From the Editor: Should You Fight for the Right?
It’s a term that’s been bandied about in the in-plant world for ages: the right of first refusal. Basically it means the in-plant’s parent organization has mandated that all printing must be sent to the in-plant. Who wouldn’t want that?
It comes with some baggage, though, particularly that name: the right of first refusal. What message is that sending to the customer? The in-plant has the inalienable right to refuse their work? Not quite the idea you want to get across, especially if you wish to be known for your service and willingness to help. It’s no wonder that only 32% of in-plants enjoy this privilege, according to recent IPG research (Trends and Services in the In-plant Industry). It just doesn’t sound good, granting the in-plant the “right” to say no.
A better way to describe this, suggests consultant Ray Chambers, is to refer to it as “centralized print management” and focus on the benefit the organization will receive from letting the in-plant manage all document production.
Regardless of the name, however, the idea is sound. As the resident print expert, the in-plant manager is the most qualified person to make decisions about where to produce each job, in-house or outside. And since your parent organization has already invested in your printing equipment, why not make the best use of it by requiring print jobs to go to the in-plant? At the same time, the in-plant can ensure brand integrity on all printed pieces, something that may get lost by letting customers send jobs to a variety of outside printers.
Turns out, though, it’s not always that simple. Internal politics play a huge role in these decisions. In higher-ed, senior administrators are often very reluctant to tell deans where they can get their printing done. Individual departments sometimes go ballistic when they catch wind of a proposal to centrally manage all printing. They start complaining that the in-plant’s quality isn’t good enough (whether or not it’s true). Or they shop around and find a lowball price, then claim the in-plant charges too much. In the end, many in-plants don’t want to foster such resentment, so they back off and focus instead on winning over customers with excellent service and quality.
Those that have successfully implemented centralized print management, however, say their customers are getting a much better deal. At California State University-Sacramento, where the policy has been on the books for decades, Laura Lockett says her customers get a far better price (tax free), faster turnaround and better service than if they used an outside printer. She and her staff take the time to educate customers on the printing process, paper choices and binding options — personal attention outside printers would not provide.
Though not having to compete with outside printers could lead an in-plant to get sloppy, Laura refuses to let that happen. She focuses on providing excellent service and does price comparisons to ensure the in-plant stays competitive.
“It’s important not to be complacent,” she says.
That’s a crucial factor. You still need to make customers want to bring you their business. That’s what Dylan Turner of Northern Arizona University did during his school’s push to centralize resources. By the time it was the in-plant’s turn to roll out its centralization policy, the in-plant was already doing most of the printing, thanks to its excellent service.
Some in-plants with centralized print policies find that enforcement is a challenge. Departments may blatantly ignore the policy, and the in-plant has to decide whether it’s worth it to rein them in and risk creating enemies.
There’s no clear path to centralized print management. It requires a lot of conversations and presentations showing how the organization would benefit. Touting cost savings alone isn’t enough, says Ken Johnson, of Ball State University. You need to stress the in-plant’s ability to police brand integrity. For his in-plant, he says, it took 10 years of persistence — but it was well worth the effort.
Related story: Right of First Refusal: Benefit or Death Kell?
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.