Streamline your content production process

Looking to increase your sales, reduce costs and improve the team’s morale? Who isn’t?

Creating a more efficient work process for producing your catalogs, website content and marketing vehicles can help. In most companies today, resources are squandered and creative energy zapped because of last-minute directional changes and incessant rework.

Often, the leadership in an organization rightfully calls for innovative product, fresh creative and sharper, more cost-effective marketing to improve sales. But if the staff is distracted by managing disorganization and maintaining an ineffective work process, there’s nothing left for creativity and innovation. Asking employees to regularly act on conflicting information, redirection and a lack of communication is not only a huge waste of time, it also creates friction and drives up costs.

Working with good information up front is the goal. Even getting things right the second or third time would be big plus in most companies, and would free up resources to focus on growth.

Another challenge: getting the creative staff and the marketing and merchandising departments to play nice. The friction between the three teams usually comes from a lack of understanding of timelines and requirements that exist within each department.

For example, when the creative team schedules a photo shoot, the merchandisers must order samples and the marketers need to score test results. But it’s not likely that everyone understands the interdependence of each of those tasks. The samples need to be at the studio in time for the photo shoot, and the page count analysis will affect product density and layout. It’s all connected, and each activity has an optimal place on the production timeline.

The best work comes from strong collaboration — not only on timing, but to capture fresh ideas for a cohesive presentation of product and brand. In the end, the customer responds when an offer is well conceived, the marketing is relevant, the merchandise is fresh, and the creative presentation is thoughtful and compelling.

Here’s a guide to creating a work process that can improve productivity and the quality of your marketing vehicle — and, ultimately, your bottom line.

  • Identify all the steps required to complete the project. Formulate task durations and establish an overall timeline.

  • Call out key touchpoints where collaboration and information exchange between marketing, merchandising, creative and the executive team should take place.

    Schedule these touchpoints as face-to-face meetings. Emailing comments around the office is neither collaborative nor an efficient way to exchange ideas. Even a 10-minute meeting is more productive than attempting to manage various email strings and then glean and distribute direction.

  • For each meeting between teams, create a guide that outlines the following: owner (who’s running the meeting), objective, duration, attendees, input (what information people will bring to the meeting), activities (who presents what) and output (agreements, direction, etc.). The kick-off meeting is your chance to collaborate with your partners and create the most relevant and productive presentation for the customer.

Be clear on what’s expected regarding input and output of these meetings. For example, the input for the kick-off meeting should include all product information and marketing offers, and a creative framework. Agreements on offer positioning, product attributes and possible presentation tactics should be included in the output.

For review meetings, the input would include the corrections and adjustments to be made within an agreed upon and reasonable scope. The output would be agreement on changes.

Be prepared: The first responses from your team may be negative, since many people resist change. Lay some groundwork that will help your people get behind the new process and commit to what’s required to make it work.

Here are a few key ingredients of a successful launch:

  • Top-down support: The best way to get buy-in and meaningful dialogue going between departments is a mandate from top management that a process overhaul is needed. You must get this support for the process model before presenting to the teams. If the initiative is deemed a priority by the boss, it keeps everyone from denying change is needed and people will get on board.

  • Articulate benefits: Communicate a clear list of benefits to everyone involved — for example, increased sales, less stress, additional capacity, stronger branding, etc. Changing work style and process requires investment, and everyone will want to know what the payoff is.

  • Define roles and responsibilities: Delineation of responsibility needs to be clear for any inter-departmental work process to be effective. Everyone must be accountable for their assigned roles and not dispense advice willy-nilly across functional areas; this will only distract from the agreed upon strategy.

    That said, providing an opportunity for ideas to be heard from all contributors is important and should be accommodated in a way that doesn’t derail the process or create a missed opportunity to leverage a new idea.

  • Implementation: Agree on a date when or specific project where the new process will be fully adopted. It may take months before all the areas can get far enough ahead to meet the required dates and provide the essential input for meetings. Adjustments in everyone’s work styles may have to be made to support the new process as well. Creating an implementation timeline and marking progress will ensure the initiative doesn’t get pushed to the back burner.

Productivity gains and cost savings

At the start of the economic downturn, I was charged with reducing outsourcing costs while improving productivity to support a new acquisition.

With the help of management, we designed and implemented a process that required solid communication upfront, face-to-face working sessions and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. Once the process was fully implemented, the creative department realized a 30% increase in productivity and cut our production costs by more than 15%.

In the end, we created the capacity to support the new acquisition with resources we had on hand. What’s more, the offer presentations became sharper — and so did our response rates.

Neal Schuler (nealschuler@gmail.com) is principal of Schuler Creative Consulting.

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