Printing and Design Tips: January 2019, Issue #210

Standee Designers and Printers

One of the more exciting things in life for me is when multiple threads of my work come together. For instance, I recently installed a standee that was a huge faux book, complete with turned edges and a traditionally rounded back. Then, I was so intrigued by the similarities between the standee and a physical, case-bound book that I wrote a PIE Blog article comparing the standee to just such a print book. Thereafter, a PIE Blog reader found the article intriguing and contacted the Printing Industry Exchange for a referral to a standee printer who could make a similar faux book standee for her clients (her firm specializes in marketing design for large format printing).

So there I was, contacting a potential print brokering client about a standee I had written about and was possibly going to broker. Ironically, my plan was to approach the very same large format print design firm on the West Coast that had been making the standees my fiancee and I had been installing for almost a decade.

What's Been Happening and Why

I had contacted this standee creation firm about a year ago for a client I had met in a movie theater. She had seen my fiancee and me installing a flat card standee (a hue flat graphic with an easel stand). Things had not worked out, and I had not proceeded with the standee creation firm until now.

The first thing I did was call the PIE Blog reader who needed the standee. I told her about my experience with standees and with this particular standee creation firm. Then she told me about her potential needs for standees. She wanted ballpark pricing, but she also made it clear that there were potentially a number of different standees she might need for her clients with different press runs for each job. At this point, she was gathering information and looking for design and production capabilities. In fact, she and I agreed that she might actually be looking for a firm that could create any number of varied, three-dimensional products, kind of like the theatrical venues that produce scenery and props for a play.

Next, I called the standee creation firm on the West Coast. I had specifically identified this firm from among all of the standee producers whose products my fiancee and I had installed for the following reasons. Their design work (creative) was good, but the structure of their standees was impeccable. That is, they focused as much on how the pieces of printed cardboard went together to create a huge theatrical standee as they did on the overall look of the design piece. (Spending three to six hours at a shot sometimes, kneeling on the floor in a movie theater installing a standee is already challenging. If the component pieces do not fit together well and easily, with easy access to all interior and exterior parts of the standee, the process can be exasperating. This firm had my complete respect.

I called and spoke with the vice president. We discussed the work the firm had done in the past, the kind of work my client needed, a potential time frame for sharing samples with my client, and the need for ballpark pricing to help my client with her budget. We also broke the process down into specific stages:

1. Creative: To what extent would this firm participate in crafting the marketing message and its visual implementation? Would the firm just print what the client wanted from their final art files, or would the standee firm develop the marketing message and campaign?

2. Manufacturing: What steps would be involved in printing all materials from the final digital art files?This would go beyond ink or toner on paper and involve such activities as laminating the press sheets to either chipboard or corrugated cardboard, die cutting the individual pieces (for tabs and slots as well as the exterior contours of the pieces), drilling the pieces for screws, and spot gluing any pieces (adding tabs in the center of cardboard pieces). These were the “finishing steps,” and, unlike a brochure print run, there would be many complicated finishing steps with a standee. Moreover, many of these steps might involve additional vendors (subcontracting), which would take time.

3. Packaging and distribution: The standees would need to be securely packed in cartons so as not to be damaged in transit (it would be all too easy to dent the fragile contours of the standee pieces). We would need to decide where the cartoned standees would need to be shipped (to various theaters or directly to my client). And before sealing the cartons, the standee production company would need to create assembly instructions (a multi-sheet booklet that would accompany each standee).

All of these various activities (and possibly others as well) would need to be set out in a schedule working backward from my client's due date: the date the standees would need to be delivered. This would involve logistical negotiations (in some cases done by the standee company with additional vendors) as well as discussions of costs. And all of this would start with a creative brief identifying the message the standee would convey and the audience to which this message would be directed. And before even this step could begin, my client would need to be convinced that this was the standee creation supplier she wanted to work with.

Where to Go From Here

Early next week I should receive from the standee creation vendor a curated selection of images showing the kinds of standees they have recently completed.

I have also sent my client a list of questions to help her articulate the steps involved in creation of her standee (what services she will need and what steps she will perform herself). After I have the standee creator's sample images and my client has reviewed them, she and I can discuss how to proceed. By this point I should also have a rough idea of the overall costs and unit costs for standees similar to the oversized book standee my client had initially read about in the PIE Blog. We can then create a budget and potential schedule.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

In reality, I'm making this process up as I go, but I'm basing my decisions on three things: more than 40 years' of experience in all aspects of design and printing, a problem-solving approach, and a respect for the skills and knowledge of each participant. And I'm listening closely in order to fully comprehend what my client wants and what the vendor can offer. Because this really is a joint effort. My client has the creative vision. The standee vendor has the skills to create not only the marketing message but also a physical object (the standee) that will have its own physical requirements (unlike a brochure). And a lot of other people will participate to bring the creative vision to fruition (including delivery vendors who will carry the boxes of standee parts to theaters or to my client). And all of this will begin with a marketing goal: to persuade the viewer of the standee to pay to see the movie because in some small way it will improve her or his life.

In your own work, think about these things:

1. Think about all the steps required to turn your marketing message from words on a page into images and physical products. Consider how this will filter down into activities in a schedule and costs on a spreadsheet. And always remember who your target audience is.

2. Learn to vet suppliers based on their proven skills (through your own experience and that of others you trust, including referrals).

3. Approach all of this as a series of problems (or challenges) to be solved in a certain order for a certain price. If you can articulate the steps, and the order of the steps, you're well on your way to making them happen.

4. It's the hardest thing to do, but learn to listen to your partners in such an endeavor. If you have chosen them wisely, then they know more than you do about their particular realm of expertise.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]