Where print used to represent the majority of a marketing department’s spend, followed by broadcast, things have flipped, and the vast majority is online (digital). Automated workflows implemented to eliminate tedious repetitive tasks for print production have been around for more than three decades, but with this digital transformation much of the work is now performed upstream by marketing production facilities and corporate marketing departments. It’s no longer just about the production steps needed to create and prepare files for delivery. There’s a different type of workflow: business process workflows and the corresponding management and steps to accomplish a campaign or project goal as efficiently as possible.
Time to market is shrinking. Everything is compressed. The pressures placed on marketing communications departments (marcom) and the creative operations process is no exception. Along with a change in responsibility, there has been an even greater sophistication of process workflows to fulfill new needs.
While a business process workflow has many requirements, the fundamental one is tracking content approvals. Imagine the volume of work that is produced, and the individuals involved in various departments. Depending upon the media type and content, it’s perhaps dozens. For example, catalogers ask creative groups to take and collect photos. Marketing ops develops the content around these images. Product management or merchandisers set product pricing. Sales, product development and, typically, a senior manager or two are active in the review process. Outside resources such as ad/design agencies, retailers, and production agencies, among others, often get involved.
Don’t forget legal departments, who often approve content and review regional text—particularly if it’s regulated, like foods or pharmaceuticals. Collaborative processes are needed to make regulatory issues easier for brands; particularly product labeling for compliance and risk mitigation. Double that if it’s also for online use. Who has final approval, and how long is the project active? Is there easy integration with other systems?
It can take a lot of time to produce and review content if communications are slow. When people created solely print, the workflow was often localized in an agency office. A hardcopy proof was just shipped to a client for feedback. It was slow, courier charges can be expensive, and it’s inefficient to reach everyone. Receiving change requests are difficult to act upon quickly, leading to delays.
An email message with an attached PDF file replaced that practice, but it’s fraught with danger. Without a centralized system overseeing the content and the collaboration between the required stakeholders, there is difficult or impossible to trace who emailed what to whom, who was the last person to look at the content, what and where it was delivered, and if it was the correct, final version.
While many marcom departments utilize the resources of their design or ad agencies (who use similar systems), there are still in-house projects. There are concepts to review, photos to examine, ideas to communicate both within a brand’s walls and to share with a broad range of outside partners. A powerful, secure web-based centralized system for management, workflow automation and collaboration is important to handle the reviews and approvals, with the necessary visibility (tracking and tracing), along with the analytics to help allow for continuous process improvement. Many marketing departments have also installed complementary digital asset management systems to store and manage content from print, in-store displays, catalogs and packaging to video, on-line, and social media, among others.
How is this implemented?
The quickest task to implement is often collaborative softproofing workflows, eliminating the time, cost and confusion of sending PDF files for review. Especially now, when people are working remotely from separate offices and with external business partners, a centralized system offers exceptional efficiencies.
Often, the way to implement a system successfully is by achieving small wins in one department, eliminating dysfunction and demonstrating to others that similar solutions are worthwhile. No one will be convinced this makes sense unless it’s easy to use and demonstrate, and is flexible enough to grow and adapt to the ever changing business needs.
Training is important in the adoption process to make sure users are operating the system in the most efficient way. It is critical to have a project champion who understands everyone—both marketing and the software vendor. A good vendor will guide the stake holders through the process. If the approach is simply to install and use, it will likely face challenges in terms of adoption and ultimate success.
Marketing operations automation is often a missing piece within marketing departments. Given the flexibility and robustness of good systems, they can find an effective place in almost any company’s headquarters. Most important, they can contribute to financial health and marketing/sales productivity.