I have seen several posts lately on the topic of  “Print Buyers only care about price” that have gotten under my skin. I just don’t understand any of it or why we are being portrayed as the enemy.

First and foremost, as a Print Producer my main concern is getting my job completed on time, to specifications, at the best quality.  This is why I am on a mission to keep pointing out the difference between someone who Buys Print, and someone who Produces it. However, PRICING MATTERS!

In my experience, someone who holds the title of Print Buyer or Print Broker is in the business of price. They are given specs and supposed to provide the best costs for their company or clients. That is their job. In most instances price IS the only thing they care about and there is nothing wrong with that. Dont Printers’ estimators try to get the best price for paper, or freight shipping?  Don’t Printers try to get the best pricing for consumables and supplies? When you buy a car, don’t you try to get the best price? Don’t you search all the airlines for the best priced ticket for your travels? How is shopping for Print any different when buying Print is your job? And if your position and it’s stability depended upon your negotiation skills and staying within or under a mandated budget, vs getting a commission from a sale, well then price would be what mattered to you as well.

Now back to the Agency Print Producers… we have rules. I cant speak for Buyers and Brokers since Im not one, and Im not claiming all Print Producers follow them, but I have personally sat on the opposite side of a table from two Omnicom Auditors so I can tell you that I certainly do. There is a little thing called Sarbaines-Oxley, or SOX that applies to publicly traded corporations – many of which are Advertising Agencies. It was enacted in 2002 and governs transparency in accounting practices among other things. SOX mandates we triple bid for all of our clients, though it has been a pretty long-standing Agency policy prior to that. The three estimates must live in our job jackets for reference, or audit if needed.

Based upon the quotes, which must be apples to apples (and why we hate when Printers switch out paper or quote in a manner differently than requested “to save us money” without asking us first) unless there is a specific reason we can justify going for a higher priced quote, we MUST go with the lowest price. At any point our clients, who legally own those job jackets, can ask to see the three bids as well as the auditors if they come sniffing around.  It can be INFERRED that we are in some sort of cahoots with Printers if we are awarding jobs at the higher prices, or consistently awarding work to one Printer and cant prove why it was done. If you have been around any length of time you will recall the whole FBI Kickback sting in NYC and all of the Printers and Print Producers who ended up fined, fired and in some cases sent to prison. It had some pretty big ripples in the Agency world and created a stronger focus to how we spend Client and Agency money.

And the rules don’t just start and end with awarding jobs, they apply to adding vendors for Agency services as well. There is paperwork. You must list why Vendor X is needed and what services they have that established and approved Vendors you are already working with don’t. You must sign a statement that you are not related to by blood or marriage any employee of the Vendor. If the Vendor is a website, you must print out screen shots and submit them with the request to add a Vendor. The COO must approve it, and then and only then are we allowed to have a new company entered in our system and use their services. More insight as to why cold calling is a thing of the past by the way. 

Another point of view I’ve seen as to why we “only buy on price” is because we are clueless or new. Again, I cannot speak for everyone, but in my numerous positions as a Production Director, my Production Coordinators might send bids over, but they aren’t creating them. For me, I used it as training time and we would spec out projects together.  Production Managers have way more autonomy even if they are “new” – but they still follow the same rules as to triple bidding and lowest price. I think it’s really unfair to generally categorize all of us in any manner, but certainly “clueless” isn’t going to award you any fans or customers when you are posting that position publically in a LinkedIn group that has Print Producers and Buyers in it.

I am choosing not to focus on the economy in regard to pricing concerns since we are all in the same boat. Our Clients have less money, so we do less work for them and have less work to give you and so on and so on. But taking a moment to accept that and figuring out with US how to do work more cost effectively so we can do more work for our clients instead of creating the “us” and “them” barrier is better for everyone. This is the time to solidify your relationships with us so when there is work you are in the bidding pool. If it boils down to price, then a good relationship with us can pay off in that we can discuss if you can meet our lowest price, and if you cant, you cant. We aren’t trying to “take food off your kids plates” … oh yeah, it’s been said many times… we are trying to keep our jobs too. Keep that in mind before we are out of work or the Agency closes and you have no work from us vs. putting your bottom line bid out there first.

My apology in advance if my passion for the work I do is coming across as anything else. Sometimes I do get my caps on when there is a subject that is personal to me. Like any good Print Producer however, I dont just present the issue without suggestions on how to resolve it. This “all about price” conversation has gone on for too long and it seems pointless at this point. So, here are a few thoughts, and some may surprise you…

1. If you receive a quote request ask up front is there is a budget! 
Sometimes we do have one and again if we have a relationship with you we can offer some guidance. You will have an idea if you can do the job or not, and if you cant meet the price, let it go so we can move on as well.  You will bid on less jobs most likely but at least the ones you will bid on are realistic. Submitting a quote over budget to “take a shot” will probably be a waste of you time, and if you do, you cannot invoke the “we only care about price” argument since you were pre-warned.

Underbidders are killing us all. Losing a job on price is better than getting one with expectations that you will get more work or gain favor. If I do send more jobs your way I will be expecting the same pricing and if yours is now higher I might have to move on. And when Clients see job X was x amount due to underbidding and now a similar job Y is more and we cant get it anywhere for the x price we have to deal with fallout. Account Managers, who may experience Client issues over higher estimates, will be the first to point fingers down the hall in our direction. And believe me, if we are in any way a part of creating an unhappy Client, or a Client leaving an Agency, we probably are too.

3. Stand by your claims of excellence!
There are Printers out there that will not entertain lowering their costs. And you know what, we respect them. When projects come along that have bigger budgets we will try to work with them because we usually cant. Some are like the Holy Grail and you can pretty much bet we will be submitting the materials we produce with them for awards, and they will as well if our projects live up to their standards. Everyone cant be a Rolls Royce, but if you claim to be one then be one. As the saying goes, if you have to ask how much a Phantom costs, you cant afford it.

4. Change the conversation!
I mentioned a few times that unless I can justify it I have to go with the lowest bid, so help me justify going with yours! Can you do better on timing? Do you have a press or internal capabilities that can add value to the job without additional costs to your quote? Can you ship it a better way or provide more options? Do you have access to open cartons of premium paper or can work with your Merchant Rep or find another to get a #1 sheet for the same price as a #2. Help me to help you!

5. Incentives!
No, I dont mean kickbacks or Christmas “gifts” or lunches, I mean AWARDS!  Get involved with the Paper Companies and Printing and Design Organizations and let us know you will be submitting work for 2012. Give us a head’s up so when we have projects in the queue that fit awards categories we have discussed we will THINK OF YOU specifically to Print it. There are enough awards out there and enough ego’s on the Agency side to make that very relevant in the decision making process.

The bottom line on price… Think outside the numbers.




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