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Why run a print tender?

There are a number of reasons, says Alice Beattie, why a publisher may decide to use formal tendering as a process.

By Alice Beattie

Basically, doing so provides the Buyer with an opportunity to:

1. Evaluate the package currently being received for an existing product- i.e. check that value for money is being obtained across the spectrum

2. Find a print partner for a new type of work – for example if you are a magazine publisher and this is the first weekly your company has launched; or perhaps the first title you intend having printed by a different process

3. Investigate ways of “working smarter” within the supply chain

Whatever the reasons – here are some useful pointers to help you along the way:


It is unlikely that you will achieve what you need to unless you invest time in planning the Tender process. It’s essential that you plan how you are going to conduct the Tender process - what it will and won’t cover and why; how you are going to evaluate the replies and whom you are going to involve within your own organisation.


It is essential that from the outset of the process you clarify the objectives of the Tender. If you are leading a team to support you with this project you need to know and be able to communicate what the project is to achieve and why. If you don’t know what it is that you want to achieve, then you are unlikely to be successful. Moreover, a failure to clarify and communicate the aims of the Tender with all stakeholders, particularly the suppliers, is likely to provide a fertile breeding ground for misunderstandings, mistakes and bad feeling.

Here are a few of the most common aims: to save money, to save time, to find a supplier who can address a specific need (e.g. wrapping and mailing), to improve quality. It is likely that a number of objectives are to be achieved, but if these are not clarified at the outset, it is unlikely that you will end up with a successful outcome for your company.


If you are currently under contract with a supplier, you may wish to consider issuing Protective Notice. You can request that this is kept confidential within the supplier company to safeguard your current service agreements.


Having worked out what you want to achieve from the process, you can start to draft some selection criteria – that is, the list of items against which you will measure and eventually choose your supplier. If you have formed a project team to support you in running the Tender, it is important that you agree in advance with them (i.e. while writing the ITT document itself and certainly before sending it out) what the selection criteria will be...........and you must make these as measurable as possible. The reason for agreeing the criteria early on is twofold – it ensures the questions in the ITT document are relevant to the information needed to help in your evaluation of the suppliers, and it reduces the potential for emotional disagreements within the team when evaluating the various respondents.

To decide which selection criteria to apply, you need to re-visit the objectives of the Tender. For example, if one of the key aims of the Tender is to improve on current lead-times, you need to ensure that schedules and lead-times are criteria you will use for helping you to select a supplier.

Selection criteria could include for example: site location, suitable plant and equipment, financial stability, investment plans, capacity available, lead-times, quality, pricing, adherence to formal standards (such as ISO 14001), environmental policy/standards, cultural fit with your own company....only you can decide on the criteria that are right for your Tender.


Deciding how many stages are needed in your Tender will give you more insight into how long the process will take and the time and resources you will need.

It may suffice for your purposes that you send out the document, get responses, draw up a shortlist and then negotiate with the suppliers on the shortlist. Alternatively, a Tender may be much more detailed. The stages could involve for example – researching and investigating possible suppliers to approach, conducting site visits, writing and checking the ITT document, reading the responses and analysing facts and figures, checking answers to ensure you are clear on their meaning, running a quality trial and assessing the results of it, plus the team meetings to discuss, evaluate and score responses, draw up shortlists, arrange and review presentations.... and all this before the final “beauty parade” takes place, far less final negotiations and contract discussions!


If you decide to run trials to assess print quality, be sure to give each of the suppliers exactly the same files, paper and information – request that they run the trial on the press/es they propose using for the work they are pitching for; and be prepared to meet the cost of creating the files and supplying the paper used (ensure you have a budget for this).

Try to ensure that an incumbent supplier is not any more advantaged than can be helped – send files that have not been used before if possible.


Running a Tender usually has to be done as well as doing your “day job”, so it is essential that you consider how you are going to juggle both successfully. In a large publishing company, you will have a team at your disposal. Working in a smaller company does not rule this out - you may be able to involve colleagues from other departments; this can be a learning opportunity for them as much as an opportunity for you to get some buy-in from other disciplines.... Just remember to ask permission from their manager before approaching them.

If you are going to work with a project team, you should consider the roles you will need in this team and who can best fill those in terms of skills, experience and knowledge; you may also wish to use this as a form of training for less experienced members of your own team.

Be sure to include people who will bring knowledge of existing workflows, methods etc - but also bear in mind that people on the team must be open to new ideas; pick your team to balance these needs.


Presumably you will have agreed the aims of the Tender in advance with your senior management. It is good to keep them and other colleagues aware of progress (though not in too much detail). By doing so, you are not only keeping them informed, but opening up an opportunity for them to have input to it – this can be very useful as people beyond your own disciplines have different insights. It will also engender “buy in” to the final decision.

Do make your colleagues aware that you will need to give this Tender your time and attention and that this may impact upon your ability to respond to other business needs.

