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Critical Communication

(January 2003) posted on Mon Feb 03, 2003

Discover the communication tiers in corporate work and how to keep clear information flowing between them.


By Rick Davis

Printing for a high-volume corporate customer like Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Reebok, or Ralph Lauren can be very lucrative for a screen shop. But when a job involves such big-name clients, the need for clear communication becomes more important than ever. This installment will look at the communication responsibilities of all the parties involved in a typical corporate screen-printing project. It will also explore the problems that can occur when complete information about graphics and other job details doesn't pass through all the right channels. The players Jobs involving large branded-apparel providers and retailers can involve as many as four groups, each responsible for some particular aspect of purchasing or production. In the first group, we find the corporate buyers. These companies hope to sell the printed garments to mass retail outlets or directly through their own stores. Contractors make up the second group that is usually involved in corporate screen-printing work. These companies typically arrange print production through another company and then monitor the production process on behalf of the buyer. The third party in these transactions is the garment decorating facility. The decorating company may be responsible for garment fabrication, printing, embroidery, and/or other processes that result in the completed product. And at the end of the line is the retail outlet through which the final product will be sold. In some situations, the contractor is excluded as a middleman in the process. In such cases, the corporate buyer usually sends members of its own staff to monitor the garment manufacturing, decoration, and shipping processes. But regardless of whether there are three or four groups in the communication chain, the potential for error in relaying important job details is very great. The problem is that the groups involved in corporate garment-decorating projects don't share a common language when it comes to describing or specifying job parameters. In most cases, the communication gap is the greatest between the corporate buyer and the retailer because these parties are involved at opposite ends of the process. The corporate buyer must make sure that it relays the complete concept of the garment line to retail, including details about garment colors, sizes, graphic themes, and special effects, to the retailers who will ultimately sell the goods. This allows the retailers to position the product in the most effective way. Here the need for accurate communication is critical. If the finished product does not meet the retailers' expectations, the result can be product recalls on a massive scale and big losses for the corporate buyer. The chargebacks the buyers receive from the retailers find their way to all other groups involved in the project, and everyone loses out. The corporate buyer Typically, the corporate buyer develops artwork for garment decorating in house (or commissions a private design agency to do so on its behalf). Clear communication must exist between the planners in the organization and the artists about the garment line's theme and target audience. The buyer's artists are the people most likely to have the clear understanding about the processes that will be used to reproduce the designs they create. Their knowledge generally stems from previous experience with garment-decorating processes and the companies that perform them. The artists are the ones who typically pass job specifications on to the contractor or printing facility, detailing such things as whether printed garments should have a soft hand, use special colors, or feature other special effects. Color communication is one of the first stumbling blocks that will adversely affect the communication process. Most textile screen-printing facilities work on the Pantone Matching System (PMS), while most corporate buyers think in terms of theme colors from their current seasonal product lines. Instead of describing spot colors as PMS 177 or PMS 263, the corporate buyer is likely to use labels like "Cadillac pink" or "light grape." In such situations, the print shop usually must rely on a sample of the desired color and make its own determination about the PMS equivalent. It helps if buyers, contractors, and printers all speak the same color language. All should agree to use a common color-matching system, such as Pantone's, as a standard reference. If printers only rely on color samples provided by the buyer, the door is opened to possible misinterpretation of the color and error in matching that color when the job goes to press. Special effects are another stumbling block in the communication of garment specifications. Most often, mistakes occur when the special effect involves some form of metallic ink. To a print buyer, inks described as metallic, crystalline, glitter, or shimmer may all represent the same thing, and they may use the terms interchangeably. Printers should verify that the special effect the buyer wants is the one it specified. The easiest way to do so is for the printer to provide printed samples of the special-effect inks labeled with the name of the effect. If each group in the transaction doesn't designate special effects in the same way, the printer again faces the chance of a misprinted run that the buyer will turn down. The contractor In some cases, corporate buyers will deal directly with printers to have their decorated garments produced. But more commonly, a contractor is used as middleman in the ordering process. The contractor must have a firm understanding of the buyer's expectations for the decorated garments and must be able to clearly relay the details to the decorating facility. Contractors are generally well versed in garment-decorating methods and the ways in which printers describe colors, effects, and other job specifications. Consequently, they can be very effective at translating customer requirements into terms a printer will understand. The decorating facility Clear communication is most important for the company that will produce the buyer's garments. If this facility doesn't understand what the customer expects, expensive mistakes can be the result. In today's market, buyers can scrap a production run over an issue as small as the gloss level of a printed image. The only way a printer can avoid such mishaps is to require as much information as possible, including the smallest details about the customer's expectations. Besides colors and special effects, the printer should identify the buyer's requirements for ink-film thickness or hand, gloss level, fibrillation protection, wash fastness, height of puff or high-density inks, and similar specifications. No room for confusion The more frequently all the parties involved in corporate projects communicate with one another, the easier it becomes for them to speak the same language. The potential for job specifications to be misinterpreted and details to be overlooked drops substantially when buyers, contractors, printers, and retailers standardize their communication.


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