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Latch on to the affirmative

Jan 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Gorelick's Management

The litany of grievances about the graphic arts industry is so common that it has become a series of clich├ęs that, in most quarters, are accepted as a condition of life in the wide world of print.

Some virtually universal grievances:

  • Those who prepare files are, for the most part, inept.
  • Those who prepare electronic files do not respond to suggestions for improvement.
  • PC files are God's retribution against the accumulated sins of post-Gutenberg communications.
  • Agencies, designers and other intermediaries are expensive to service and congenitally slow to pay.
  • The adjective that best describes the print-buying organization of the 2lst century is "disloyal."

The problem is that intellectual and visceral agreement with these "truths" can immobilize a company, blinding it to sales and profit opportunities waiting to be exploited in the marketplace.

It's not all bad
It's human nature to remember our worst experiences: Unscrupulous buyers who took our suggestions to competitors. Customers who prepare incomprehensible electronic files, yet expect their jobs to be delivered tomorrow. Designers and advertising agencies that are slow to pay because: "My client hasn't paid us." And buying organizations that solicit three or more bids despite the near-miracles your organization has delivered previously, on-time and at a competitive price.

Is there no justice? Perhaps not, if one's frame of reference is the industry's traditional definition. The fact is, these days, excellent performance—generally defined as satisfactory production of on-time product at an acceptable price—does not entitle a salesperson or a company to the buying organization's next job.

Use positive reinforcement
The industry loves police actions. Meetings are held to discuss ideas for punishing troublemakers who forget fonts and companies that chronically remit payments late. I'm not suggesting that aggressive accounts-receivable collection should cease, or that there shouldn't be ongoing efforts to educate designers and buyers about prepress issues. I am proposing that these steps be supplemented by efforts to reinforce positive behaviors.

In the heat of day-to-day battle, it can be easy to forget that there are accounts that consistently remit payment within terms and designers that do a good job of file preparation. The conduct of daily management should focus on reinforcing positive customer behaviors as well as remedying unacceptable behaviors. Think about the impact upon cash flow, scheduling and transaction costs a modest 10 or 15 percent improvement in file preparation and collections would bring.

What is your organization doing to reinforce positive behavior in these two areas? Does your organization measure the costs of poor file preparation and slow collections? This begs the question of whether to adopt Activity-Based Costing—a measurement of manufacturing and non-manufacturing costs on an account-specific basis. But, that's a subject for another day.

Acknowledge great customers
In the meantime, have you sent thank-you letters to contacts in buying organizations who are responsible for consistently submitting payments on time? Does your organization's customer profile include the names of customers' accounts-payable personnel? Do sales reps in your firm know the names of customers that consistently pay within terms? If so, are they encouraged to thank those within the buying organization?

While many prepress operators might stoutly deny that they've ever seen acceptable electronic files, some clients do prepare decent files. I've met designers and buyers who resent the implication that the accumulated genius of prepress information resides at print companies and that the customer is usually wrong.

The kindest thing a designer or buyer can say about a supplier is: "They work well with my files." In my experience, print companies seldom appreciate the positive effect of a complimentary handwritten letter from a prepress operator regarding file preparation.

Accentuate the positive
One of the best pieces of business counsel during the past century comes from a song: "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." Each is ineffective without the other. Success in business is the product of balancing reinforcement of the positive and diminution of the negative.

This concept is equally applicable to employee development. Redemption is a powerful force behind allocation of training resources. There's a natural tendency to allocate a disproportionate percentage of resources to those staff members who are least likely to succeed. Similar resources extended to the most productive employees might result in even greater levels of productivity.