Guidelines for Choosing and Contracting with a Composite Company
Choose Value Over Cost!
Because your annual composite chronicles and visually displays your membership, it is an important part of your organization’s memories and history. As such, your group will want to select a composite company that you can depend on to provide you with the very best product for your money. Although cost is important, your decision should not be based on price alone. It is a decision that should be reached only after you have carefully considered everything you wish to see in your composite.
You will find these guidelines and checklist valuable tools for making an informed decision, ensuring that you will receive all of the composite products and services required by your group.
First, Choose the Right Composite Package for You
Most composite companies will offer you a variety of “packages” from which to choose. The different packages may include varying selections of products, product options, and services. Deciding which package is right for your group and your budget can be very perplexing, but a reputable composite company should be able to help you through the process. Make sure you defined your package. Don’t let a sales person gloss over the details.
The most important product that you are purchasing in any package is, obviously, the large, framed, master display composite containing a portrait of each of your members, with their names and officer titles (where applicable) printed under each portrait. Typically, composites also prominently announce the name of the organization, the school, the year, and perhaps the crest or other identifying items unique to their group.
Some companies will offer enhancements and graphic elements that can dramatically change the look of your composite. These options are often trendy and modern, and will require more staff design time and production work, but may be worth the extra cost to make your composite distinctive. Whether you choose to have the same design look as last year, or you want to have a new and updated look, your composite company should be able and willing to accommodate you. Up-charges for specialty design elements are legitimate options that your group may decide to choose. But they should be negotiated and added to your composite pricing only at your request.
Master and Miniature Copies Are Needed for Everyone
Every member included on the master composite should receive his or her own, smaller version as a memento to enjoy in later years. Speak with your friends or family members who have participated in a Greek Social Fraternity or Sorority like yours and they will tell you that the memories you are creating today, you will treasure for your lifetime. Long after you graduate, your miniature composite will be a helpful reminder of former classmates and some of the great times you had together. In order to ensure that your members will all have the opportunity to recall fond memories and cherished friends, insist that everyone in your group gets their own miniature copy of the master composite.
Compare Offers from Competing Companies
Create a shopping list that includes all of the features your organization wants; then compare it with the package offer made by your prospective composite company. Make sure that their offers include all of the products and services that you requested. Select the composite company that fulfills your needs the most closely, but do not sign any agreement with them until you are entirely satisfied that your shopping list is being honored and that you are getting good value. Remember that you are the customer and you have the freedom and responsibility to protect your own interests. You have a plethora of choices. Take the time to evaluate those choices; be responsible, and above all, make informed decisions.
Freeze Prices with Multiple Year Contracts
You have probably taken a lot of time selecting your composite company, evaluating their options, quality, reputation, value and price. Forming a long and trusting relationship between you and your composite company can only make everyone’s life much easier. But you have to keep costs in line. Companies are seeing unprecedented cost increases from their suppliers and shippers. Prices in such times will increase dramatically. That leaves you, the customer, vulnerable to rising prices.
Some companies will offer you a very low price to lure you into signing a contract with them, without disclosing the price for the second year. Don’t let this happen to you! Very often your second year pricing is so high that it cancels any cost savings you had from the first year.
Companies are often willing to give discounted contract pricing to groups who sign multiple year contracts, especially during inflationary times. If possible, negotiate with your composite company for a two-year contract, freezing their prices while securing all of the benefits that you have deliberately selected for your package. Also consider that next year’s officers might wish to make some changes in their composite. Make sure that the composite company agrees to apply fixed pricing to all of their composite packages, leaving the next group of officers free to choose the package they prefer.
Contracts are Binding
Make sure you know what prices you are paying and what products and services you will receive. There are benefits that you receive when you sign an agreement; you define the products and level of service that you are purchasing, and you fix the price that you will be paying. But you must also assume responsibilities that you must perform according to the written terms of your agreement. If either party to the agreement fails to fulfill the terms of the contract, it may give rise to legal consequences for the defaulting party.
Lastly, remember that during the shopping and negotiations phase you are in control, but after you sign a contract all negotiations are over and you must live with the results. So never sign a purchase contract or service agreement of any type without fully understanding exactly what you are getting for the price you pay. No matter what the piece of paper that you are signing is called, the terms in the document form a legally binding relationship between a willing seller and a willing buyer.
Questions You Need to Answer About Products, Services and Business Practices
At first glance, the products offered by different composite companies appear to be the same. Only through careful examination will you discover how they differ. Even small differences can lead to dissatisfaction with your composite company; but once you are under contract, there is little recourse for your organization throughout the terms of the agreement.
