Most newspapers receive preprints and/or self-adhesive sticky notes on a regular basis. But what are the recommended and acceptable measures you should take when accepting preprints? Does the receiver verify the amount of product; if so, how? Do you log receivables in by hand or with an electronic tool? What makes up your tracking processes? Do you monitor date and time received, who takes in the insert, the stated quantity verses actual quantity received, number of skids or boxes and date on the pallets? Internally, are the inserts scheduled and does the order match the product received? Once received and entered into your system are pallets relocated to a racking system establishing a tracking process for final placement and positioning on the floor?
The process involved in receiving preprints isn’t as simple as one might believe. I’ve worked shops where someone in the mailroom pulls preprints off the truck and they sit outside for half the day, get dragged inside and end up mixed with other preprints scattered around the mailroom area. As you might imagine, this is a recipe for disaster and usually leads to general dysfunction, inaccurate insertions; i.e. inserts going into the wrong product, on the wrong day, shortages, missing insertion dates and ongoing problems with advertisers.
I believe we’ve all noticed a decline in preprints and the subsequent revenues that we once enjoyed. With digital versions of preprints becoming more and more popular, it’s just one more thing that keeps us awake at night concerned about the overall health of the printed product. I firmly believe that one small thing we can do to slow this decline is show advertisers and readers alike that we can maintain accurate processes that ensure advertisements end up in the right place on the right day and in the requested amount. Newspapers are in the fight of their lives and anything we can do to maintain our relevance and preserve the advertising dollar should be done now and done right.
Our sales department and advertisers are depending on us to get it right and operationally, we need to establish the processes that allow that to happen.
Receiving the Preprints
Let’s start with the basic process of receiving. Truckers move product around the country and are the backbone of our national delivery system. Their goal is to move product (preprints in this case) from point A to point B in the most efficient and economical manner possible. They’re jamming skids inside the truck, moving skids around at every stop, and many drivers may not be overly concerned what a preprint looks like when it arrives on your dock. When you receive a damaged skid, do you have standard procedures in place?
If you so much as indicate that you’re okay with a damaged skid (a nod or a smile can often be enough encouragement), the delivery driver will move as fast as they can back into their truck and out of your parking lot before you have any time to reconsider—don’t allow it.
First thing you need to do is examine the load; don’t sign the delivery receipt until you’re ready to. Most truckers will try to get in and out as quickly as possible and while I don’t blame them, you’re the one who could be stuck with a pallet full of inserts with turned up edges, crushed product, or inserts that have to be rejogged before use. Obviously this can result in preprints that cannot be machined and results in a shortage. The advertiser doesn’t really understand or care that it’s the trucker’s fault. In the end, it’s your responsibility to monitor the delivery process and it is your fault if you accept an inferior product. On top of the issues with spoiled product, you could have hours of labor rejogging inserts adding to costs.
Let me repeat: Do not accept damaged product. Have your advertising department call the agency or you can call the dispatcher to see what they would like to do to solve the issue. First thing they’ll propose is to leave the problem on your dock; it’s easier for them. Don’t let this happen. If you have to rejog the product, make it clear that the cost of rejogging will be billed to them and get all the relevant information on how to follow through on that; i.e. the name of the dispatcher, driver, bill of lading, etc. If the dispatcher has an issue with this, make sure to involve the agency. Either way there is no gain by accepting a product that you know on the front end will end up causing issues on the back end. Take pictures, indicate the issue on the receiver before signing off. Do whatever you need to in order to protect both the company, your reputation and your advertisers interest.
To be fair to the trucking companies, it isn’t always their fault. Commercial printers that provide us with preprints often don’t take enough care preparing skids for shipment. Improper jogging off their presses can spell trouble for you when you receive a skid that self-destructed in the back of the truck. Regardless of what happened on the front end, don’t let others transfer their problem into your shop.
Accepting and Logging the Preprints
Once the preprint is accepted, how do you ensure you have received the correct amount of skids and the appropriate quantity of inserts? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a mailroom manager boast about how fine-tuned their system is only to hear them a week later arranging a pick-up of an insert that didn’t belong to us and was dropped at the wrong newspaper. So much for attention to detail.
First, cross reference the receiver/B.O.L. with the actual skid(s) and confirm the amount of skids is correct. In this process, review each skid to confirm that it’s in fact yours. If you can, neatly remove, count out and weigh 50 inserts on a small scale. Multiply out that weight and weigh the skid to confirm that the amount is what it should be. Not all of us have the equipment or the time to do this. If you do, I highly recommend it, if you don’t about all you can do is check and double check each skid for damage, ensure that the correct amount of pallets are received, and use common sense the rest of the way. If you receive one small pallet a foot high of a 24 page tab and you’re supposed to have 30,000 copies, there could be an issue.
