Enlightened Production Management

A transformation seems to be occurring in how production management is perceived in the direct marketing arena. It is now essential for production professionals to understand the business strategies and goals as the basis for them to perform their work.

Unfortunately, many experienced production managers historically have been excluded from a company’s strategy development, leaving them unprepared to offer production solutions that would address relevant marketing challenges.

Production personnel are asked to juggle many elements: scheduling, managing prepress, printing and finishing, and, of course, methods of distribution. In a direct marketing environment, today’s production manager must be equipped to help achieve the required business results by optimizing these processes.

So let’s consider what is necessary to retool our production skills to get results.

Involve your production staff in the development of a campaign or project. Not only will they find this personally rewarding from a career-development standpoint, but also they will be more focused on finding innovative and economical ways to accomplish strategic goals.

Articulate your business strategy to your suppliers. Your newly enlightened production staffers need to share their enhanced marketing knowledge with all partners in the production process. Your suppliers’ understanding of your business objectives, combined with their technical expertise, translates into a relationship organized around common goals.

This means that your production staffers need to think of themselves not just as tacticians performing routine “ink-on-paper” tasks but as owners of the strategic objectives at this point in the process. This approach also may be new to your suppliers, and while it will help contribute to better results, it may require some additional hand-holding along the way. The bottom line is that your work should stand out among the clutter in today’s mailbox, and doing it in conjunction with your suppliers will always deliver a better result.

Work collaboratively with your suppliers — they can be your greatest asset. While there will always be certain givens, such as a given mail house or postal rate, there is a vast number of opportunities to identify and incorporate technologically advanced resources to achieve your results on time and on budget.

From the very basic discussion of an irregular die-cut to the financial advantages of streamlining distribution to bulk mail centers, suppliers have become increasingly active in coming up with new ideas and approaches rather than simply responding to direct requests. This is possible, however, only with their clear understanding of your business strategy.

Maintain a focus on executional excellence. Despite the strategic involvement of your production staff, don’t forget the need for expertise in such disciplines as color management, paper procurement, estimating, project management and, of course, negotiation. The combination, however, of technical skills and a marketing focus can provide tangible benefits to the “design-to-home” process. Further, people begin to think of their projects less in terms of paper weight, dimensions and ink density and more in terms of how consumers will use them.

Stay abreast of the leading production technologies. Notwithstanding the need to work closely with your current suppliers and to rely on their expertise, your production staff needs to stay current with industry trends. Industry publications, associations and conferences all provide insight into emerging technologies and methodologies. Also, don’t forget about the need to understand the Internet’s impact on production management.

So how will this transformation affect each of us? Well, if you are part of the newly enlightened production management group, it means learning new skills, working with your creative and marketing teams more closely and providing your suppliers with an understanding of the project’s strategy and goals. Those who work with production personnel have to treat them more as business partners and not simply as the taskmasters required to get your project printed and mailed.

The opportunities created through these changes can be immense. Not only will you experience a rebirth within your organization, but also you will see real business benefits in the form of results delivered by a more focused, informed and aligned production team.

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