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Let me adjust my ascot and tamp my pipe a bit before we ponder this. Another way to position this question would be–what is the true role of a performing arts organization? Is it performing great shows, filling the house for every performance and being a stalwart in the community or is it being a program book publisher? Just as in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince Hamlet contemplates death and suicide; a performing arts organization needs to contemplate whether they are purveyors of great performing art, or are they publishers of program books. Every day I run into organizations that are contemplating this very question. In this discussion I hope to help with the decision process of whether or not to outsource your program books.

Who Will Be Selling The Advertising?

The very first thing to ask yourself, or your staff members is–who is going to be selling the advertising? I cannot tell you how many times the selling of the advertising is taken for granted. It’s amazing to me that the perception of program book advertising is that advertisers are clamoring at every performing arts venue to advertise in their program books. However, the cold hard fact is program book advertising sales is still sales–no two ways about it! Somebody is going to have to pick up the phone and cold call for new advertising, all while maintaining your current revenue base, which takes even more calls. And this will take a lot of time and measurement. In a previous blog (How Long Does It Take To Produce A Program Book) I discussed the amount of time it takes to secure just one advertiser. That magic number is 11 hours. Multiply this by the current number of advertisers you currently have plus the number of new advertisers you’re going to have to call to replace the ones that drop out, and this number gets very big, very fast. And someone is going to have to manage this sales person (or persons) to make sure they are hitting their targets. This is a good time to make mention of the performing arts organizations that I speak with that want to do face to face program book advertising sales. If you’re one of these organizations, you can plan on adding at least 5 more hours to the 11 hours for telephone sales calls.

Do You Have A Back Office Publishing System In Place?

Does your organization have a solid back office in place to process the advertising contracts, follow up on the art work, build the advertising, and then invoice the advertiser? This is a crucial piece to the whole program book process because advertisers are going to have questions and a good system will be key for this. Even if your organization does not offer the advertiser free ad design, someone is going to have to be available to answer questions about ad dimensions, proper file format, etc. for when they are submitting their own ad.

The advertiser will also have questions about their billing. Lots of times invoices get lost, but statements are received, payments are misapplied, they need a W-9, etc. and these questions will have to be answered quickly because this is your cash flow to pay the sales commissions, pay your designer and ultimately pay the print bill.

Who Will Be Collecting And Organizing The Program Book Content?

You will need to dedicate one person to round up all the program book content (i.e. President’s Message, program book notes, sponsors, donor lists, etc.) Once again, a strong system needs to be in place for this part of the process because there will be lots of information coming into this person during this phase and organization will be key.

Who Will Be Laying Out And Designing The Program Book?

Once all of the program book content is collected, it will need to be handed off to a graphic designer to lay it out and design it. This could very well be the same person that is collecting the program book content, however, many times you will find that a good graphic designer won’t have the same organization skill set of a non-designer so you need to be careful in choosing the right person if you plan on using the same person for this.

While this is going on, the program book ads will need to be collected so they can be dropped into the layout as well. If a strong system is not set up for this, this could potentially be a huge bottleneck and hold up your program book from getting to the printer on time.

After the initial layout, it will need to be proofed to all that need to see it. I cannot stress enough the level of organization that this task will take. This person is going to have to make sure they are tracking every change, revision etc. so that when the final product goes to print, everyone is happy with their piece of the publication and no errors get printed.

Who Will Be Negotiating With The Printer?

If you don’t have someone that has some background in commercial printing this is an area that you could end up spending a lot of money unnecessarily. This person will have to be familiar with print signatures, and be somewhat familiar with the different types of presses. There are all different types of print presses and some are more conducive to program books than others.

Next comes the negotiating part. This may sound foolish to even write this, but it is best to get two print quotes (regardless of whether a printer sits on the board.) And if you are able, three would be even better. Be very aware of the printer that wants to make a “nice donation” in order to get your print job—this is cover up for “I am gouging you!” Print is a commodity, and especially in today’s world you have plenty of options out there to get the best price, you just need to know what you’re talking about in order to do this.

Who Is Going To Track The Program Book Shipment?

One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is thinking that since the program book files have now been uploaded to the printer, they are done. This is far from the truth. If you found your printer that gave you the best price possible, and they happen to be out of town, someone needs to track the shipment of these program books and stay on top of it. A good printer will work with you and assist you in this process, but if you want 100% comfort of the program books arriving on time, it will take a dedicated person in your organization to keep on top of this. This piece does not take a lot of time, but someone needs to be watching it.

By being able to sit down with your staff and seriously mull over these questions and figure out who will be doing what, you should be able to make a more informed decision for your program books.

So, tamp, tamp; to outsource or not to outsource your program books, that is the question. Good Selling!

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