.

Deborah has 25+ years of experience working in advertising as a Print Producer. She currently provides printspiration and resources to print and marketing professionals through PMC, and works behind the scenes with printers, suppliers and industry organizations helping them create meaningful relationships with customers, and achieve success with their social media and content marketing endeavors.

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4 Responses

  1. You know you also have to keep in mind that not all printers are the same. They each have different equipment and capabilities. Some printer that can give you a good price on a small quantity rack card will not be able to give you a good price on a large quantity magazine. People need to pay attention to the printers strengths before they judge why the estimate may be higher. Perhaps what you had Sandy Alexander quote for you was not a good fit for their capabilities. I know I have worked with them several times and have received very competitive pricing. Just something for all to keep in mind.

  2. I dont disagree, but in this case, there was a system and the vendor pool was set based on apples to apples. No one had an advantage or greater strength here. There were other vendors on the list that would have fallen into that category had I bid this job with them, but again, that isn’t how the process worked at this company.

  3. The largest mistake that everyone in this business makes is not knowing their costs, not knowing how their general overhead is funded, not knowing the impact of the changing paper market on their costs, not understanding their capacity load, what business is covering their general overhead, how much they can take at a reduced level of contribution, not knowing what the service profile on various accounts costs them.

    Next companies are not self confident enough to stand their ground, armed with this information, flexible yet firm.

    There are a lot of companies handing out stupid numbers that do nothing but erode the marketplace and the only way you as a competitor can impact this trend is to provide the best in service and value in the industry and learn to say NO to business that does not meet your expectation for return on effort and investment of equity. You wouldn’t knowingly invest in a poorly performing 401k fund, so why would you do so with a poorly performing client.

    Firing a client can be the best thing you ever do for your company. Arm yourself with good data, and knowingly structure your company’s revenue stream to meet your objectives. Never succumb to threats, or allow emotion to cause you to make a stupid decision.

  4. “Next companies are not self confident enough to stand their ground, armed with this information, flexible yet firm.” AMEN!!!! Thanks for this comment, and the others!

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