Why and how to run a print tender. A 12 point guide.



Running a formal print tender can deliver an extensive range of benefits for organisations who use or procure print as part of their commercial or marketing activities. But to achieve these benefits, it requires each stage to be carefully planned, with key objectives clearly identified and monitored throughout the process. And it ideally requires a well-resourced team with print purchasing and specifying experience in order to clearly define your requirements and identify successful suppliers.


Below, we look at the different stages of a commercial print tender, breaking out some of the most important factors for defining and achieving your objectives and guiding you through the process, through to supplier scoring and awarding of the tender.



Reasons for running a print tender can include:


  • You’ve been asked by your manager or board to ensure (and prove) you’re working with the highest quality print suppliers out there and finding the best value for money.


  • You’ve been buying print from the same local suppliers, but now it’s time to formally assess your print procurement to ensure you’re using the best suppliers and finding the best value for money.


  • You’re looking to procure a wider range of print so you need to cast your net wider – and a print tender is the best, most structured way to achieve this.


  • You want to examine the value added by your print supply chain – not just in terms of cost but in terms of other innovations and improvements delivered into your business.


  • You need to reduce lead and turnaround times.


  • You need access to digital tools such as a web to print platform, digital asset management or other digitally-transforming print portal technologies that could enhance your workflows.


  • You need to uncover environmentally friendly printing services and ways to reduce your carbon footprint.


  • You require security of supply, to formally manage risk and improve forward visibility of spend.


There may well be other reasons too of course, but whatever your motivation, here are the steps you should consider for your print tender to be a success:



1. Understand and communicate your objectives


Having clearly defined and simple objectives for your tender are essential.


Identify your single most important objective, write it down with secondary, subordinate objectives. Ensure all stakeholders are in agreement and understand what objectives you’ll be focusing on. Then communicate this to your team.


You may be looking to reduce spend; to find suppliers to help with particular projects or types of print; to reduce lead times; to help with digital transformation or supply online tools for managing print; to improve quality; to improve workflow and streamline processes; or to add value in other ways.


But whatever your objectives, clear communication on a regular basis is key to driving home those objectives and instilling them as the main focus within your team. Poor communication will lead to uncertainty, drifting focus away from your main goals and poor outcomes.



2. Planning and timelining your tender


Planning the tender is essential to ensure all objectives are met, in the correct order and by an acceptable date. Planning ensures each step will be undertaken, itemises what objectives will be achieved at each stage and gives a clear message to your team and suppliers when each deliverable should be submitted by.


It’s also a great tool to clear the mind and get everything down on paper – including what will be covered, what won’t, who will be responsible for which tasks and by what date – as well as how you intend to evaluate success at each stage.



3. Identify selection criteria


Selection criteria are a description of what you’re looking for in your suppliers and how you’ll judge success or preferences for each item.


It’s essential to identify selection criteria early on alongside your team so the team agrees and buys-in to the criteria and everyone understands how success will be measured. The selection criteria document is written alongside the Invitation to tender (ITT- see below) and clearly defines what the selection criteria are and how they will be measured, in as specific and measurable terms as possible.


Obviously, selection criteria work hand-in-glove with the overall objectives of the tender.


If one of your objectives is for flexibility of supply and the ability of suppliers to be reactive to changing requirements, then you should stipulate this in the selection criteria document and detail how you will assess suppliers on this dimension and how a successful applicant will be judged.


4. Decide on tender stages and create a timetable of key dates


Some commercial printing tenders are simpler than others, depending on your objectives and organisational structure.


Some organisations may draw up a longlist of possible suppliers, create and send out their tender document from which they create a shortlist and from that, negotiate with suppliers.


Others will have a more comprehensive process involving a more extensive assessment of written responses, site visits, face to face meetings, scrutiny of brand priorities, ethical matches and corporate social responsibilities, quality trials, reviews and presentations.


Whatever your process, it’s always worthwhile timelining each stage together with a description of each milestone, required deliverables and delivery dates. A simple table will usually suffice and keep everyone working to the same clear deadlines.



5. Testing and quality trials


It can be useful to run a test print to assess each supplier for quality and timeliness as well as customer service levels. If you do run a test, expect to have to cover the cost and ensure a level playing field across all printers by using the same paper stock and artwork.


Ensure the project is printed on the press they would run the actual live job on. Note: running each type of project on the correct press is key to ensuring a project will maximise quality and keep cost to a minimum. If you’re unsure, including a print management company or print procurement organisation in your tender process can help advise and ensure you’re including the right type of print suppliers in your tender.


Test results should be compared for overall quality, delivery, timeliness, customer service, colour reproduction (brand compliance), durability, cracking, curl, trimming/finishing, binding, rub-off, amongst other things.



6. Internal Resource Assessment


Running a print tender – indeed any tender – can be a very resource-intensive process, so it’s important to understand the scope of the project, what skills will be required to achieve a successful outcome, and the size of resource you have available to achieve that outcome.


For many tender managers, running a tender is often in addition to the day job too, which can put more strain on giving it the time it requires.


Like any project, it’s a good idea to run it as part of a team, allocating tasks and sub-projects out to team members who will not only lighten the load, but bring new skills and perspectives into the project.


It’s also a great opportunity to up-skill and share insight across the business as print procurement will usually affect more people than just the procurement team; and a procurement department will often manage tenders across multiple categories, so sharing experience and developing staff is important.