And of course you also need to talk to the incumbent supplier about your Tendering plans.


The contents of the ITT (Invitation to Tender) document and how it will be presented to suppliers needs careful consideration. The document does not have to be long, but it must be clear and contain all the relevant information so that any of the suppliers you approach can understand what they have to do – both in terms of the process itself and the work being tendered.

It is helpful to include background information about your company, its products and clients - anything you feel would be relevant or interesting, particularly for those suppliers who do not already know or deal with your company. The recipients need to understand the kind of work on offer, the timescales involved, the quality aspirations of the creative teams and the advertisers – information like this will enable them to tailor their offering more accurately to your business needs. You must be clear about how you currently work, what your expectations are, and whether you want any of that to change (and if so, why).

Remember that you will be parting with potentially sensitive information, such as title frequency, lead times, quantities, paginations etc - substituting code letters for titles is a useful solution if there are concerns around commercial sensitivity.

Give thought to which materials will be required in support of the document, for example samples of schedules, workflow diagrams and delivery procedures.

It is essential that you are clear about what you are asking from the supplier in response to the document and on the timing for that. It is a good idea to send out a matrix or spreadsheet which the supplier fills in – this could request information on plant, pricing and so on. Doing this should ensure that everyone responds in a similar format, thus reducing the time required for evaluation at the next stage.

Advising the suppliers in advance of the proposed timing for the whole ITT process will reduce the number of requests for news - though it is a courtesy for you to acknowledge that you have received their response to the ITT and to let them know when you anticipate updating them.


It is important that everyone involved in the Tender work to some rules.

First you must impress upon all involved that confidentiality is key to this process. The internal team should not discuss submissions and evaluations with anyone (colleagues or suppliers) - other than when team meetings are held.

Suppliers should be prepared to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement if they are in receipt of commercially sensitive information.

Remind your team that you want to run a fair and unbiased process; no matter how well (or badly) they may be getting on with an existing supplier, or a past supplier, they must bring objectivity to the team discussions and to the evaluations.

Be clear what it is that you expect of the team both as individuals and as a team – how much work and time they will be expected to devote to this process and the priority that must be given to it.

Clarify roles within the team – e.g. who will open responses and distribute them; who will deal with queries arising from the document; who will analyse figures and so on. Play to the strengths of the individual team members.

Be prepared to lead the team, but also be prepared to listen to other points of view.

And finally – you need to consider before sending out the ITT document what you will do if a company does not respond within the given time frame. Do you chase them or not? Do you exclude them from the rest of the process or penalise them in some way, for example by lowering their scores?


Schedule the whole ITT process – after all, you and whomever is supporting you with this project are doing this in addition to the “day job”.

You will need to estimate how much time each stage will take and when you can respond to suppliers and give them feedback. Be realistic - allow time for each of the stages you have decided upon, and factor in some extra time for possible delays.

Treat both your colleagues and suppliers with respect - don ‘t expect someone to be able to analyse 15 sets of numbers overnight, nor send out a 50 page document and expect a response in a couple of days!


Each response to the ITT document should be checked for completeness (have they filled in all the spreadsheet for example?) and acknowledged. Any queries should be raised at this stage. The papers should then be distributed to the team and the hard facts (pricing, schedules etc) analysed prior to a team meeting.

If you have asked for quality trials, be prepared to look carefully at these, evaluating them technically on e.g. printed gloss results, ink densities, dot gain and carrying out visual assessments under controlled lighting conditions. Ensure that the same conditions are used for every assessment and that the same person or group does the assessing.

At the team discussions, seek views on the merits of each response and then “score” each supplier against the selection criteria. The total score for each supplier dictates their ranking and thus whether they go forward to the next stage of the process. Be alert to the fact that there may be unlooked-for benefits from one of the respondents – keeping an open mind is essential.

You may wish to use a scorecard approach to establish rankings and draw up shortlists. Here, the team agrees in advance of the meeting (and preferably before responses are received) which of the selection criteria are the most important and then what weighting will be applied against each of these. For example, if you agree that lead-times are more important than anything else, you apply an agreed weighting against the score for that criteria. This means that the score for this item has more significance in the overall total for each supplier.


The ranking will dictate your shortlist. It may be that you have two short listing stages – you may have chosen to rank by price and then run a quality trial, or vice-versa. But at the point where you reach your final shortlist, you must check any assumptions on both sides before you go any further. This is probably the best point at which to hold face-to-face meetings with the shortlisted suppliers if you have not already done so.

Ensure that you finalise a strategy to achieve the objectives of the Tender, bearing in mind the opportunities offered by the shortlisted suppliers. You can then open the final stages of the negotiations. You should consider what to include in a Service Level Agreement (or formal contract if your company has them) and ensure that the things you want are all discussed and agreed in advance with the shortlisted and final chosen supplier/s.

Finally, do be prepared to give constructive feedback to each of the suppliers involved in the Tender – it will help that you did so, when you next go out to Tender.