Quality is an Attitude- Jerry D'Elia
Quality is an oft-talked-about issue in publishing and print-manufacturing circles, yet despite this ever-present dialogue, an absolute definition of "quality" remains elusive. Publishing & Production Executive invited Hearst Magazines' Vice President of Printing and Transportation Services Jerry D'Elia to share his views on what quality is and what it takes to achieve it.
Publishing & Production Executive: How do you define quality?
Jerry D'Elia: Print production quality to me means delivering a magazine to the reader so it meets or exceeds that reader's expectations. A reader can quickly like or dislike the quality of a magazine's editorial or design, but our job in manufacturing is print and bind quality. If we do our job in production, the quality is transparent and goes unnoticed. It's when quality is not achieved that it is so obviously noticeable. Print quality helps reinforce or enhance the editorial effort.
P&PE: Has that definition changed in recent years?
JD: No it hasn't. We have always had to produce magazines that meet or exceed expectations. (In today's business environment,) we talk a lot about internal customers and external customers, but I find it difficult to service more than one customer at a time. My customer focus is the reader of the magazine, and I try to satisfy that person.
P&PE: Has technology had a significant impact on quality issues?
JD: If you use the right technology in the correct way, you can't help but positively affect quality. But, used the wrong way, technology can destroy quality and increase cost. I've been in this business for 36 years, and I've seen more technological changes in the past several years than in my first 30 years. It's changing so quickly that people can't keep up with it. I've been to printing plants and prepress bureaus with the very best technology, but if they don't have people who understand our business and how the technology relates to it, it serves little purpose. To me, to have technology without properly trained people is like flying the space shuttle with cab drivers.
Another problem is discerning the true value of technologies. I find that they don't always apply to my business. Suppliers should ask themselves, "Will this technology improve quality, reduce costs and make for a more efficient workflow?" There are plenty of people developing and distributing better mousetraps, but I wonder how many of them have seen a mouse recently?
P&PE: Are your suppliers meeting your quality challenges?
JD: Yes, but the reason for it is that we have a lot of dialogue. Suppliers, if they're any good, will help me create a better publication through ideas and suggestions. They'll try to improve quality or produce my magazine in a way that reduces cost. We must use technology to produce our products at the right cost and not at "any cost."
P&PE: Is the ability to produce high-quality printing more accessible now because of readily available technology?
JD: I think the ability to produce high-quality printing is less accessible because of the high cost of technology now. Also, once a printer or a service bureau gets the technology, it has the problem of getting the people.
I also think that the consolidation that the technological revolution has caused is a big concern. I'm not sure if it's better to have fewer major suppliers than to have more smaller suppliers. Currently, only a few printers can meet our needs, but a dozen years ago I had a much bigger selection.
P&PE: How important are quality initiatives like ISO 9000 certification to print buyers?
JD: ISO certification is nice, but it's not at the top of my list. I don't require it of my suppliers. However, I do hope that they have some sort of quality program in place. The proof of the pie is in the pudding, and ISO is the icing.
P&PE: "Value-added" is a popular buzzword right now. In your view, what defines a value-added service?
JD: When a supplier says "value added," it should first make sure it has something of value to add to! You have to start with value and quality and then add to it. The biggest value-added service that a supplier can offer me is making sure my message gets beyond the salesperson and the customer service rep to the people on the production floor. I think of our suppliers as an extension of the Hearst effort, and I want the people in the shop knowing that Jerry D'Elia at Hearst needs to put out a quality magazine.
P&PE: Finishing and distribution seem to be overshadowed by the attention given to print and prepress developments. Are your quality demands changing in these areas?
JD: Finishing and distribution are areas that never get the attention they should. A magazine can be beautifully printed, but if it's finished poorly that effort is lost. Today finishing and distribution are even more important. There are always increases in distribution costs, so we constantly have to control those. Also, more and more advertisers, and our circulation and editorial departments, are asking, "What can I do with a cover wrap or a CD in a polybag or a cover sticker?"
P&PE: What are the most crucial elements to producing a quality product, magazines or otherwise?
JD: Attitude and people. Our manager of quality assurance has a sign in his office that reads "Quality is 90 percent attitude." I completely agree that without the right attitude you can't achieve quality. I'm also a big people person, and I strongly believe that technology is only as good as the people who are using it. If they aren't trained—or they don't care—you can't produce quality work.
Chrystal O'Hanlon is a freelance writer based in Denver. Her previous experience includes two years as assistant managing editor for Printing Impressions magazine.