Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Sales Reps for Printers Are Out of Control

In what has become comedic in its regularity, the stream of unwanted solicitations from sales reps of commercial printers has become a regular part of the daily grind. Some like to call, some like to visit and some like to send elaborate gifts. Whatever the case, they all like to talk about their “state-of-the-art” printing technology.

NOTE: This post is old, and I don’t agree with myself anymore. I sound like an ass and I’m sorry I ever wrote it. Judge me for the person I was in 2006, not today. I’m leaving it up for posterity.

In my day job at an in-house creative department, I have the enviable position of dealing with production vendors for the design department. This includes promotional companies, t-shirt manufacturers and my all-time favorite, professional printers.

Long story short, we print a lot of shit. And it’s not so much that we print volumes of material (no single piece ever gets run in quantities of more than 10,000); rather, we have a broad catalog of brochures, case studies, direct mail, folders, trade show materials, training guides and more. In addition, we print on good paper, occasionally produce custom die cuts, always run 4/4 plus a flood varnish and will pay extra for critical color matching. These add up. While we’ll never be the crown jewel in any major printer’s crown, our $300,000 print budget makes us a very desirable target for the Jackals of the Creative Industry, printer reps.

Let’s recount some fun stats of the past week. I am not making these up.

  • Seven different print vendors cold-called me. How they got my name and number is beyond me, but I suspect our membership to the local Kansas City ad club compromises our anonymity.
  • Three reps stopped by my building wholly unsolicited. After I refused to meet with them, each left a giant package of samples, all of which looked exactly the same in quality. The wonderful front-desk ladies don’t even call me anymore when these guys manifest; they just collect the print samples and shoo them back out the door.
  • One of those three actually sent me an e-mail thanking me for taking the time to talk with him! It’s a good thing my robot clone is fielding these guys for me, otherwise I’d never get any work done.
  • I received a gift basket from Dean and Deluca, a nice travel mug, a book on a local art museum and a big desk calendar. (I gave all the gifts away and shared the food with the rest of the department.)
  • No less than three employees e-mailed me saying they had a family member who worked with a local print company who does good work and would I have the time to meet with them? Here’s the fun part: one of those messages was from our CEO. Ugh.
Portrait of a Printer Rep

The reality is that almost every printer sales rep is a low-rung, soul-sucking mouth-breather who will sell his left testicle just to take you out to lunch to talk about their “state-of-the-art” printing facilities. And by “state-of-the-art,” they mean the rundown 6-color Heidelberg from 1986 operated by a guy in overalls named Bert. I’ve toured enough facilities and seen enough overalls to know that 99% of printers are packing the same old-school firepower.

Since I’m such a nice guy, I’m going to give these reps some small advice from a regular print buyer.

  1. Don’t offer to take me out to lunch. I really don’t have the time, and when I do, I don’t want to spend it talking about your “solutions.”
  2. Leave your samples, but don’t expect them to be examined or even to get them back. Nothing personal, but sometimes the circular file is the most efficient storage system.
  3. Don’t tell me about your 6-color monstrosity, or your 200 line screen technology. If you want to get my attention, you’d best be prepared to compete with my current printer’s 450 line screen capability, color-critical workflow and virtual proofing system.
  4. Don’t call me. I’ll call you. Really, I promise.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Friday October 20, 2006

Seriously. 450 line screen is tough to beat. Now if they were just in Kansas City…


wrote the following on Saturday October 21, 2006



wrote the following on Tuesday October 31, 2006

Who ever wrote this about print sales reps is out of bounds! Sure, some reps are bad like the testical selling ones that were mentioned above. But there are quite a few that know better. So have fun and I hope they keep bugging you until you crack. Good luck!

brandon kirsch

wrote the following on Friday November 3, 2006

You’re a paper pushing fool, that probably doesn’t realize that 14 different reps are most likely getting commissions from your 450 line screen print vendor..The printing industry is such a small circle that everyone gets a piece of the pie at one point or another. I also bet that your boss would be thrilled to know that you are passing up oppotunities to save your company some bucks- That’s really smart buying practice.


wrote the following on Friday November 3, 2006

Actually, my printer is in Colorado, so none of the printer reps calling me in Kansas City are getting any of their business. Although you’re correct that printers often share work, I have flown out to Grand Junction and toured their facilities, and I can assure you their equipment is way beyond any of the crap the locals are pushing.

