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Two Savvy Print Buyers Talk Shop

caption id=”attachment_3373″ align=”alignright” width=”120″ caption=”Mariah Hunt”][/caption]

In the past several months I’ve written quite a bit about printers’ equipment lists and why they’re important to print buyers. The feedback I got convinced me to offer a session devoted to this topic at our recent PBI BOSTON conference.

Both speakers have tons of experience. Mariah Hunt, Senior Production Manager at Digitas, has over 20 years in the business – and awards that speak to her excellence. Mariah is also a board member of NEDMA and the VP in charge of this year’s annual conference. (I’ll be there; will you?)

Jason Benagh

Jason Benagh is Manager of Client Services for DG3 Managed Services and works on site at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. He, too, has more than 20 years in the biz, having started out on the vendor side before jumping over to buyer positions.

They advised print buyers to take three key steps when reviewing an equipment list:

  1. Verify that the vendor has the capabilities they say they have.
  2. Ensure they are the owners of the equipment.
  3. Make sure
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    that the equipment list is up to date.

Jason demonstrated the ridiculousness of an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of list. He’d printed off a real list from a printer’s site (kept anonymous) and unfurled it for the crowd. He’d taped the list together end to end (8 ½ x 11” sheets), and there were half a dozen pages once the printout hit the floor. Yes, way too much information on a web site.

Mariah said that at Digitas, she often has printers come into the agency to do their presentations for her team. She immediately flips to the back of the booklets they’ve prepared and occasionally

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has to ask, “Where’s the list?” It’s a red flag if a printer doesn’t include The List.

What do print buyers look for?

The speakers also talked about what information they seek when checking out potential new print vendors:

[list style=”bullet” color=”pink”]

  • Reliability
  • Volume/capacity
  • Specialty capabilities

How should buyers gauge reliability? Jason said he’ll “pull a Dun & Bradstreet®” (credit report) on a potential printer. He also recommends that buyers visit the plant “and make sure it’s not too quiet.” Digitas doesn’t pull D&B reports on printers but insists that printers have a Disaster Recovery Plan.

Other words of advice related to volume and capacity.

If a printer’s sitting on one press only and you need that press, you should make sure the printer has a backup plan if the press goes down. This brought up the value of equipment redundancy; that is, a printer having more than one press of the same kind.

Jason said that a good equipment list includes a short explanation per category or an equipment list that explains what the pieces do.

Good news for printers: Mariah looks for new vendors all the time, and the first thing she asks is: “Do you have a list?” She also asks printers, “What’s your perfect job (sweet spot)?”

You should always visit the plant, the speakers advised. And if you can’t literally get there, use video services like WebEx® to take a tour. “Do not sit in the customer lounge,” they added. Instead, “hang out with the pressmen. Get a sense of the pressman running your job. Is he nervous or not?” Mariah mentioned finding out “How many sheets have they run before I got here? It could be huge; I’m paying for them.” Jason noted he likes it when a sales rep knows a pressman’s name without looking at nametag in the pressroom. It shows that a relationship exists.

How much do buyers rely on the equipment list?

“We rely heavily on the list for new vendors.” (Are you listening, printers?) They also said they pay special attention to equipment changing hands during acquisitions and buyouts. Mariah noted that an acquisition doesn’t mean the equipment necessarily moves with the acquisition. (The new owner buys the client list but not always the equipment.)

Outsourcing precipitates more questions. Our speakers recommended buyers ask printers questions such as who’s doing the work, how close is the relationship, and who has control over/responsibility for the quality.

Jason said he once had a sales rep come in, admitting, “I’ve never sold printing before.” He told him to “keep moving.” “You need [a sales rep who’s] the mover and the shaker,” added Mariah. Buyers shouldn’t feel bad if they need to change print reps, she said. (I agree. Sometimes the fit’s just not right.)

Bottom line? Ask questions.

  1. Ask a printer for his or her capabilities, client names, and samples.
  2. Set expectations with sales reps.
  3. Always ask questions.

It was a good session by two experienced professionals. It went by much too fast. I love listening to buyers inform other buyers.

Jason had a gem of a quote. I believe he was speaking for all print production professionals when he said:

“We don’t covet the information we have – we love to share with new people.”

