From banners to course maps, race registration packets to schwagtastic t-shirts for your schwag bag, let me be the first to break the news - you are going to have a-freakin-LOT of stuff you need printed for your race. Choosing the right print partner will make your life much easier.
Obviously, you can’t print everything from your office HP (you can’t use that much corporate ink unless you want to be getting some serious side-eye from your finance people), so I’m sure you’ve got a short list of print partners you’re considering. But how do you know if a potential partner is going to be the right fit for you? What are some things you should be on the lookout for? And how do you know that all of your awesome print materials aren’t going to come out looking like a hot, Xerox-ed mess?
Here are 4 things to look for in a print partner for your race:
Solid Communication Skills
When it comes to vendors, communication is everything. When you’re sourcing a potential print partner, pay close attention to their communication style. Are they quick to respond to your emails or return your calls? Do they ask thoughtful follow up questions? Do they seem to be accommodating to your requests, or do they dramatically sigh and roll their eyes so far into the back of their head you’re afraid they’ll go blind every time you ask them to make a minor change on your print job?
Remember, people are on their best behavior when they’re trying to land a contract, so if they have crappy communication skills before you hire them, you can guarantee that's not going to change after you hire them.
Quicker Than Quick Turnaround Times
I don’t have to tell you that things happen in the Big Bad World of Races quicker than a Boston Marathon winner’s mile time. Maybe your course changes at the last minute and you need to print up 1,000 new flyers yesterday, or the volunteer who was supposed to bring the bibs to bib assignment suddenly goes MIA the night before the race (he probably just discovered Breaking Bad on Netflix).
These things happen, and you need a print partner who can keep up.
Ask them about their typical turnaround times on the jobs that you’ll need done, and the process they have in place if one of those projects needs to be done ASAP. Are there additional fees for projects that need to be turned around quickly (say in less than 24 hours) that’ll make your budget go from manageable to OMG WHO PAYS THIS MUCH FOR PAPER THINGS?! If the answer is yes, you’ll probably want to take a tip from your athletes and run… in the opposite direction.
Print needs can vary dramatically across companies and industries, so you will want to work with someone who has an understanding of your industry and has experience working with other races.
Working with a printing partner who just gets it is going to save you a ton of time and energy leading up to event day. Ask your potential printing partner about their experience working with races and what systems they have in place to cater specifically to the needs of those races. (Note: It might feel like you're being high-maintenance, but really, this is just good old fashioned research.) Do they have print templates for typical race collateral (things like like marketing flyers and start line banners) that you can easily customize and print, or will you need to get everything designed from scratch? Can they give you digital copies of your flyers so you can include it on your free online race registration?
Finding out how much they actually understand about races and the specific needs you’ll have as a race director is going to save you the trouble of wanting to smack them upside the head when they ask you what a timing chip is.
A Stellar Reputation
Captain Obvious here. Do you want to know one of the best predictors of future success?
Speak with your colleagues in the race industry. Find out who they use or what recommendations they’ve gotten from their colleagues. Read potential print partner’s Yelp reviews. Yep, Yelp is there for more than just finding taco trucks.
If you don’t do your research and get a gauge on your print partner’s reputation, you’ve only got yourself to blame when they inevitably drop the ball.
If you check these 4 things off the list, you’re sure to find a print partner that will deliver all the awesome collateral you’ll need for a successful and visually appealing event. Make sure to print us an extra invitation!