Use these Questions and Answers to guide you through the process of examining the products and services you are being offered:
What is a composite and what does it represent to my organization? A composite is an annual photographic record of a group’s entire membership. It takes the form of a large, framed presentation board containing member portraits with general details and information about the organization. Composites are displayed on a wall in a prominent place, showcasing the current membership of the organization. They are true and complete ‘snapshots’ of an organization’s membership, linking their legacy to a chapter or a school’s history, especially when displayed with composites from prior years. Miniature versions identical to the master composite are available for all members as a personal remembrance of that time in their lives.
For professional and nursing graduation classes, it includes only the membership that will graduate in a given year. For a social fraternity or sorority, it includes the entire group of participating members from their chapter. All composites include the names of the membership with their member portraits. Officers who have served during that year are generally arranged together on the composite in a central space.
It is important that ALL members be included on the composite in order to truly depict the embodiment of the spirit and purpose of your group. It is the responsibility of the Picture Chair, Historian, or Archivist to make sure that the membership or class is represented as completely as possible.
What are the essential elements of a master composite? There is little disagreement in the industry as to what elements constitute a successful composite. All composites should feature some or all of the following details (depending on what type of group yours is):
- Inclusion of ALL MEMBERS in your organization or graduating class, showing individual portraits, identified by their names
- Recognition of officers and their titles, when applicable.
- The school name
- The organization or class name
- The chapter name
- The school year or class
- The organization’s crest
- The organization’s motto
- The organization’s mascot
- Special details unique to your group
- A high-quality custom wood frame, with the composite completely assembled and ready to hang
- Clear acrylic front protection
- Construction using only archival quality materials and technology
What are the essential elements of a miniature composite? Your miniature personal composites come in various sizes, ready for framing. Organizations should be able to choose their miniature composites with:
- Sizes that fit commercially available frames
- Sizes made to order, fitting customer specifications
- Sizes large enough to clearly see the individual portraits and read the member names
- Alternative attractive design style options
- Copies for all participating members with extra copies for your organization’s use
What standards of quality should my composite exhibit? Your composite should be a product that you are proud to hang prominently in your organization’s home or school.
- It should be aesthetically pleasing and designed to accent and compliment the wall on which it hangs.
- Your members’ portraits should have natural and happy expressions, good posture, and comfortable poses.
- Portraits should have “just enough” retouching to make them look natural and the subjects well groomed.
- Any color correction should closely match the true skin and hair colors, allowing for slight adjustments to compliment the overall hue of the master composite.
- All of the individual photos should have uniform matching backgrounds and realistic hair and skin tones so that the emphasis is on the portraiture and the composition as a whole.
- The composite should be constructed of only the very best materials.
- Master composites should be framed with custom wood frames that compliment the wood tones in the furniture of the room where it will be displayed.
Why would my organization want a group composite instead of a group photo? Organizations have come to prefer group composites for many reasons. When using the services of a professional composite company, every member participating receives a personal portrait sitting. These sittings should be free, representing a huge savings over the sitting fees charged by local photographers. And with composite photography, every participant has the opportunity to purchase high quality copies of his or her portraits, without having to pay for a private sitting.
Individual portraits taken for use on a composite are captured under optimal conditions. Unlike large group photos, composite portraits allow everyone to be at their best; with eyes open, expressions at their peak, and lighting complimentary and consistent. In addition, individual photos are large enough to be recognizable.
All too often, large group photos are taken outside under less than ideal conditions, or they have to be cancelled because of inclement weather. Invariably, someone can’t attend, has closed their eyes or failed to smile when the picture is taken, or even worse, someone is hidden behind another person in the group. Also, it is exceedingly difficult to separate and give proper recognition to faculty and officers in group photos. All of these problems are eliminated through the use of composite photographs. So while group photos may have once been a tradition, it is a tradition that is happily being exchanged with a clearly better alternative.
What services should I expect from my composite company? The service component of your composite agreement is just as important as the products you are purchasing. Make sure that you understand what kind of customer experience you can expect from your composite company. Before signing your contract, always ask if the following guarantees are included in your service agreement, and if they aren’t, re-evaluate and decide whether you have chosen a truly experienced full service company.
- Professional Studio Photographers – Some composite companies use students or local portrait photographers, with little or no experience in composite photography, to capture your images. You should always confirm that only talented, professional and PSPA accredited composite photographers are assigned to photograph your members. For your safety and convenience, your composite company should bring their professional studio to your location. Ultimate quality control of your photographs can only happen with state of the art equipment, and optimal and standardized lighting conditions. In order to achieve consistency from person to person, and from year to year, your sittings must take place in uniform conditions with quality equipment and professional photographers. This is especially important on those occasions when you might have to resort to reusing a member’s photograph from the previous year.
