The Ideal Relationship With Your Production Supplier
By Gayl Curtiss
It's easy to find print production vendors. It's hard, however, to find good ones. Finding compatible, competent production suppliers is an ongoing challenge. Here are some tips I use when considering potential suppliers:
Pricing: There are many exceptional production facilities with which to align yourself. The first thing I do is ask the prospective vendor to bid on some representative projects, and I compare its prices to what I have already paid. I refuse to a pay a premium for the "privilege" of working with any vendor. If its pricing seems to be in line, I plan a visit to its facility.
Visitations: I tour every facility with which The Hacker Group works. Why? I want to get a feeling for the environment—I want to see firsthand if people enjoy their work, if they're proud of what they do. If I don't get that feeling, I won't work with them. Listen to your gut; if you don't like what you see, hear or feel, walk away. If you don't feel that your staffs would be complementary, don't force the relationship.
Quality: Work with vendors who care as much about quality as you do. Two companies that do not share the same values cannot work well together. During your visit, ask the account rep to see the company's standard operating procedures to assure error-free work—can he or she readily locate these procedures. Are they up-to-date? The response will tell you legions about the company's values.
References: Call a vendor's references, but also make calls to other people within the industry to find out the vendor's reputation on "the street." Also run a financial and credit check on potential suppliers.
I won't work with a production supplier that's having tough economic times. I can't afford to have my client's programs held hostage because the vendor can't pay for raw materials and labor.
Keep Great Business Partners
The best print production vendors turn into business partners who share your vision of great service, a quality product and fair pricing. These partnerships are what production managers live for—knowing that vendors will always come through when there are tough times. In a perfect world you're helping your vendor do error-free work; your vendor is double-checking your work to catch any undetected mistakes.
Part of the "partnership" is to set your vendors up for success. Remember: If they fail, you fail. The following tips will help you—and them—succeed:
Allow for differences: I don't expect each of our vendors to do all jobs well. Each has a specialization, and I try to keep that in mind when sending jobs to them.
Train them: How are your vendors going to be successful if you don't train them to produce your jobs the way you want them done? The Hacker Group has vendors come to the office and spend at least one day going over all of the processes and procedures. They leave with an operations manual that outlines every step of a job.
Define your expectations: Setting accurate expectations for your vendor is one of the most important responsibilities of a production manager. What's the easiest way to do it? Put your expectations in writing. The Hacker Group has a 10-page document that is updated each year and includes expectations regarding every single production step. Vendors must sign and return it to us. If they don't sign, they get no work from us.
Invest in education: Each year The Hacker Group invites all our vendors to our offices for a "sit down." (Yes, they're competitors.) We discuss technology changes, quality issues, color consistency, proofing methods and anything we feel is important. Bottom line: An informed, well-trained vendor will make fewer mistakes on your projects.
Show your gratitude: When you have a great production partnership, treat that relationship like gold. Make sure your vendors know how much your organization appreciates their efforts. Remember, while it's companies that enter into business relationships, it's people who do the work—and expressions of appreciation go a long way to further your cause.
Gayl Curtiss is the general manager of The Hacker Group, a subsidiary of FCB Worldwide L.L.C. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.