Asking your full service marketing firm to source production of your marketing materials can save you time, money and frustration. As your partner they have your best interests in mind, and sourcing production yourself can have pitfalls.
Throughout my career I’ve worked with clients who, for various reasons, will direct me to provide design files and specs to a vendor of their choosing for final production of a particular marketing piece. In most cases I’ve obliged. However, if I’m honest, I’ll say that only in rare cases has this been in the best interest of my client. Most of the time the initial shift is a result of a purchasing or procurement department inserting themselves into the mix. That, or an overall budget concern with a project. In some cases, a client may save some money buying direct, but this is far from the rule. Most agencies do apply a markup to production items they purchase on behalf of their clients. There are several reasons for this, profitability being one, but if your agency is your partner, they need to be successful to remain a reliable resource for you. But as your partner, your agency should be giving you a fair total cost on every project.
Beyond financial concerns, there are some very real benefits to having your agency source and manage the production of the marketing project they’re producing for you:
- First and foremost is control over the project execution and schedule. Production vendors your agency uses have been vetted by them. Just as your agency is your go-to for the completion of marketing projects, your agency will have go-to vendors that can deliver when needed. You benefit from your agency’s additional “pull” with their vendors because they’re running work from other clients through as well. If timing is critical, it’s best to go with someone you have a track record with.
- Equally important would be the fact that the creatives are designing for the medium. If it’s a printed piece, the creative team likely has familiarity with what the final output would be and even the specific equipment it may be produced on. Perhaps they’re designing packaging and need to collaborate with the production vendor on tolerances for folds, or the paper selection is critical to the final look of a piece. These types of considerations are all taken into account when the production vendor is the agency’s partner.
- Quality control is paramount. I’ve seen all too often the unsatisfactory outcomes of clients using a one-off vendor for production. Without your agency’s creative team reviewing proofs or attending press checks and insisting on having higher standards than the average buyer, you may get less than great results. In my career, I’ve gained a healthy amount of fearful respect for approving production work. I know that regardless of what my production vendor tells me, I need to ensure I can sell the final piece to my client. In sort, the buck stops with me, and acting as my client’s agent in this regard is one of the ways I continue to earn my keep. So when it comes to quality, your agency likely has a more critical eye than you do.
- An array of options for each project are at your agency’s disposal. From simple things, like brochure printing to the more complex like custom trade show booths, it’s unlikely for your agency to have only one source for a particular project. With multiple vendors, your agency can make an informed decision on vendor selection based on whatever factors are most important for a particular project. For example, timing is often more important than price when you’re up against a critical deadline like a trade show. If this is the case, your agency may select a vendor that they innately trust to deliver when promised, and who may make special arrangements to accommodate last minute requests. Or conversely, delivering within a strict budget may be more important than delivery date, and your agency may be able to take advantage of one vendor’s potential lull in production to your benefit. In rare instances, I’ve even awarded a project to multiple vendors concurrently because the situation was so tight from a timing standpoint, that if the project wasn’t physical in-hand by a certain time, it would be useless. This failsafe method isn’t anything I’ve ever charged a client for, though it’s definitely saved the day.
- You still get great value. Circling back to the financial side of things, as a client you get a great overall value for your project, even when evaluated solely on price. In a partnership, your agency wants you as a long-term client and thus shouldn’t price production so high that they’ll send you shopping around. Plus, your agency should be buying at wholesale rates and reselling to you at essentially a retail price. This is an important point that allows for agency profitability, without changing the total cost to you, the client. In effect it’s a win-win. The agency makes a margin on the production, and you’re paying about the same as what you’d pay if you bought direct. Also, a primary driver of costs is knowing which vendor is best suited for a particular project based upon their capabilities. I’ve experienced firsthand several times when my agency’s prices have been significantly less than a client’s quoted direct price for a project, everything being equal. This can be due to a combination of the agency’s buying power and the vendor’s production efficiency. To use an offset printing example, the setup costs for printing each form on a press need to be amortized across the quantity produced. If you’re printing a catalog or group of brochures on a small press versus a large press, you may have more setups that outweigh the typically higher hourly cost of a larger press. So you may have a false economy with a smaller press. And if your vendor only has one size press, you simply don’t have an option. So understanding how to buy production is part and parcel to securing a fair cost.
In summary, your agency most likely designed the piece, spec’d it appropriately and has all the tools and knowledge to ensure the production process is as seamless as possible without any hiccups along the way. Plus, you’re the recipient of full-service from you agency when they handle a project start to finish; delivering the final product to you without you needing to concern yourself with all of the details of production. And that may be the most valuable reason of all.