© 2012 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. You’re free to forward this email. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author

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Positively Print Buying

As I sit here less than 24 hours since our PBI BOSTON conference ended, my mind’s filled with things I heard, overheard, learned and concluded. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll recap the sessions in a more organized way. Expect several Print Tips that will share what we learned from our speakers, a show “recap” document for those of you who missed it, and, if I’m lucky, guest columns submitted by some of our speakers, sponsors and attendees.

For now, I’m dying to tell you what I thought. Remember, I’m a veteran show producer. This was my 8th PBI conference, which qualifies me to judge the merits of the show from a producer’s perspective. And if you don’t know me, know this: I hold the bar way over my own head in just about everything I do. I am a perfectionist and pretty critical of my work. Always have been.

During this one-day PBI BOSTON, I delivered opening comments and closing thoughts, ran the Brainstorming session, introduced all of the speakers, listened to every speaker’s presentation, and in general, tried to experience this show as an attendee as well as a sponsor.

It was a good conference. No, it was a great conference. In addition to the venue and the food (excellent, with terrific service from the Inn at Longwood), the fact that all speakers were “on their game,” my PBI associates rocked (thanks, Phyllis, Marcia, and Matt!), and almost every single registered attendee was actually there, I think this was possibly our best show ever.

Here’s why.

Our sponsors were not just supportive, but enthusiastic. We are blessed with many long-time returning sponsors. Hats off to Xerox, Fujifilm, 48hourprint, Japs-Olson, Sappi Fine Paper, Concord Litho and Vision Integrated Graphics. I’m getting to know individuals from sponsoring firms, which makes a huge difference. Things work better for show producers and for the sponsors when this happens. I’m more sensitive to their needs (hopefully!) and they are to ours. And this year we welcomed new sponsors Shear Color Printing and Villanti Print & Mail. Terrific folks, all of them! I spent time talking to all of our sponsors, and I enjoyed that.

Not only were they generous with their support, our sponsors were excited about being a part of our show. The energy that this created literally changed the atmosphere in the room.

Our attendees were a hopeful bunch of pros. We had many repeat attendees but also attracted new folks from the likes of Ghirardelli Chocolate, Boston Beer Company, Overland, Deutsche Bank, Cronin and Company, Emmanuel College, and Grand Circle Travel. I love seeing new people at PBI events!

By a show of hands, over 90% had 10 or more years of experience. This is typical. Only 2, I believe, had less than 1 year (and I’m going to interview them for my “New to Print Buying Research”). Many attendees were creatives, many were marketers, and of course, the rest identified as print buying professionals.

Check this out: I use my Brainstorming session to get the crowd talking, to tease out hot topics, ignite discussions on things that matter most to them. A few times I broached the subject of print buying “in decline” as a career. What I realized from this session was that print buyers are positively still in love with their careers, are forward thinking, are facing the future with their chins up and eyes wide open. They are learning more about business, finance, marketing and new media.

They are very, very busy. They don’t have time to waste. I don’t believe they spend a lot of time on social media for business. They still count on their providers and on their colleagues. More than a few are involved in peer groups. I brought up peer groups because it just occurred to me on the spot – that’s the beauty of Brainstorming. I go with the flow, and this audience of pros inspired and enlightened me.

Is the volume of print down? Of course!! That’s a nonissue; we all accept it. But from my observations at PBI BOSTON, professionals who source or influence the sourcing of print are interested in what’s next in print. What about new applications and advances in digital printing? They’re all ears when it comes to learning about tracking direct mail programs. They want to figure out how and when to use QR codes (and how to design beautiful ones). They’re struggling with the rest of us as we try and grasp supply chain sustainability issues – and what it will mean for our businesses.

There was no hand wringing, no whining, no mean spiritedness, and no blaming the print industry. The audience was there to learn from one another and from our speakers. They were happy to meet and mingle with our 9 super sponsors.

Much more socializing took place than at previous shows. I will be surprised if attendee and sponsor feedback doesn’t corroborate this.

An engaged, educated audience. Enthusiastic sponsors. Rock star speakers. Leaving a print buying conference on such a high note? Priceless.

© 2012 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. You’re free to forward this email. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author.

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Printers Are Your Allies When Job Hunting

There may come a time when you, a print production professional, are looking for a new job. Don’t overlook your printers, and by this I really mean the small group to whom you’ve been loyal and with whom you’re working regularly. It’s one more reason why corporate and agency production pros should work toward a business partnership
with printers.

