Connect with us

Business + Management: Marty Mcghie

Dealing with Deadlines

Surviving storms, droughts, and drop-deads.




In the winter of 1993, I was contemplating forming a large-format digital startup. I called my cousin, a successful advertising consultant, to get words of wisdom about the feasibility of this venture, and he gave me one piece of advice that has stuck with me all these years: “Tell your customers that there are only three important variables in printing: fast, good, and cheap. They can pick any two, but they can’t have all three.” With this pivotal truth, I was on my way to printing entrepreneurship.

As an ex-adrenaline junkie, the fi rst variable—fast—particularly appealed to me and, as a result, we became the region’s only 24-hour-turnaround company without a rush charge. Fast can be as stimulating for your company and your staff as a good workout is for your mind and body. Every department has to be “on their game” and the whole organism must work together. It also can, however, be frightening—I’ve sometimes felt as if I were running for my life, not for pleasure or physical fi tness. We have let customers drag us, kicking and screaming, into the fast lane (usually with shockingly late print files).

We endure the insane pace because, ultimately, something hangs over our heads like a French guillotine. It is the bane of our existence. It is an immovable force. It is the cruel and dreaded seemingly impossible deadline. 

Double deadlines

Who came up with the “deadline” term? Could a word be more foreboding? And if that weren’t scary enough, we often include the modifi er “drop.” I catch myself routinely asking, “Okay, what is your drop dead on this?” Your dropdead? If we don’t get this delivered on time, is someone going to die?

Every job ultimately has a deadline. Usually, these fall within a comfortable, non-fatal timeframe. If, however, you produce output for events, tradeshows, television, and a myriad of other time-sensitive applications and functions, missing a deadline isn’t just an inconvenience for your client— it is something with signifi cantly elevated gravity.
In our 15 years of doing other people’s deadline-intensive printing, we have never missed a drop-dead deadline. Not once. It is, of course, something I’m very proud of, but doing so hasn’t come easy, and it has required us to come up with a game plan that takes into account human nature and how all of us deal with meeting deadlines.
The first year we were in business, we had just landed our first “breakthrough” client. The client changed everything for us overnight, single-handedly ensuring our under-capitalized initial success. And early in our relationship, this client placed a really big order with a nearly-impossible deadline. I certainly wasn’t going to tell them no.

So using our 36-inch LaserMaster, printing at a scintillating 10 square foot per hour (this was 1994, don’t forget), our small family crew worked around the clock to get everything printed, mounted, and laminated. And I delivered the prints just in time, leaning the ever-so-carefully  wrapped stacks of posters against the wall in the long hallway leading to the marketing director’s office.

Then, every day I walked past them when I picked up new print fi les, there they were, still sitting there all nicely wrapped, just as I had delivered them. On the fifth day, I asked the marketing director why she hadn’t used the prints—were they all right?
“Oh, we were all surprised when these showed up,” she responded, “We don’t need them until next Tuesday.”
“Why did you ask for them last Monday?”
“I just figured if I told you they were due over a week before the event, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting them on time.”


Strangling was out of the question, of course, but I never wanted to be put through that again. So, we came up with our “double deadline” solution. We began gently insisting that we be given two deadlines. The first we call the comfort deadline. The customer gives us this in response to “When would you like this?” The comfort deadline is the date we shoot for and is noted as the deadline on the work order.
Next, we ask for their “drop dead” deadline: “Could you tell me the last possible minute you must have the graphics in hand or the sky falls?” Double deadlines have worked very well. We rarely have to fall back to the drop-dead date, although it’s wonderful to have that date available to us.
Storms and droughts
Most of us live in a “storm and drought” world. During those storm periods, we may be faced with dozens of deadlines. A production manager’s job feels like a juggling act, when he or she looks at the print queue and has to determine the order of things. Having the double deadlines allows management to juggle this queue more confidently and skillfully. We know we have a certain amount of flexibility with the comfort deadlines and this helps us ensure that dropdeads are never missed.

Of course, the customers have to be part of this ongoing process. They have to know the rules.
We always call the customer if we’re considering pushing back their comfort deadline and ask for their permission. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t get it. We use the rationale what another client is in jeopardy of a missed drop-dead. Generally, customers are smart enough to know that the next time they might be the benefi ciaries of that client’s understanding and generosity.



Printvinyl Scored Print Media

New Printvinyl Scored wide-format print media features an easy-to-remove scored liner for creating decals, product stickers, packaging labels, and more. The precision-scored liner, with a 1.25” spacing on a 60” roll, guarantees a seamless and hassle-free removal process.

Promoted Headlines





Most Popular