So you need printing – a book, a brochure, a point-of-sale display or a mailer. Whatever it is, you want a quality piece that reflects well on your brand and business. But with all of the production options available, how do you know what’s worthwhile and what’s not? Continue Reading
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity” – Ray Bradbury
Throughout my career at graphic arts firms and agencies, a common thread is that many people resist structure, believing that processes and procedures inhibit creativity. Whether driven by a reluctance to change, or an honest belief that a “free-wheeling” culture fosters innovation, it’s easy to understand this attitude because there’s a certain appeal to it. Why waste time following procedures? However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In reality, lack of defined procedures inhibit creativity by channeling energies into administrative, logistics and error correction activities that don’t provide value to the firm or its clients. In other words, when staff isn’t playing by the same rulebook, they waste time figuring trying out what others are doing or fixing the mistakes that invariably occur. Small businesses can operate this way for a while, since employees often work in close proximity. But as the business grows, lack of coordination will constrain growth and lead to big problems down the line.
Structure allows creativity to flourish by clarifying roles and bringing consistency to operations. Whether you’re a freelance creative, an advertising agency, a graphic arts firm or internal department, here are four areas of focus that will have an impact on your creativity and bottom line:
Define the Workflow: Work should flow through the parts of your organization in a predefined way. From intake through deliverable, a consistent workflow that is understood and followed by all staffers reduces uncertainty by mapping out responsibilities of each team member and what is expected. Over time, these procedures become internalized so that everyone understands what needs to be done and no longer needs to think about it.
Define the Scope of Work: The scope for each project must be fully fleshed out before any work is done. Typically, this information is captured, documented in a consistent manner and shared with the client and all members of the team, helping to get everyone on the same page. Well defined project specifications help develop targeted milestones and deliverables that meet objectives while reducing the potential for miscommunication and error.
Define the Timeline: Time is a valuable commodity, particularly when multiple projects are competing for limited team resources. There never seems to be enough of it. Yet when properly managed, moderate time pressure is shown to enhance creativity by sharpening focus and pushing the process forward. Once the scope of work is established, drive projects through your workflow by setting internal milestones that will keep the team focused while meeting all deadlines.
Define and Track the Budget: Creativity comes at a cost. For creatives, agencies and graphic arts organizations this is generally calculated as the time required to process, manage, produce and deliver plus material costs and expenses incurred. It’s essential to accurately capture the financial implications of work as the deliverable must not only meet the clients’ needs, it must do so within an agreed budget. Over time, close financial tracking also provides feedback that can be used to improve the process, assuring that all goals are met.
To some, this discussion may seem basic but it’s surprising how many firms, particularly smaller ones, fail to adequately structure and monitor their work. This is a shame because it’s never been easier to do.
Once limited to the largest corporations, third party systems geared to specific industries or categories are now available to firms of all sizes for tracking workflow, projects, timelines and budgets. The best of these adapt to and improve internal processes, becoming integral parts of the organization because they are flexible, adaptable and evolve over time as needs change. Many can be purchased as web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) subscriptions, limiting cost and eliminating internal hosting requirements.
After leading these initiatives, I understand that re-designing and optimizing internal processes can be difficult but it’s well worth the effort. Because once our teams no longer needed to think about process they were freed to focus on the work, allowing creativity and productivity to soar.
An international beer importer produced a sophisticated display for a holiday promotion. After much time and expense, completed units were shipped to distributors across the country for installation at various off-premise accounts including grocery, specialty and c-store locations. Lacking a national sales force themselves, the marketing folks assumed that the distributor’s salespeople would gladly install the displays at location. After all, the more product they sell, the greater profit would be for all. The salespeople didn’t agree and most displays were never placed.
Another marketer decided to take a subtle approach. They printed a collateral piece featuring lifestyle messaging but the outside was designed to look like a foreign passport. The idea was to seed these pieces throughout New York, where consumers would pick them up out of curiosity and read them. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize until after printing 500,000 pieces that they had no efficient way to efficiently distribute them. The program gathered dust in a fulfillment warehouse.
In both cases, seemingly valid promotional concepts were dead on arrival because no thought was given to execution, to how these items would be placed or distributed to the field. As a result, all of the time, thought and expense that went into developing and producing these items was largely wasted. They could have saved everyone trouble by shipping them directly to a dumpster, because that’s where they ended up.
Countless times I’ve seen examples where no thought was given to the end use of printed materials. That’s a shame because ultimately, the success of any program is determined by how well it is executed from start through completion. Breakthrough creative, sterling copy and flawless reproduction mean nothing if the message doesn’t get into the hands of the consumer.
So, in the interests of improving print marketing everywhere, keep these 5 “W’s” in mind when developing a printed promotion or campaign:
1. Who is responsible for executing the program and getting it in front of the consumer? That individual or team must carefully review the distribution channels and confirm all parties know what’s expected and are onboard with it. Since conditions often change, they should be invested with the authority to quickly adjust when required.
2. What are you asking them to do? Some printed materials require placement or installation (i.e. POS displays) by field sales. Many regard this as a distraction, so make sure they are available and agreeable to doing what’s required and provide incentives when possible. When possible, engineer displays to simplify installation.
3. When are materials due? Time sensitive materials delivered late are useless so establish a production schedule that will comfortably meet the deadline.
4. Where will materials be displayed? Be sure to have permission to place materials before producing them. Many supermarket and retail chains have adopted clean store policies that limit promotional materials and displays. Also confirm that printing method and substrates are suitable for the conditions. Paper is usually inappropriate for long-term use outdoors or in a market’s refrigerated case.
5. Why? Printed materials can inform, persuade and motivate so consider how the user should respond to it. Coupons must be easy to detach and use, offers feature a clear and immediate call to action and direct response include appropriate feedback mechanisms.
Proper execution planning will assure that your printed materials don’t go en masse to the dumpster. Instead, they’ll be placed individually in the recycling bin, long after they’ve served their intended purpose.