Boyle - Nine Costly Mistakes (645 words)
By Lois Boyle
Part Two of a Two-part Series on Cutting Costs by Improving Your Work Cycle
In last month's issue, I discussed why it's important to review your catalog's workflow for maximum cost efficiency. This month, I'll outline nine costly workflow problems that, if left unchecked, can cost you dearly, hurt employee morale and produce lackluster results.
The wrong product information was published. No matter what the mistake, it will affect the results and profits. On the back end, you potentially will lose money with an increase in returns or a slow-down in the order-taking process while trying to correct the problem.
Solution: Always create comprehensive product specification sheets and update them in a timely manner. Put someone in charge of proofreading the catalog against these sheets.
The photography doesn't effectively represent the product. As a visual selling tool, a catalog must present photography so your customers understand the benefit and uniqueness of the product "at a glance."
Solution: Product spec sheets must spell out product benefits and features so the art director understands what's important to shoot. Furthermore, the art director must have the product in time, so decisions can be made on how it will be shot and to ensure enough time to procure the appropriate props.
The offer planning was not integrated into creative or production. To effectively market to varied customer segments, successful direct marketers create versions with unique offers. In many cases, there isn't enough time to create noticeable messages that encourage your customers to act—thus, you get poor results.
Solution: Offers should be planned in the beginning and explained to the creative and production teams. With enough time, the creative team can produce effective and noticeable offers. Also, more time allows the team to research cost-effective ways to present multiple versions and prepare clear bindery instructions. As offers and segments change, always update key individuals.
Catalog creative and offers are not synchronized with your Web site. Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than trying to order online, only to find the product or incentive found in the printed catalog is not present on the cataloger's Web site.
Solution: Include in your workflow and schedule a method for all creative (products and copy) and offers to be organized and presented to your Internet team with enough time to produce the job accurately and to synchronize with your selling channels. Investigate available software or talk with your color separator for processes that allow you to manage content in a streamlined fashion.
You missed a key date.When this happens, it's usually the pre-press house or printer that has to make up the time. Squeezing schedules will cost you overtime dollars, low morale, poor vendor partnerships and worse, a possible missed print window or mail date.
Solution: Involve everyone when creating the original schedule, then place one person in charge of managing the overall schedule. Hold people accountable for their individual deadlines. If someone cannot make a deadline, encourage him or her to let the designated scheduler know early, so other scheduling arrangements can be made. Remember, one schedule will not fit all catalogs. Depending upon the change in pages, number of new products and employees' vacation plans, your schedules could have as much as a three- to four-week swing.
Mail files were not properly prepared. At this point in the workflow, you're often looking at outside vendors who absolutely will charge you extra for bad files. Or worse, a critical task doesn't happen at all (e.g., NCOA or de-duping). Many times a merge/purge isn't properly outlined and is executed poorly. This translates into extra cost and diminished response.
Solution: Decide who is in charge of what, and appoint one person as the keeper of those directions. There can be as many as four companies involved in the mailing process (your company, list broker, data house and printer); assignments and responsibilities must be stated up front. Instructions need to be clearly prepared, in writing and given to all parties. Especially when you change key vendors, never assume they understand their roles completely.
Information was missing or wrong. Have you ever had missing or wrong phone, fax or Web information in your catalog? Was your shipping information not updated? The list goes on, and each of these errors can cost money.
Solution: Create a checklist of items that everyone can use when proofreading your catalog. When an important operational change is made (e.g., new shipping costs or new call center hours), be sure your checklist is updated. Place one person in charge of keeping this checklist current and distributed.
The creative file was rejected by the printer. If this has ever happened to your catalog, you've seen the accusations fly and the inevitable race to correct the problem to meet the deadline. Simply stated, this should not happen with good communication.
Solution: Request templates and specifications from your printer outlining how the file should be set up. In most cases, the order form is printed independently from your catalog, but needs to be coordinated with your catalog printer so bindery specifications are followed. Don't assume this coordination happens only when you change printers, or that the printer will update you of equipment changes. Always ask. Also, send proofs ahead of time to your printer's account rep, and for a signoff.
You received surprise invoices. It's difficult to plan for a profitable mailing when budget surprises eat up planned profits.
Solution: Insist that everyone involved notifies the appropriate person(s) when a change to the circulation plan, merchandise plan or creative effort occurs. Generally, a change always will affect the budget (usually with an increase). These budgetary changes should be forwarded to the person with P&L responsibilities. The actual change is not the culprit, it's the lack of communication.
If any of these costly errors sound familiar, re-evaluate your current catalog workflow. If more than three of the above occurred, you definitely need a process overhaul.
Set aside time to evaluate the process with all key players. Often, catalogers
hire an outside moderator or consultant who understands the complexities of producing a catalog to lead the meeting or examine the entire production process. This person has the advantage of not being involved in the politics of your company and is unafraid to suggest change.
Good planning and a comprehensive workflow that integrates all core competencies almost guarantee decreased expenses, increased profits and a happier, more cooperative staff.
Lois Boyle is partner and chief creative officer for J. Schmid & Assoc., Shawnee Mission, KS. You can reach her by e-mail at email@example.com.