Getting help from other communication professionals, such as graphic designers, photographers, film makers, web designers, social media experts, or editors, can be an effective way of adding extra support and expertise to your communication team.
These expert services can be expensive, and therefore it is important to make sure that you are able to work with them constructively and that they will really provide a value-adding service.
However, appointing an external service provider does not mean you are handing your work and responsibility over to someone else. You remain responsible for the project and have to manage the process carefully to ensure a constructive working relationship and ensure successful completion of the required products and services.
Here are a few points to consider when you need to appoint an external service provider.
Make sure of your budget for the project and that you are able to appoint professional communication service providers.
Make sure of the procedures and rules within your own organisation for appointing service providers or consultants. Some organisations have fairly complex (and time-consuming) supply chain management procedures.
Look for agencies with experience of working within the science arena. Talk to other research communicators about the service providers they have used. Word of mouth recommendation is always/often best.
Ask potential service providers for examples of their work. Most professional graphic designers, photographers, writers and editors will be able to provide you with an online portfolio where you can view their recent projects. You may also ask for references – names and contact details of recent clients.
Write out a detailed brief of the services required in order to obtain a formal quote. This is a critical factor in ensuring that a project is successful. There is more information on this below.
Give service providers at least two weeks to prepare a quote. Depending on the size of the contract, you could also ask for a more detailed proposal. (Some agencies will charge a rejection fee if their proposals are not accepted – find out if this is the case beforehand.)
When reviewing and comparing quotes from service providers, make sure you understand their specifications. Some freelance professionals charge per hour for their services, whilst others charge per page or per unit (such as per word or per image). Some specify that they will charge extra for certain items such as “author’s corrections” – that is when you make changes on the text after the layout of a publication.
Choosing the cheapest quote may turn out to be an expensive mistake, especially when you work with creative people. In addition to the price, you must take into account the quality of the work and the reputation of the service provider.
Once you have selected the service provider for a specific project, it is probably a good idea to enter into a contract or service agreement with them in order to ensure that both parties agree on the project specifications, time lines and deliverables. A simple letter of acceptance may suffice for a smaller project (such as translation or editing of one document), but a legal contract is advisable for a bigger project spanning several months. (Your organisation may have sample contracts that you can use as a template.) Such a contract should detail the scope of the work, the date that the work must be delivered, how the work must be delivered, as well as the price. All parties should sign the contract before the work begins.
Make sure a non-disclosure agreement is in place to allay any fears of intellectual property leaks.
Make sure of the payment policy of your institution and communicate this to your service provider. How do the professionals have to invoice you? How soon after the invoice was received will the people get paid? Does your institution subtract income tax from the amount invoiced?
Ensure your ground rules and procedures are clear from the outset and that you have set realistic targets.
Make sure about copyright issues. For example, who will own the copyright on the images if you commission a professional photographer to do a series of photo shoots across your campus?
Some designers will put their name (or their company’s name) in a publication, while photographers may demand that you credit them when using their photos. It is their way of marketing their own work. Discuss and agree on these issues beforehand.
Meet regularly to review progress and challenges, but be careful not to micro-manage professional people. Provide positive feedback when the project is progressing well and on target. Be honest, but also constructive, when you are concerned about the progress or quality.
Writing a brief (or specification) to obtain a printing quote
It is rare for universities and other research organisation to have in-house printers. This means you will have to obtain quotes from external providers when you need to produce printed materials, such as brochures, reports or banners.
Providing the following essential details helps the service provider to generate a reliable and realistic quote that will deliver exactly what you are looking for. Here are, for example, the items you need to specify when obtaining a quote to print a publication:
The number of pages: Usually the number of pages should be a multiple of 4 and the cover is specified separately. So, for example, you would specify as follows: 44 pages plus 4-page cover.
The dimensions (size) of the final product: Some publications are standard A4 size, while others may be square or longer or narrower – this needs to be specified exactly, since it may have cost implications.
The use of colour: Colour printing is still more expensive than black-and-white printing, so you need to make it clear whether the publication needs to be full colour throughout, or possibly a full colour cover with black-and-white inside. You could also add just one spot colour inside.
Cover specifications: Usually the outside pages are slightly thicker than the rest. You may also choose the “self-cover” option, meaning that there is no difference in paper weight and type between the cover and the inside pages.
The quality (thickness) of paper to be used: Specify the cover and inside pages separately, for example: 300 gsm for cover and 150 gsm for inside text. “Gsm” (or grams per square metre) is an indication of the quality (thickness) of the paper. The higher the GSM number, the heavier the paper. Choosing very thin paper may save money, but could result in printing “showing through” to the other side of a page.
The type of paper: The type of paper used conveys part of the “image” of the publication. Do you want your publication to be glossy or have a matt appearance? If the document is about an environmental issue, consider recycled paper, and mention it on the cover or title page. It is advisable to ask the service provider to deliver a sample of the paper being proposed as this allows you to feel its texture and thickness.
Finishing options: If your budget can afford it, you could add some finishing touches to make your publication stand out. For example, you could UV-varnish (add a glossy touch) to make some letters, logos or images stand out. Adding a paper pocket on an inside cover makes it possible to insert a CD or additional materials.
The binding method: “Saddle stitching” or “perfect binding” are mostly commonly used. In saddle stitching, multiple pages are bound together along the fold with staples. In perfect binding glue is applied along the binding edge, resulting in a flat spine. This binding method usually requires 28 pages or more to work effectively, but it has the advantage that you can add the title on the spine. Spiral wire-ring binding is another option.
The print run: How many copies do you need? A higher print run will result in a lower cost per unit, but it does not make sense to print more than you will actually use and distribute. You could ask the printer to quote you on an initial print run of, for example, 5 000 copies, with a “run-on” price per 500 extra copies.
Delivery method: Specify how and where the publications must be delivered. For example, you could specify that they should be shrink-wrapped in packs of 25, and delivered in boxes. Boxes filled with publications are exceptionally heavy – so think about specifying a maximum weight. Specify the physical delivery address.
The materials (format) to be provided to the printer: It is best to provide print-ready materials, based on design proofs that have been signed off. (If you require layout and design to be done, you first need to get a similarly detailed quote from a graphic designer.)
Job schedule: When will the materials be ready to go to print? When will you need it to be delivered?
You have to provide a similarly detailed brief to contract a graphic designer for the design and layout of a publication. The same principles apply when you brief a designer to produce an exhibition or a web site. Explore these links for advice:
“Keep in mind that it may be possible to make use of internal expertise within your university, instead of outsourcing. For example, we have experts in our ICT Department that could help with web design, and we can collaborate with the students and staff at our Journalism Department to assist with editing, photography and filmmaking. We even have a broadcast studio on campus.” Heather Ndlovu, lecturer and research uptake manager at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe