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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Penny-Wise & Pound-Foolish - Asset / Art Management

A discussion in the Advertising Professional group on LinkedIn, posted by Charisse Louis of Charene Graphic Design, stirred up some unpleasant memories. She asked, "Is it OK to use clip art?" Clearly a seasoned professional, Charisse provides her learned opinion on her blog.

My answer to the question is, of course, a multi-part: "It depends."

It's certainly preferable to have a design using clip art that is well-executed and on-strategy over a design that is poorly executed, over-done. To me, it's also preferable to use clip art over a design that is well-done but is off-strategy.

Beware of spending dozens of unplanned hours looking endlessly for a great "free" or cheap image because client is budget-strapped and hasn't been managed. Of course, in the process the agency has spent $x,000 of their time looking for this "free" image.

This scenario's my favorite:

  1. Art Director uses non-original art or photo or content.

  2. In the rush to complete, AM/PM, unaware, presents it to budget-strapped client.

  3. Client loves it. And double whammy: client's boss, who never reviews work at the same time, happens to see this preso and loves it too.

  4. Agency, which hasn't covered this situation in it's SOW, eats the cost - This is even more exciting (triple whammy?) if the image goes live and then you learn that a licensing fee is owed, a competitor has used the same image or some other rights nightmare emerges.

Process, patience and communication. Process, patience and communication.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Media and Creative: Live together or die together.

Stakes are higher now than ever for success - actually, high stakes for our survival are more like it. The level of dysfunction between agencies (and the various parties within), clients and publishers continues to elevate as campaigns gain complexity and economic pressure increases. To focus a bit: collaboration between media and creative teams, whether from the same or different agencies, has got to improve.

Gunther Sonnerfeld, in his March 13, iMedia Connection piece, Why Media and Creative Need to Cross the Aisle, addresses the topic to a degree, but veers into the high-ground of " . . . when innovation is the key to success." As PM's we are painfully aware: great thinking isn't worth the PPT it's printed on if you can't execute.

It never ceases to amaze me how seasoned, high-performing industry veterans, who know, work with and respect each other, will claim that the other's agency/team is nightmare to partner with. All day, everyday very smart people across the industry, including very senior talent, are mired in the collateral damage of poor partnerships.

Along the campaign development continuum, from Initiation to Deployment & Diagnosis, there are key activities and deliverables that require media/creative alignment in order to get projects out on-time, on-budget, on-spec - let alone reaching Sonnerfeld's ideal of innovation or, even high-quality. Below are some key milestones, grouped by project phase. Let's play a little game: See how many you recognize as dys-integration pain-points from your past experience (and likely, your future ones):

  • Client Request:
    Always hear about this in time?

  • Brief (Media, Creative, Project ):

  • Strategic Recommendation:
    Always considers both medium and message?

  • User Experience or Design & Channel Roles:
    Full customer journey considered?

  • Measures of Success:
    Ever see CTR driving a branding campaign or humor/animation that impedes reaching desired response objectives?

  • Media Consideration Set:
    Creative folks have an opinion on where/when ads should run?

  • Conceptual Designs & Prototypes:
    Media folks have any thoughts on whether units will work or what the competition has already done?

  • Specifications:
    Red Meat! Don't even know where to begin on this one!

  • Main Ad Units:
    Wish you'd seen/shown to your partners before client buried you?

  • Unique Units, Odd Sizes & Resizes:
    Too many / too few? LCD issues? Show client all units or assume because client approved the main ones, the others are approved?

  • Traffic:
    Ever resent a site,media or creative partner for caving and saying they can turn around in 1 day?

  • QA:
    Listed after Traffic intentionally. Ever wish you checked yourself, before trafficking?

  • See comments re: Measures of Success in Definition Phase section above:
    How good are you at arguing both pro and con DL study results? Have enough time / budget / data to optimize creative?

There are a myriad of best-practices to be applied to address issues across this broad a spectrum. They all include better, more timely communication between media and creative teams / agencies. As far as serving the client, we only succeed together. In terms of CYA, if your partner blows up, the shrapnel could be headed your way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kill the Post-Mortem

It's a commonly held best-practice to perform a Post-Mortem session following a project - especially one that doesn't go very well. I strongly support this practice and, along with teams I've worked with, have benefited considerably from them over the years.

One common risk with these, shall we say, charged events is that they become finger-pointing exercises (or chair-throwing if things really get out of hand). The typical objective is to generate actionable insights that improve the chance of success going forward. Obviously a certain amount of look-back is critical to the process but this should be done with an eye towards the future. To those ends, I've found the following to be helpful:

  • Do some info gathering w/a broad range of stakeholders.
  • Identify areas to Sustain and areas to Improve. Including items to sustain helps keep a positive focus and is, of course, instructive.
  • Capture the initial observations on a grid (see sample below) that lists project phases down the left and disciplines involved across the top (note the presence of the client) - you can even divide each cell into Sustain / Improve subcells.
  • Use this info to help formulate your sense of what really happened and where you'd like to take the meeting.
  • Don't shy away from your instincts and ideas about what happened and definitely have a strong notion of what positive outcomes will be for the meeting.
  • Preview the grid and your ideas with a small number of key stakeholders and enlist their support around driving towards (not precisely at) your vision of positive outcomes.

  • Choose a person to facilitate the session. Common sense is your guide here: ideally someone who can work dispassionately and has the strength and intelligence to deal with, shall we say, "passion".
  • Be clear about session objectives, desired outcomes, ground rules and keep a parking lot for issues that are not directly relevant or too deep for the scope of the meeting - you are not going to solve deeply rooted agency issues in this meeting.
  • Distribute the grid and share your thoughts on its value and how you want it used (fill it in further, just a guide, etc).
  • Allow for some venting, but keep the session moving.
  • Many process or change management initiatives jump too quickly to detailed solutions - a shared vision of the way things should be is a prerequisite for changing the way things are.
  • Recap findings and next steps.

  • Share outcomes w/broader team
  • Publicly call out strong contributors
  • Implement and educate about any changes to the organizations processes, tools and documentation (or FINALLY commit to creating them)
  • Refer to the session as related issues (or the same damn ones) come up on other projects


Improvement is cyclical and iterative. The best way to avoid the tragedies that drive the need to conduct painful post-mortems, is to start out correctly in the first place (see: post on Project Initiation). Good Pre-Natal activities and health are the best way to avoid the slaughter that necessitates the Post-Mortem.