Printers know when positions open up, and often it’s in their best interest to let customers know, especially customers who’ve confided in them that they’re looking for a new gig. And don’t forget: you might have a friend in the business who’s looking for a new position, which is another reason why you want your print reps to “talk shop.”

Even if you’re not actively looking, this kind of news bulletin could yield a serendipitous bounty. Who was it that worked at a university publications office and heard from a printer that a plum job at a local mutual fund company was open? Oh, yeah: me! A well-known print professional named Kitty (if you’re a New Englander, you know Kitty!) told me about a job that had my name written all over it. I applied, got the job, and worked there happily for

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11 years till I started this new, wild adventure.

When was the last time you had a conversation with your printers that didn't involve either a job in production or one in the planning stage? Take advantage of your printers’ knowledge – not only about print manufacturing but also of local job opportunities.

© 2012 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. You’re free to forward this email. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author.


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It’s Not a Book, It’s Not a Magazine….It’s a Bookazine!

I know you’ve seen them – but did you know what you were looking at? I’m talking about a hybrid between a book and a magazine. It looks like a magazine and can be found on magazine racks in retail locations, but it’s something else entirely.

One of the sessions at last week’s Publishing Business Conference & Expo in NYC included a presentation by Mark W. White, VP of Specialty Marketing for US News & World Report. It was a session about finding more profitability in the magazine retail market.

Consumer magazines count on supermarkets and bookstores for most of their sales, but both channels are down dramatically since the recession. Trips to stores are down, thanks to rising gas prices.* Add to that the impact of Borders going under and Barnes & Noble pushing ebooks on their Nook e-readers, and you can see how sales of magazines have been impacted.

Competition among retailers is very fierce, and publishers are trying to differentiate their products. One way to do this is with new formats and new pricing structures.

White spoke about how US News reacted to the decline of newsstand sales. In essence, they turned their “newsstand-only” products into “newsstand-plus” products. In doing so, they broke the 11 unwritten rules of bookazine publishing.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “bookazine” looks like a magazine but acts like a book. It’s neither a weekly nor a monthly. It’s sold at newsstands as well as in the magazine sections of retail stores. It is a hybrid publication, usually born from a magazine. It is not part of the normal frequency schedule. Its cover price is somewhere between $9.95 and $19.99. There’s usually little or no advertising inside.

Mark gave this example: let’s say you’re an empty nester, and you and your spouse want to focus on cooking healthier meals for the two of you. You could pick up a copy of a special Cooking Light publication that featured cooking for two, rather than a regular issue of the magazine that had only one article about cooking for two.

This is the power of bookazines: they focus on a specific need. They have great visibility and are consistent with their brand.

What are those unwritten 11 bookazine rules that US News & World Report broke?

1. Impulse buy. “The US News brand has always been about people seeking information and answers rather than about impulse decisions,” White noted.

2. Spinoff of a subscription magazine

3. Includes a subscription offer for parent title

4. Few ad pages

5. No ratebase. (Four US News bookazines have ratebases, which are guarantees made to advertisers regarding the minimum number of copies that will be sold or mailed.)

6. No controlled circulation, which are copies sent free of charge to the recipient.

7. Sold only on newsstands. That’s crazy,” said White, “why’d we ever think this way?” US News now sells its bookazines on Amazon, its own web site, and other venues. It’s also set its sights on other web stores, e-editions, historic sites, and science museums.

8. On sale only 3 months

9. Not suited to B2B advertisers

10. Not suited to bulk sales

11. Not suited to libraries

Bottom line, says White? “You have to be nimble in the magazine business. It all starts with your magazine brand.” Some of the publisher’s best-selling hybrids are these: Best Graduate Schools, Best Colleges, Best Hospitals, and 50 Smart Money Moves.

Let me publicly thank Mark for his presentation and for sharing his knowledge with us. You can reach him via email at MWHITE@usnews.com.

What I took away from this presentation was not just information about the bookazine as a hybrid product. It inspired me as a print media professional to keep exploring new formats and sales channels. New possibilities await us all.

* The impact of gas prices on retail magazine sales is enormous. There is a direct correlation, though it trails by a couple of months. Gas went up in April but magazines did NOT tail off. Any guesses why? Answer will appear next week.

© 2012 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. You’re free to forward this email. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author.

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