Have you actually seen 450 line screen? It’s not even in the same league as the crappy 175 you're using — you know, the garbage where you can actually see the little ink dots, where you don’t even need a loupe to see plate shifting.

As for money-saving, I’ve been in this game a long time. I know value when I find it. And while I might be able to use another vendor and save 30 cents on a piece that looks like shit, I’d rather spend a few extra dollars and get product worth showing. That’s what you do when you’re a professional. When you grow up and start playing with big boy dollars, you’ll get it too.

Mike Morgan

wrote the following on Monday November 13, 2006

Having been on both sides of the fence on this one I can say that if your print budget is $300,000/year, you arent playing with the big boys. I would suggest that it is resonable to say that you have probably a $200,000 print budget and you are getting suckered in by your own ego and your buddy with the 400+ line screen. Ever hear the words “law of diminishing returns”? 60% of your clients would choose to save the 30% and use 200 line screen since the end user won’t be able to tell much difference because it will be in their hands for less than 10 seconds.
I am sure you can spot an off register print piece as can most who have been in the industry for a few years but the typical client can’t and if you showed them quality from both Printer A and Printer B the client might not leave your ass in 12 months after realizing that they are spending too much money on an Advertising Agency that will spend bunches of other peoples money.

What is even funnier is your website is pushing google ads from the very crap you won’t give the time of day. You have gang run printers all over your site.

Do you really think that all design pieces need to have 400+ line screen??

Sounds like you should get out there in the real world and talk to your clients.

Just a thought.


wrote the following on Tuesday November 14, 2006

First: I work in-house; this is not stuff for clients. Second, my budget is 300k, not 200k, and I have zero ego when it comes to managing it. Third, all the local printers cost as much if not more for cheaper production. I wouldn’t buy 450 line screen if it cost double, but the reality is that most of the locals quote me above what I’m already paying. (I can show you invoices if you’d like.) And finally, for what it’s worth, I can tell the difference between my stuff and our competitors, and I’m paid to worry about those details. Bottom line: we look better.

But this argument isn’t about money, it’s about ridiculous account rep tactics. It’s about pushy sales people who can’t take a hint and fuck off.


wrote the following on Wednesday August 19, 2009

I’m on Kevin’s side.

Print pusher

wrote the following on Monday January 21, 2013

Its not very nice and professional of you to talk down on people trying to make an honest living. These sales people have to have guts to deal with people like you. These sales people are at least getting off their buts and supporting their families. Give them credit for doing their jobs. You should feel honored that everyone is competing for your dollar. Pay it forward be kind, for someday the shoe may be on the other foot.


wrote the following on Monday January 28, 2013

Print Pusher, I am one too. I’m sure Kev is not even employed “In-House” anymore. He last posted in 2006. Maybe he’s a print rep now. Anyway, he doesn’t know budget….I have clients with print budgets of 500k-1m. SMOKE THAT KEV…with a big mouth. You never know what you’ll find when you give ‘em a chance. I’m sure a good rep can school you.


wrote the following on Tuesday February 12, 2013

Printing4BIG$$, I am still employed in-house, but I don’t buy print anymore. You keep getting hung up about the amount of money in the budget, but that is not the point. (In my previous gig we had print budgets of $10m+ because it was almost all direct mail. Irrelevant.)


wrote the following on Tuesday March 5, 2013

My personal opinion is that you should always be nice to people, and I always despised the “they are selling so they need to be treated like second-class citizens” approach. They are doing their job just like everyone else, and typically sales people are nicer than most people you will come across. If they want to nicely ask to drop off a sample or take you out to lunch, how about don’t be a jerk to them and either say you will hear them out or politely decline?