Spatial Access

Print ready for a rating system?

My largest learning curve was when we walked away from a film where the client asked us to squeeze the costs. We didn’t want it to be tacky and since I thought it was a great cost for the film, we actually walked out.

Geetanjali Bhattacharji, the CEO of Spatial Access, India’s first production and marketing services audit firm, shares her perspectives on evolving marketer needs from the production industry.

Let’s examine how making the right choice in production is led by factors that are not necessarily the right ones.

Whether it’s as a jury member of the Printweek India Awards or as production advisor to corporates, I’ve been faced with somewhat similar challenges on who deserves to win and for what reasons – be it winning the print awards or acquiring print business.

Over eight years of consulting procurement heads, brand managers and chief marketing officers across categories, the production selection process revolves around the same questions – Who is the most competent and competitive production partner for my requirement? And, how do I evaluate options in an equitable, fair manner?

The partner selection dilemma

Finding a production partner is a matter of referral not selection. The first and most obvious lacuna in the print industry is the absence of a platform where all kinds of print-production experts can share their work and their wins. It doesn’t matter how big you are or at what price you work – what matters is what you do and how relevant it is to the brief or the requirement on hand.

Spatial Access, as partner advisory consultants runs a column for where we post agency account movements. Each agency’s win and loss along with the size of account and category of advertiser is published in public domain. It is not a matter of secrecy and the update does not reveal any billing figures, an estimation of the size of the account is shared (see pic 01).

The need of the hour in the print production industry is of greater transparency and accountability. If you have it flaunt it and be prepared that someone measures it.

In the absence of an unbiased, neutral platform connecting marketers to print partners across categories, addressing these queries is a challenge. Add to that the plaguing price advantage that newer, smaller outfits have over the older, established print houses who will certainly charge a premium on account of their investments over the years.

Pricing: How?

Price is the only basis of choice, certainly the most overrated.

A pet peeve across a number of printers, including my friend Eddie Poonawalla of Comartone, is that their team’s efforts are wasted in bidding for request for proposals (RFPs) and cost is not necessarily the reason that a marketer chooses to work with them.

With the digital world opening up, players like Ariba and Ergo have developed a print vendor platform, but is price the only leg we wish to stand on?

According to Poonawala, more often than not, it is, because quality control is non-existent, if at best very little. “A lot of care is taken when a proof is submitted for approval.  This is usually accepted and passed by the marketer / brand owner as the reference for all prints in a campaign.  What happens thereafter in production is anyone’s guess.”

Is there any measure of the thousands of digital prints which are part of a large seasonal campaign going to hundreds of stores in scores of cities across India?  Poonawala says, “Frankly, none at all. Most marketers / brands owners are oblivious to what really happens after the proof is approved, because there are simply no systems and processes in place to make the checks and balances in production, which is really what matters.”

It’s not surprising that we see company logos in orange can become bright red or blues can turn into greens. Nobody knows the reality.  “I have seen this happen on hundreds of occasions and when reported, marketers / brand managers look the other way. I have come across several situations where printers have agreed to print on eco-solvent but what’s really delivered are cheaper solvent prints.  This is not counting the spots, bands, bubbles and other poor reproduction aspects,” says Poonawala.

Why can’t a production partner be considered on other criteria that matter: equipment, colour management capabilities, experience, innovative offerings, post production facilities and overall quality of offering. After all, a good partner is one who can deliver on all fronts, not just cost.

The production industry much like the creative and media industry needs its place in the sun.

You would’ve heard of agency pitches where creative and media agencies present their credentials and their strategy to a brief. Finding a media or creative partner is a matter of selection based on an in-depth understanding of capabilities, wins and other important criteria  (see pic 02).

It’s time for the production industry to launch its own report card – a tracking and rating system that provides weightage to quality-based on industry standards, on-time delivery, geo-reach, and maps vendors on a quantitative scoring mechanism.