A PA who shall remain nameless (for soon-to-be-obvious reasons) writes in:
I’m PAing for my first big production, and my coordinator just told me that since we don’t have open accounts yet, I should use POs for the stuff we order. She already had taken some time to show me some stuff that needed to be done and was really busy, so when she asked if I knew about how to use POs, I said “Of course!”
I’m the only PA in the office so far, so there’s no one else to ask. What do I do?
First, you did the right thing by saying “Yes, I can,” then asking me for advice.
But, oh man, I am not ashamed to admit that purchase orders still confuse the everloving shit out of me.
As near as I can figure out, a purchase order is kind of like a check, except that while a check is a promise that your bank will give someone money, a PO is a promise that you will eventually send someone a check, which is a promise to give them money. A promise of a promise.
Regardless, here’s how it affects your life– a vendor will send you a quote for their product/service/rental/whatever. You then ask either the coordinator or accountant for a PO. (Oftentimes, the accounting department only lets a few blank POs out of their hands at any given time; I’m not really sure why. Accounts are hoarders like that.1)
You then fill out the purchase order with the relevant information from the quote. Usually this means the address, phone number, and possibly email of the vendor, the description and quantity of the product(s), and, if it’s a rental, the dates of delivery and return.
You show this to the UPM, coordinator, or whoever in your office approves POs. Assuming it’s approved, you then call up the vendor and give them the PO number. (This is pre-printed on each purchase order.)
Now, attached the quote to the PO, and put it in a file for later use. Eventually, when you get the product, you’ll also receive the invoice. What happens next, like sides, varies slightly from office to office.
The gist is, you have to give copies of the invoice and PO to accounting and the relevant department head. Most departments do their own POs, so you probably have to only worry about POs regarding production office stuff. Every once in awhile, though, some department is deemed too irresponsible to do their own.2
Physically, POs are usually printed on carbon paper, so you’ll only have to copy the invoice. But in any case, check with the accounting department about whether they want the pink pages or yellow or whateverthefuck.3
I know a lot of coordinators who actually file each PO twice. Once, in a binders organized by the vendor name, and another in a binder organized simply by PO number. Usually the second one doesn’t include the invoice and stuff, so it’s just one sheet of paper per PO, and it can all fit in a single binder.
Oftentimes, coordinators also keep a list of all of the POs that the office has created. For older coordinators, this means a sheet of paper, with a line for each PO, that you fill in with basic stuff (vendor, cost, department, date). Younger coordinators tend to create Excel spreadsheets for this purpose.4
Another thing to look out for is if the invoice says something different than the PO/quote. What happens quite a bit is that you order, say, a lens package for the camera department. Then, the AC realizes they need a 280mm lens, not 270mm, so they call Panavision up, make the change, but don’t tell anyone in the office.
Then the invoice comes back at twice the price, and the accountant yells at the UPM that we’re overbudget, and the UPM yells at you for giving them faulty information, and you yell at your stuffed animals when you get home, because no one else will listen.
- Okay, in seriousness, it’s because POs are a legal promise, and losing one is like losing a check. You wouldn’t give someone a blank check, would you?↩
- Let’s be honest: it’s usually hair and make-up.↩
- Worst case, claim you’re colorblind, wad it up in a ball, and throw it at them as you run past to the kitchen.↩
- This makes the most sense to me, since it means you can do a computer search for a particular vendor, PO number, date, or whatever you like.↩