- On-site Pose Selection – Immediately after being photographed, your members should be able to choose their poses on-site for inclusion on your composite. This will eliminate the inefficiency of having to wait for your proof photos to be delivered to you and returned to your composite company by ‘snail mail’. You won’t have to worry about having someone who doesn’t have a suitable pose, because their eyes were closed or they were caught in an awkward pose. With on-site pose selection, they can be re-photographed on the spot. This will also spare your picture chairperson loads of time and aggravation waiting for members to select their poses from proofs, which will allow your composite company to begin constructing your composite shortly after your day of photography.
- Unlimited, Free-of-Charge Listing of Titles – Your organization should have the option of recognizing as many officers and faculty on your composite as you wish…free of charge. Officers and faculty may be placed in special locations on the composite in order to highlight their importance. Greek social organizations typically group their officers together to distinguish them from the general membership. Professional and graduate organizations usually separate the faculty and choose where they want them displayed. Class officers for graduate organizations are most often integrated with the general membership, in alphabetical order, showing office titles under their names.
Whenever possible, your members should list all of their office titles; but when a single member’s titles exceed the number of characters allowed, your company should recommend shortening them, using common and consistent abbreviations. When a member has multiple office titles, they should either be listed in their order of importance, or the order recommended by your organization.
- Custom Lay-up Arrangements – Custom lay-up arrangements are especially important to Greek fraternity and sorority social organizations. All custom lay-ups may be combined with officer placement options noted above. The most commonly requested arrangement orders are:
- Random by Academic Class Year: Members are arranged random within their academic year in school. No importance is assigned to any member except for the hierarchy of the year in school (First year, second year, etc.).
- Random by Pledge Class: Members are arranged in a strictly random order within their own pledge classes. No importance is assigned to any members except for the hierarchy of the pledge classes.
- Strictly Alphabetical: Greek fraternity/sorority and professional/nursing members are arranged in alphabetical order by last name, starting at the top left and ending at the bottom right of the composite.
- Alphabetical by Academic Class Year: Greek fraternity and sorority social members are arranged in alphabetical order within their academic class year, with 4th year students at the top and 1st year students at the bottom.
- Alphabetical by Pledge Year: Greek fraternity and sorority social members are arranged in alphabetical order within their pledge year. Everyone that pledged in the same school year is in one group.
- Alphabetical by Pledge Class: Greek fraternity/sorority social members are arranged in alphabetical order within their pledge class.
- Pin Order: Greek fraternity/sorority social members are arranged in pin (initiation) order as specified by their organization.
- Specific Order: Greek fraternity/sorority and professional/nursing members are arranged by their organization in a specially designated order listed on a roster.
- Member Roster Maintenance – Your composite company will need your roster information to construct your composite. Therefore, on the day of photography, the company should gather your member data. When a group has used the same composite company in the prior year, most of your information will already be on file, requiring only that you add data on pledges and new members, and make other needed corrections as necessary.
- Personal Customer Services Available to Help You – No matter how well the photography day goes, it is not out of the ordinary for questions to arise. Your composite company should provide you with your own designated account representative whom you can reach by phone, fax, and email. Your representative should be able to perform the following services for you:
- Account for every member of your organization on your composite, and make sure that you are aware of your display options for members not photographed.
- Verify any changes in elected officers or officer titles that might have occurred since the start of the new school year.
- Provide the help you need to make composite construction decisions.
- Provide the manufacturing department with your composite construction details and ensure that the manufacturing department knows your deadline for delivery.
- Update you on new product options that have become available.
- Act as your personal advocate inside the company, keeping your composite on track for a timely delivery.
- Smoothly guide you through the entire composite process.