So let’s assume that your insert arrives in acceptable condition, what’s next? Many newspapers have a log and a pen hanging on the dock and log-in preprints as they arrive. The information on this log varies by location from very basic to well-detailed. If that’s working for you and you’re not having challenges in this area, great, keep up the good work. In my opinion, keeping logs in a paper form has only one advantage verses an electronic log. With a written log, you can simply walk up to the log and review what’s arrived without going to the computer; that’s a rather small advantage. When you want to look for a particular insert or a specific delivery or run date, a written log doesn’t have a useful search function other than sifting through mountains of paper.
I don’t believe there is any good reason not to develop an electronic entry log for your receiving area.
I’m big on spreadsheets and the sorting flexibility and search functions they offer. You don’t need to be a spreadsheet expert to put together a simple log that tracks all the relevant information. What you do need to be is an expert on what information is critical to your internal tracking of preprints.
First on your sheet set up a column to enter what the product is. We all receive both preprints and self-adhesive notes (call them what you want: sticky notes, post-it notes, news notes, etc.). Indicate what product has arrived. This will help later if you need to search for a particular piece.
Next, enter the name of the preprint/customer. The need for this should be obvious.
Now simply set up additional columns with all the information necessary to track the preprint (or note) from the point it arrives at your facility to the point that it is staged on your floor for insertion or application.
Time Received: When the trucker actually drops the insert and you accept it.
Received By: We usually have more than one person who will pull inserts off the truck. It’s important to know who accepted things in case there are questions that come up later. If there is an issue, knowing who accepts the insert allows you to take necessary measures to control future challenges.
Quantity Received: This is one of the most important entries on your sheet. Whatever process you are able to use to confirm the amount received it needs to be absolutely accurate. When you run short on the floor a week later, is it due to excessive waste or because you never received enough in the first place?
Number of Skids Received: Simple as this may seem, I’ve seen times when skids are misplaced and a mailroom runs short of completing the job, blames it on waste, and then finds a stray skid a week later sandwiched between other pallets in the warehouse. Believe me, just when you think it can’t happen to you, it will.
Date on the Skid: Another one of those things that may seem simple but can get you in serious trouble. Confirm the date on every skid and match it up against the receiving paperwork to ensure you have received the right amount for the right date. This will also help later in the process when staging in a specific rack location.
Is It Scheduled?: I like to indicate with a simple yes or no, if the arriving preprint is on the preprint schedule advertising should be providing to you on a regular basis. If your advertising cohorts are scheduling insertion dates as they should and providing this information, chances are that the insert you’re receiving will be on a schedule. If it’s not, now is the time to be a team player and make advertising aware you’ve received a preprint that you don’t see scheduled. It could be an oversight on the customers or agencies part to notify advertising or could simply be an oversight on the salespersons part to schedule it. Either way a heads-up can save face with an advertiser and keep the revenues flowing.
Internal Location: If you store pending inserts in a multi-level rack, on the floor in a warehouse or in an open area of your mailroom, it’s important to know where the right insert is when you need it. Labeling/categorizing rack locations or marking specific areas for lay down can save time and promotes accuracy in the long-run. Indicating on the receiving sheet where you’ve filed the pallet(s) make it much easier to track throughout the process and can help to ensure that the correct preprint eventually ends up being staged in the right area of the floor for final insertion.
Comments: Last but not least, provide an area on the spreadsheet for additional comments. In this area the receiver can indicate what product the preprint goes in (cross referencing with the insert order from advertising), indicate any issues with the product when delivered, detail any changes i.e. “insert killed,” run out overruns into TMC, etc.
Of course what you do for your preprint tracking procedure can differ greatly depending on the size of your newspaper, staffing, the space available within your facility plus the volume of inserts you receive. Putting together a process to account for receiving and tracking preprints isn’t a one size fits all project; it can and will differ greatly depending on your specific property.
Most newspapers have some process to track incoming preprints currently in place, yet at many properties I’ve evaluated improvements are needed and fairly easy to implement. Often we get mired down in doing things our way, certain it is the best way. I cringe when I ask why we do something and the answer is “Because we’ve always done it that way.” Look things over with an open mind and don’t get stuck on your way being the best way. I don’t care how smart any of us think we are, there is always someone who has a better way and processes can be constantly improved. You owe it to your employer and yourself to find the best way to ensure accuracy in your preprint operation. Don’t stop searching and fine-tuning until you have your department running like a well-oiled machine—and when you do let me know so that I can continue to grow right along with you.
As always, I’m happy to share any spreadsheets or provide helpful information on production-related subjects to anyone in our industry.