Print Brochures: When to Outsource and When to Produce In-House

Last week I was helping a nonprofit client figure out how best to produce a new brochure we had been working on. We had the general layout, content, and graphics sorted out, and we were trying to decide whether to outsource the final production or attempt to do it in house.

There are a lot of reasons to develop new print collateral throughout the year, and sometimes it’s easier to outsource the work if you’re super busy, need a high-quality piece, and/or have the budget.

The main differences between outsourcing and producing in house are the cost of production and the quality of the final piece. However, if you have a highly skilled designer on your team and you have a high-quality digital printer, the difference in quality may be less noticeable.

One of the hallmarks of thoughtful fundraising and marketing is that you don't continue to use the same tactics you’ve used before just because that’s what you've always done. The same is true for producing the elements you use. Take a moment to consider your goals and let that guide your decision-making process.

Ultimately, choosing whether to outsource your brochure involves two different decisions: whether to outsource the design and whether to outsource the printing.

Different Design Needs

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing which approach to design is best for your needs. While budget and skills are likely the first things you’ll think of when making this decision, one of the most important factors to consider is your audience.

If your audience is likely to be put off by a fancy-looking, well-designed piece that looks like you spent a lot compared to your perceived budget, it may be an opportunity to produce in house. But this doesn’t mean that you can cut corners on the content!

On the other hand, if the brochure is intended to be used for high-impact purposes, like personal appeals, then you’ll want to think carefully about the impact and impression a professionally designed brochure can make.

Professional designers don’t just make pretty things. They understand design theory; they know what it takes to manipulate the many variables, including color, type, contrast, and scale to achieve your desired goals; and they can often offer an objective, experienced perspective with respect to achieving success with your brochure.

Finally, if your brochure will be used in conjunction with other printed pieces, be sure to utilize a consistent look and feel throughout so that the campaign doesn’t appear to be a poorly executed afterthought.

Different Print Needs

Just because you choose to work with a professional designer doesn’t mean that you also have to use a commercial printer. But, many of the factors affecting your decision to use a professional designer will also affect your choice to print commercially. Things like paper type, shape, and size may differ depending on your target audience and their needs or expectations.

Other criteria include whether you need large quantities or special assembly—like sorting and tabs for mailing—or sequential numbering to track the use of individual brochures. If any of these is necessary, then you’re probably better off, from a time and expense perspective, outsourcing to a commercial printer.

Other Things to Consider

Most brochures don’t change much over time. In some cases, however, it may be desirable to update the content frequently to ensure the information is timely and relevant (e.g., a brochure for a capital campaign or one that lists staff and/or board members who may join or leave the organization).

In this case, it’s best to plan for updates and smaller print runs in advance. This can be accomplished by either outsourcing production or doing it in-house, but depending on the particulars of your brochure, the professional fees and setup costs associated with outsourcing can make smaller quantity runs much more expensive. Be sure to consider your long-term needs for the brochure when choosing what direction to take.

Next Steps

The jury is still out on whether my client will outsource her brochure or produce it in-house, but this post summarizes what we're taking into consideration in making that decision.

Remember to consider factors beyond just time and budget. Though these are important, what you spend or save when producing the piece may be nothing compared to its lifetime value. Ask who your audience is and what you hope to accomplish, and don't forget to take into consideration any possible needs beyond the first print run.


Image credit: Jocelyn Wallace (with changes)

MarketingLance Leasure