7.  Buy-in and communications


Clear communication and understanding across all stakeholders is key with most projects, but none moreso that when running a tender. Senior managers and/or the board should be kept in the loop so they’re clear on what your objectives are and – if it wasn’t directed by them in the first place – have buy in to the process and the project’s goals.


Doing so can also encourage useful suggestions and insight which can be helpful in achieving your goals – most are there to offer support and help along the way, as well as signing off on final decisions.


Similarly, your team, potential new suppliers and incumbent suppliers should all understand project objectives and lines of communication – in both directions – should be established. Very often juggling a tender along with other projects and daily responsibilities can impact on giving a tender the time it needs. So, clear paths of controlled communication (whether email only or arranging telephone conversations or meetings for example) can help all parties and give you allocated times to answer questions.



8. Roles and responsibilities on the tender team


Once you have your tender team, a modus operandi needs to be established amongst the team. This will include expectations on how much time they’ll need to allocate to the tendering process and an understanding on where it lies within their day-to-day priorities.


Each team member must also understand their individual role – whether that’s answering questions, distributing responses, liaising with suppliers on the phone, creating documentation or analysing information.


It’s also important to establish the operational guidelines and principles for the tender. This should include underlining the fair and open nature of the tender, without bias for or against any particular supplier, and with a level playing field for all.


Tenders also need to be carried out in a confidential environment. Again, this confidentiality must be impressed upon the team and non-disclosure agreements signed by all suppliers involved in the process.


Communicating this fair process to suppliers is also good practice, engendering a sense of trust and recognition that the tender is free from bias, with all applicants having an equal chance of success.



9. The Invitation to Tender (ITT) process and document


The ITT document lays out the scope of the tender process, gives instructions, timetable and an outline of all the materials and information required to produce and submit a tender. It is the reference guide to your print tender and must include all the key guidance required by suppliers.


Usually, this will include:


Project information:

  • Introduction and background
  • Objectives
  • Main contact information


Timetable and response mechanisms:

  • Timetable
  • Responses
  • Appendices
  • FAQ
  • Presentations
  • Site visits


Response requirements:

Information on when responses are required by, to whom and guidance on how it should be submitted.


General tender guidelines:

Covering confidentiality, bidder notes, transparency, codes of conduct, CSR.


Commercial and financial guidelines:

Information on costings, currencies, terms, timeframes, certifications, pricing matrices and terms and conditions of the tender.


The ITT process should be scheduled out in consultation with your team, with realistic timescales and workloads apportioned and time for responses to be compiled and returned. The need for realistic timescales is important for your team but also for the invited bidders too. Print estimating will often be a very manual process and extensive lists of specifications can easily take days of work to produce.



10. Print Specifications


One area that’s both time-consuming and requires a good level of print knowledge within your team – and that’s often overlooked to the detriment of the quality and validity of responses – is the specifying the print required.


Read more on why print specifications are so important and find our interactive general print specification form.


It’s very tempting to pull project specifications from internal systems and simply include them in the tender. These specifications often don’t adequately cover all details of the required print or fully describe what’s required of the printer.


Loosely specified print requirements means that suppliers either have to ask a host of questions to fully understand your requirements, or more likely leaves suppliers open to interpret requirements and estimate using the lowest cost options. These will differ between printers, may well not be what you (or your internal customers) require, and can lead to poorer quality productions and prices that are not comparable between bidders.


Carefully and accurately specified print communicates exactly what is required, leaves no room for misinterpretation and ensures that every printer is providing comparable prices.


Webmart offers help specifying print within your tender – read more here.



11. Evaluating tender responses


Tender responses must be received by the indicated time and be provided in the required formats. On receiving each response, you should acknowledge the response and update the bidder on review timescales.


Your focus when evaluating responses must now be weighted according to your pre-agreed tender objectives. These previously prioritised key objectives will then be scored higher than other secondary objectives.


Having said that, it’s always important to review each response fairly and look for the broad range of benefits and value-adds suppliers may bring, some of which may not have been considered when drawing up your ITT document.


If you undertook a print test or quality trial, it’s important that this is evaluated under control conditions. That means each piece should be evaluated at the same time, by the same people and in exactly the same (neutral and natural) lighting conditions. Print evaluation is heavily affected by ambient lighting conditions so having good lighting is essential. The ideal is to have a lighting booth for print viewing with 5500k lighting but failing that, consistent lighting conditions should suffice.


The team should then score each tender according to your predefined objectives, with the highest scoring suppliers moving forward in the process.



12. Awarding the tender and final stages


With your highest ranked print suppliers now forming your tender shortlist, it’s time to check your assumptions, closely assess each of the shortlisted suppliers to get a sense of whether they will fulfil all your requirements (a top-down review) and then conduct meetings to negotiate the detail including service level agreements.


At this stage, it’s important to frame everything you expect and require into a formal contract which you can use to base final discussions upon and ensure everything you require from your print supplier is covered and agreed upon by all parties.


Once you have notified successful bidders, it’s important to notify unsuccessful suppliers too and provide constructive feedback to all parties. This will give them the chance to address shortcomings for future tenders and is an important part of the process for their own ongoing business success.

Need help with your Print Tender?

If you’d like to invite Webmart to get involved in your print tender or need help with creating print specifications or finding the best printer mix for your tender, Webmart’s here to help.


Webmart has established partnerships with a wide variety of quality-ranked data handlers and traditional/digital printers across the UK. We work with organisations who run print tenders as well as participate in print tenders ourselves to help organisations optimise their print procurement.


Please get in touch by either filling the form or contacting us using the details below.

Media Innovation Centre

13-15 Wedgwood Road
OX26 4UL

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