Protecting Your Image and Message: Printing Contracts Your hotel, conference, or convention center arrangements are complete and your meeting dates are set. Now you want your premeeting publicity and meeting brochures to be printed correctly, have a sharp, first-class look-and arrive on time.

For outsourced printing, a formal contract for many smaller jobs (beyond estimates or work orders) is unusual. Trade custom (if relied on or not specifically excluded) can fill many gaps. But trade custom often favors printers.

Here are some specific points to help make even a bare-bones order form contract work for you-and avoid common areas of misunderstanding and disagreement. (These features are in addition to general vendor contract "nuts and bolts," which are described in "Meeting Counsel," in the August issue of Association Meetings magazine.)

Print Production Basics Hold a Planning Meeting: The printing business can be highly technical with many variables. If you're not on a first-name basis with such basic printing methods as offset and gravure, or sheet-fed and web-fed, then devote some time to a discussion of specifications with a printer before completing the design and ordering the job. Bring a sample of your brochure from the previous year (or another similar publication you like) to the meeting.

During a planning meeting, items for discussion should include the operating system (Mac or PC) and software if the file will be produced digitally. The planning meeting also can help clearly identify your expectations and develop further pricing and service options for your approval.

Bid it Out: The printing market can be cyclical. If you have not already selected a printer, seek competitive bids and references for similar jobs. Confirm that the printer is available and capable of doing your work.

A professional print designer can help you prepare specifications if you are not experienced. Be sure your specifications are exactly what you want and are circulated to all bidders in identical form.

Specify Quantities: The count or range should be specified. If your budget is very tight, custom of the trade (which allows for up to ten percent overruns) should be negated and replaced with a more modest range. Many printers will resist an exact count. Try to retain favorable prices and other terms while keeping an acceptable range of count.

Specify Copyright and Ownership: The copyright should belong to your organization. Your contract should also clearly provide that you own other materials such as negatives, if that is your intent.

Timing is Everything All dates should be specific. Key dates can include (1) initial delivery of copy to the printer, (2) galley proof delivery to you, (3) your corrected proof returned to the printer, (4) page proof returned to you, (5) your return of page proof, (6) final delivery to you, and (7) publication date (if this is different from final delivery date). Make sure the schedule is realistic. Try to provide the printer with a long lead time-which may enable you to negotiate a price concession.

You may wish to establish dates as being "of the essence" (critical to the contract). If you want to do an inspection at the press, specify this-but be aware that it may cost more. Make sure to block out your schedule and make quick turn-around your priority.

Bear in mind that any delay on your part can push back the delivery of the job. If your delay pushes the job into a period when the presses are committed to other jobs, a serious problem could arise.

Immediate turn-around by your group has another advantage: it can allow more time in a tight schedule in case the printer is delayed. In this way, the printer may be in error, but your job gets done the way you want it and on time.

Other Specifications Make no assumptions. In general, color and all other specifications in your proposal and your final contract or order should be complete and specific. Double-check to make sure that the final order mirrors the proposal. Read the order form print very carefully and seek revisions as needed.

If changes are necessary, make sure the printer understands all changes in specifications between the documents-and that, if possible, your price is a stated final price.

Beware of cost pass-throughs based on "prevailing" or "market" conditions (although this may be difficult to avoid in long-term contracts because of fluctuations in the cost of such items as paper). In addition to quantity, changes in paper quality or schedule are among those items that can significantly change the price. Many misunderstandings can be created-and avoided-at this stage.

The views expressed are for information purposes only, are not on behalf of any organization, and are not legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a knowledgeable professional should be sought.

Kim Zeitlin is senior partner of Zeitlin & Dorn, a Washington, DC law firm that practices hospitality and association law. Zeitlin is General Counsel to the Society of Corporate Meeting Professionals.