- Basic Retouching and Color Correction – Your composite company should provide color correction, cropping to scale, and rotation on all selected images. The following ‘Natural-look’ retouching and corrections should only enhance and never remake an image, and should be complimentary for all portraits:
- Reduction of acne or blemishes
- Reduction of bags under eyes
- Removal of dust on velvet drapes or backgrounds
- Removal and/or reduction of glare on eye glasses, teeth, or jewelry
- Removal of cold sores
- Removal of distracting stray hairs
- Reduction of shine from extremely shiny skin
- Extended Retouching Service – For those customers with special needs, additional retouching should be available at a nominal cost, which should depend on the amount of time and complexity of the service provided. Some examples of conditions requiring extended touch ups would be:
- Removal of obvious stray hairs
- Removal of unruly large clumps of hair
- Removal of bra indentations
- Removal of tan lines
- Removal of scars, moles, or birthmarks
- Teeth whitening
- Removal of braces
- Clothing alterations/accessories
- Changing eye color
- Removal of tattoos or piercings
Sometimes the way you feel about the manner in which a company does business is purely a matter of preference. But other times, a company’s business practices will profoundly affect the quality of the products and services that you, the customer, can expect from them. These Questions and Answers regarding business practices may help guide you in making an informed decision when selecting your composite company. Digital Pix has created a helpful checklist as an aid in comparing products, services and business practices. Click here to download a quick checklist .
What is a contract and what are my rights? Simply stated, a contract is an agreement between parties, containing terms and conditions of their expected performances. But if trickery is involved in the creation of a contract, it is likely that the contract is not valid and enforceable. Often times, a breach of contract by one or both of the parties will invalidate the contract, as well. If you believe that you or a member of your organization has been tricked into signing a paper that you find out later to be a contract, you have legal remedies available to you. Your affiliated national association should have resources to help you sort through the process of enforcing your rights. For a list Greek sororities and fraternities and their websites, click here .
To whom should we report our dissatisfaction with a composite company? Never be bullied into maintaining a contract fraudulently obtained and forced upon you. If your organization is a national Greek fraternal group, contact Greek Licensing. Local sororities and fraternities should inform other related local chapters of your difficulties. Make complaints to the Better Business Bureaus in your community. Advise the Consumer Fraud Agencies in your county. If all else fails, seek legal advice.
If we must resort to using legal services to deal with a breach of our composite agreement, where can we seek help? First, gather all of your facts and related paperwork so that you are prepared to work with a legal advisor. Most campuses will have legal resources available to you for a free consultation. There are also bar association legal aid societies in most communities with whom you can consult if you suspect fraud in your inducement to enter into a contract. Seek out your chapter advisors and alumni for assistance. Report the problems that you are having to your national headquarters in writing or on their website. This could alert other chapters and prevent them from having the same problems that you are. Inform others by blogging on Greek sites and other school sites about your dissatisfaction with your company.
How will we know exactly what we are paying for? Your contract should contain a clear statement indicating the amount that you are paying for your composite, as well as a concise description and cost break-down of the products that you are receiving. It is the responsibility of your composite company to provide you with this, and it should match the itemized costs and services listed on your signed contract. You should never be invoiced for more money than your contract states.
How do we “do the math” to see if our new contract is a fair one? Look at your composite invoice from last year. Deduct any billing for taxes, shipping, and upgrade options that you added to that order. Divide the remainder by the number of members appearing on the composite. This calculation yields the actual “base” amount you paid per person. If you do this math, you can compare these numbers to those of competing companies to see if you are getting a fair deal on the same services. And, as a result, companies that tell you they are charging a low per person price, or who state that they are “giving you your composite for free”, won’t fool you.
When shopping for a new composite company, use a checklist to ensure that you are getting all of the products that are important to your organization, and then take care that you are not being overcharged for them.
Why is it important to enter into an agreement only with a company that is a “Greek Licensed Vendor”? Most national Greek organizations have entered into an agreement with Greek Licensing in order to protect the use of their respective copyrighted/trademarked logos from misuse. They stipulate that specific high standards of quality are required of vendors using protected logos. Do business only with Greek Licensed vendors in order to ensure that the composite company you have selected has paid its licensing fee to your national association, is a member in good standing with them, and agrees to their quality requirements. For more information about why it is important to be a licensed vendor and a list of national organizations that are licensed, click here.
Should I ask for references before I sign a contract? You should always ask for references. When a prospective composite company provides you with a list of customer referrals, randomly select at least one or two from whom to ask for recommendations. Verify with them that they were completely satisfied with their products received, services, and their overall customer experience. If there are any reservations about any of these areas, pick another composite company.
Why is it important to use a company with a proven track record that can provide references? Because of the huge cost of manufacturing your composite, the company you choose will undoubtedly invoice you on the day of photography, and will want to be paid at that time. Once your money is paid, it will be difficult to retrieve it if you find a reason for dissatisfaction. You don’t want to risk losing your budgeted composite money by trusting a company that might be disreputable or unscrupulous. By careful questioning, you can confirm your choice of company with other groups who have used their services, and you will be certain that you are doing business with a composite company with a proven track record and an excellent reputation.
