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How to Get a Job in Print Production

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Print production is the agency department where print advertising is prepared for the presses. All the ideas for news-paper and magazine ads, brochures and outdoor boards, and for every other printed piece that comes out of an agency, go through print production.

The print production department is run by the production manager. After a concept and layout are approved by a client, they are brought to print production where all of the final decisions are made: the printing process, the paper and colors to be used, sometimes even the typefaces, are decided upon in print production.

The production manager prepares an estimate of what a particular project will cost to produce. When that estimate is approved and signed by the advertiser, it's up to the production manager to supervise everything that relates to the production of the project. If the job is to be done in full color, the production manager finds someone to make the color separations, and he also finds a printer. Since print production can cost substantial sums of money, he usually sends the specs for a job to several different companies to get competitive bids. He then makes a decision as to who is awarded the job based on what kind of quality he knows he can expect from each of the firms he has bid with, and, of course, on how much money it will cost.

A production manager works closely with art directors, because most art directors like to have a say in the way their pieces are produced. A production manager helps the art director supervise photo retouching. He also supervises the people who do paste-ups and mechanicals. Anything that has anything to do with the production and printing of printed advertising is the responsibility of the print production department.

This obviously calls for a great deal of experience in a great many areas. As a print producer, you've got to know about printing (the hows and the whys of different methods), and about paper (so you'll know how a specific type of paper will look when it's printed). You've got to have a working knowledge of photoengraving, so that you understand what goes on and can recognize a good engraving when you see one. You've got to know just as much about color separations, because if a full-color job comes in poorly done, the agency looks dumb to the client, and the client balks at paying the bill. A production manager has to understand typography, and not just what typefaces exist, either. He should have a sense of design, and the aesthetic sense to know when type looks good and when it needs to be reworked. You've got to know enough about film processing to realize when you've gotten a poor-quality dye transfer, and enough about photo-retouching to make sure you're getting everything you can out of a photograph. A production manager is also responsible for the preparation of mechanicals, so you've got to see to it that the type is put down squarely, that the lines are ruled crisply, cleanly, and straight, with nice square corners.

Aside from having a working knowledge of the procedures in all of these areas, a print producer must know something else about them. He must know costs, because he is responsible for spending large sums of money. A good print producer who can do elaborate production jobs for limited budgets makes his agency look smart, and he makes himself look like a real hero.

Obviously, the ability to do a job with those responsibilities doesn't come without a lot of work.

Print producers, like everyone else in this business, must start at the bottom, from a variety of positions. In an agency, they can start out in the bullpen learning to do mechanicals, or as a print producer's assistant, which is often a fancy title for typing, running errands, and getting coffee. The pay is anywhere from $7,000 to $11,000 a year, depending on the size of the agency.

If you can't break into an agency print production department, try one of the fields that do business with the print production departments of agencies. Maybe you can get a job with a printer, where you'll learn enough about printing to give you an idea of how things are done. You could work for a paper company, a photoengraver, or a plant that does color separations. In less than a year, you could learn enough about these areas to satisfy the needs of any agency as one of their beginner print producers.

Maybe you could find a job with a type house. Even if all you do is deliver type, you will learn a lot about typography, and you'll make a friend or two in the print production departments of agencies. Friends like that are nice to have when you're trying to get a job.

Maybe you can find employment with a film lab or a photo-retoucher.

Any job that you can get with any company which does business with the print production departments of agencies will help give you the experience and education you need.

As for getting an education in school that would help you as a print producer, the pickins' are pretty slim. You might find a course in print production somewhere, but one course does not a print producer make. If you can take a course in studio skills learning to do mechanicals, take it. Doing mechanicals is a great way to get into the print production department of an advertising agency.

There are plenty of other courses you can also take which will help you. Courses in photography, darkroom techniques, as well as in graphics, drawing, typography, layout, design, and even creative writing. It wouldn't hurt a bit for a would-be print producer to learn a little about merchandising, promotion, and marketing, as well.

Don't forget a summer job in one of the fields that are directly related to print production, like with a typographer, printer, or photoengraver.

When it comes time to try getting into the print production department of an advertising agency, visit your library and sit down with the Advertising Redbook. Look up the names of print production managers or heads of print production departments. You will find them listed by their respective agencies, along with the other key personnel. Next, call for an appointment. If you can't get through to the head of print production, or if the agency you want to call doesn't have anyone with that title, try a print producer. If that doesn't work, try the creative director or a group head. If they don't have a creative director or group head listed and you still want to interview there, call the president of the agency. If they don't have a president, they don't have a business.

No matter who you call, though, if you want a job as a print producer, you'll have to show a portfolio. If your portfolio is good, you'll get a job. Eventually. But it won't happen overnight; and it will take a lot of effort and shoe leather.

When you finally do succeed, though, it will be worth every bit of the aggravation you went through to get there. You'll get to work with some very talented people, and you'll earn a very comfortable salary.

True, a lot of people in all kinds of fields get to work with talented folks and earn comfortable salaries. But just like everyone else in the advertising business, as a print producer, you'll get something more.

You'll get the chance to help turn an idea into something you can hold in your hands.
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