It seems like the more technology we have, the less time we have (you would think it would be the opposite). In the commercial printing world, this translates into shorter turnaround times, without much help from process technology.

Commercial print jobs that once required two weeks to complete ten years ago are expected to be done in a week or less today. It seems like this will be a continuing trend in the commercial printing industry. Everything is moving at a faster pace.

The Internal Pressure to Complete Print Jobs Faster

One of the key reasons for the increasing time crunch placed on commercial printers is higher client expectation. What we hear consistently from our clients is that while they realize the time crunch is mostly on them, their print jobs still have to get done on time. Common reasons for internal delays include confirming budgets, preparing artwork, and proofing delays.
Furthermore, clients feel they are in the driver’s seat: if one print vendor cannot meet a deadline, they will find another that can. This is the reality of the competitive commercial printing industry.

Are Commercial Printers to Blame for Unrealistic Expectations?

In reality, it’s the printing industry itself that’s to blame for this pressing challenge. Print vendors continually agree to produce print jobs in almost impossible timelines in order to secure a piece of much needed business. The commercial printing industry is not exactly in its glory days, in case you haven’t noticed.

That being said, printers often regret taking on these type of projects due to the amount of resources they end up using. And that’s without charging extra to justify the type of commitment that is required. This has all contributed to clients having unreasonable expectations from their print vendors, which can spell trouble for commercial printing jobs.

There are a couple of effective strategies to deal with this. The first is to ask all print vendors at the quoting stage for the best turnaround they can provide based on receiving files by a certain date. In order to get an honest answer, don’t tell them when you need it; ask them when they can produce it. Once you receive your responses, do not push any vendor whose date is too far apart, no matter how comfortable you are working with them.

If none of your vendors can come close to meeting your due date, consider reaching out to new vendors, or offering existing vendors a premium in exchange for a commitment. This ensures that you are making it worthwhile for the vendor to commit the proper amount of resources to finish the printing on time.

Something Has to Give

Given the super competitive environment in the commercial printing industry, most vendors cannot afford to turn jobs away, even if it means risking the deadline. A missed deadline today can jeopardize a business relationship forever. Nonetheless, most vendors gamble and hope that everything works out in the end.

The big risk lies in the end product. Even if a vendor successfully meets an unreasonably short deadline, there’s a risk they’ll miss something. Sometimes this happens at the proofing stage, where clients are rushing an approval. Other times, it happens at the production stage where the vendors miss an important detail. It’s a relatively minor issue, but could become something major.

Luckily, there are a few ways to deal with rushed print jobs.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Occasionally, one of our clients will insist that we “guarantee” a due date for their print jobs. As difficult as it is, we never guarantee a timeline, even at the expense of losing business. Even when we’re confident that we can meet the deadline, we recognize that something unexpected can happen along the way, like a machine breaking down or a courier delivering to the wrong address. Too many things are out of our control.

A missed deadline can ultimately get a media buyer into hot water, especially if they don’t advise stakeholders of the associated risks. Be wary of any vendor that uses the word “guarantee” when it comes to rushed print jobs. Often times, it is a sales rep that is guaranteeing on behalf of the company to secure a nice commission. Remember, anything and everything can happen when producing commercial print jobs, given the numerous steps and phases that a printing project undergoes.

If you are not confident that any vendor can meet your due date, talk to your main internal stakeholder as soon is possible.

A Realistic Work-back Schedule is Key

We highly recommend creating a work-back schedule for all print jobs with a critical path . This is something that any good vendor should initiate from their end – consider it a red flag if they don’t. A work-back schedule will help manage expectations, provide transparency, and ensure accountability from all sides. It also alerts you upfront if certain tasks are not doable. For instance, your vendor may expect you to sign off on a proof within 2 business hours in order to meet your due date, but unless you know this upfront, it will only cause grief and finger-pointing for all parties involved.

Improve Processes Internally and Externally

Perhaps the best way to deal with short printing timelines is automation. Although the printing industry has made great strides in their production equipment, it has been a laggard on the process side. The vast majority of vendors continue to deal with their clients using traditional business processes only (email, phone calls, etc.)

It typically takes several business days from the time a price is first requested until a final proof is provided. Proper process automation can drastically reduce this time. This has been done successfully for commodity/standard type print jobs through services like vistaprint.com, but virtually non-existent for custom/complex printing jobs that are procured by mid-to-large size organizations. Enfigo stands alone in addressing this much-needed requirement. Two or three business days saved can mean all the difference in delivering print jobs within a critical timeline.

Automation is a great opportunity for clients to improve their internal processes, too. The vast majority of organizations do not use software to procure and manage their print projects. There is some excellent procurement management software in the marketplace today that can help organizations in many different ways, including managing the tight printing industry deadlines.

Choosing the Right Printing Solution

Another critical step to increase your chances of meeting tight timelines is choosing the right print vendor for the job. Most media buyers go with their preferred vendors, but this is not necessarily the best course.

Sure, there is a level of comfort with vendors that you have worked with for many years, but if they do not have the optimal equipment or expertise to produce a project, you are probably better off trying someone new, provided that you do your due diligence.

Don’t Stress it.

It is very important to remember that in most cases, a delay of one or two days isn’t the end of the world. Many last minute delays are caused by the main stakeholder, who ultimately realizes that there are more important things than meeting a printing due date in the grand scheme of things. We need to keep things in perspective.

Enfigo’s innovative applications help companies improve their timelines dramatically. Contact us for more information, or try our Custom Printing App to start with an Instant Quote for even your most complex projects. Give it a try today.