How can we ensure that the composite company we choose will provide high quality products and timely delivery? Look for a company that captures images and data using appropriate software and high quality photographic equipment. It should process the images and data at one location using modern technology. Every one of its products should be manufactured at the company’s own facility, from photo/portrait processing to frame construction, with exacting quality control and efficient workmanship. Companies that outsource any part of the construction of your composite cannot control or guarantee quality or delivery time.
Who owns our images and why is this important? Photographers and photography companies own the images they capture as well as the copyrights to those images. That means that no one may take those images and print, or have printed, copies without their permission. For a review of the applicable laws governing copyright of photographs, click here .
If my composite company hires different local photographers from year to year, will I be able to use last year’s images if I need to? It is very important for you to contract with a company that owns your images. A company that uses local photographers often do not have the right to use those images in subsequent years. When your contracted company does not own the images, and they change photographers from one year to the next, you could find yourself without access to your photos for use on a future composite. If members cannot be photographed in the current school year, they probably won’t appear on your new composite.
Does your composite company offer pose selection on-site or online? Some composite companies offer one or both methods of pose selection. On-site selection offers many advantages, provided you can view your portrait choices on a screen that is large enough to see details, and that you are given ample time on the day of your sitting to make your decision. Since each portrait is an essential building block in your composite construction, any missing pose will delay construction and delivery of your master composite to your organization. If one person is slow in selecting their photograph, it will hold the whole production up, disappointing everyone in your group. On-site selection helps to avoid this dilemma, saving your picture chairperson lots of time and work. On-site selection means that anyone dissatisfied with a photograph because of awkward posing or closed eyes, can be re-photographed on the same day.
Online pose selection might sound like fun, allowing everyone more time to pour over their choices, but invariably it becomes a nightmare for groups trying to get their composites completed and delivered, ready to display and enjoy. There is always a group of members who cannot make up their minds about their poses, forcing the rest of the group to suffer from the delay. It is SO much better to get the pose selection done on-site on the day of photography!
Why is it important to have lots of design options for my Master/Mini Composite? Options that provide unique design elements to your composite can only make it more exciting and unique! While it is not essential to change design elements, having your composites look exactly the same from year to year can make them uninteresting to display. Your officers can choose to retain the same tradition and look for your composite that you had twenty years ago, but if we don’t dress the same as we did then, why confine your composite’s look to outdated styles? Preserve your group traditions by building a classic and elegant composite that reflects your changing membership and style.
So be creative! Think outside the box! Give your composite wall a new and exciting look every year! Add a watermark or a designer plaque. Use colored drapes or contemporary dress. It’s your chance to say something unique about your group to future members.
How does your composite company sell individual portraits? Over the years, companies have tried various methods to sell their portraits. Some companies sell portraits on the day of photography using order forms. Others merely supply the picture chairperson with order forms to distribute to the members. There are also those less ethical companies that use on-site high-pressure sales agents to push customers into making purchases they may later regret. Even worse are the companies that require clients to agree to a COD (Cash on Delivery) purchase in order to select a pose for the composite. This hardcore sales method is softened by promises that these COD orders can be cancelled with a simple phone call to the home office. Unfortunately, no one ever seems to answer the phone to accept the cancellations. Never do business with a composite company that pressures your members into making COD purchases.
There are really only three acceptable methods for buying personal copies of your photographs: Order blanks from proofs, finished speculation packages or online ordering. Each has its own advantages to customers. Ordering on the Day of Photography is a great option when time is an issue. For example, nearing the end of the school year or graduation, customers prefer being given the opportunity to select and order their photos for purchase before they even leave the studio.
When time is not an issue, students and their parents appreciate companies who offer Portraits on Speculation. These customers prefer having the opportunity to see the finished portraits (mailed to them on speculation), to take their time in picking the portrait products that they wish to purchase in the privacy of their homes. In these cases, customers should always be provided with postage paid envelopes for the return of portraits sent to them on speculation.
The third method, Purchasing Portraits Online is becoming increasingly popular. Customers can view their portraits online 24-7 at a web-store, consider their options, and buy their portraits at their own convenience. Nothing could be easier!
Why should I take the time to fill out customer satisfaction surveys? Composite companies need to know if they are providing you with the level of service that you expect. The only way that they can be sure they are meeting their goals is through surveying their customers. Your responses help companies to maintain a high level of service, and to ensure that you receive the quality of products that you expect and deserve. If a company doesn’t ask about your level of satisfaction with them, they obviously don’t care about you or have a desire to be the best they can be. And you should think about looking for another composite company.