“I’m sorry Sir, we have no record of offering you those prices.”
I bought a new hi-fi system recently. I had been into my local shop a few days before to discuss the different options open to me. And I had taken the opportunity to negotiate some good deals. A few days later I went to the shop to buy the system. But it appeared that those prices had been forgotten.
Fortunately I had been prepared on my previous visit. And I had asked the sales person to write down the prices that they were prepared to offer me. So now I was able to show this written agreement to the shop. As a result, I was able to buy my hi-fi at the price I had hoped. But I was very glad I had had a written agreement.
Print buyers that use written agreements stay in control of their jobs. They rarely suffer misunderstandings. So they and their print companies achieve what is needed swiftly and efficiently. And, as a result, they create great working partnerships.
Print buyers who don’t use working agreements fail to achieve the same level of partnership. And they are not in control of their jobs. Instead they stagger from crisis to crisis. And neither they nor their printers really know what was agreed. Everything would be so much simpler for them if they had made written agreements.
There are three main types of written agreement that the print buyer can rely on. And the first one doesn’t even need you to put finger to keyboard!
These are generated by the print company when they receive an order. In general you will receive a technical specification and the agreed price. If you are lucky, you will also receive a schedule for the job.
Not all printing companies produce order acknowledgements. And not all print companies that produce order acknowledgements make a good job of them. Sometimes an order acknowledgement can be incorrect. The print buyer should read through the order acknowledgement carefully. They need to make sure that it is an accurate reflection of what has been agreed.
I know one print buyer who failed to do this. As a result they received a job that was not what they thought they had ordered. And there was nothing that they could do about it.
That’s why the second type of agreement is much more useful.
E-mail acknowledgements are as simple as they sound. The print buyer simply sends an e-mail to the printer with the agreed specification, price and schedule. They should also include any other information that they feel is important.
The length of the e-mail need only be four lines. But it means that there is no misunderstanding on what has been agreed.
Another print buyer that I know was delighted that they had used e-mail acknowledgements. The buyer’s printer started to print a brochure too early. The e-mail had specifically stated a start date to allow last minute changes to artwork. But the printer had forgotten about this.
The printer was surprised when fresh pdfs turned up for some pages. And they tried to charge the buyer for a reprint. The buyer referred the printer back to the e-mail acknowledgement. And the demand for the extra charge was swiftly dropped.
That e-mail saved the print buyer over £12,000 in reprint charges.
For many print buyers an e-mail order acknowledgement like this is completely sufficient. However, more complicated or regular jobs benefit from the third type of agreement.
Service level agreements are longer documents that useful if a print job is more complicated. It may involve a lot of different suppliers. Or there may be detailed data or delivery requirements. Service level agreements are also useful in writing similar job specifications for regular projects.
A service level agreement sets out the responsibilities of both print buyer and printer. It has a detailed overview of what happens when. And it also includes technical specification, schedule and price.
I have used a service level agreement very effectively with a complicated variable data job. The job involved my client, their data house and the printer. They all needed to know what had to happen. It was vital that the job went through without any errors. The service level agreement that I wrote for them ensured that there were no mishaps.
A service level agreement does involve a certain amount of effort. And this is an issue that some print buyers have with all written agreements.
Remember the print buyer who avoided arguing over a £12,000 reprint charge? That should convince you that written agreements are not a waste of time. And they needn’t take long to write. The most efficient way is to make sure that you have a template for your common types of agreement.
But to make sure that the agreement achieves what is needed, you must remember one thing.
Your print supplier must respond in writing, confirming that they have read and understood the agreement. This makes sure that there can be no arguments later. The printer who footed the bill for the reprint did so without any argument. But if they had claimed that they had never received the e-mail it might have been a very different story.
But before you worry about acknowledgements, you need to get going with your own agreements.
You’ll find that written agreements become very valuable if anything goes wrong. And that applies to buying hi-fi systems just as much as print.