Yes, it has been a while...

A lot has happened in the past year. A ton of technology reviews - software and apps, and a lot of data security issues to tackle. There are more tools out there than ever before - tools to make running your agency and manage the daily grind easier.

Unfortunately, a new app can become just another thing everyone has to have open on their screen, it frequently distracts and demands attention, and often gets in the way of simply getting work done. Messages with critical information are scattered over the cloud; assets - and versions of assets are scattered among drives, desktops or applications; and all those "free" apps have become "paid" apps. ENOUGH!

But what do you do?

Evaluate - do an honest audit and find out what everyone is using, and why. It's an eye-opener.

Pare-down - select what works best for the agency. Sorry, it's not a democracy - sometimes we just have to compromise and learn to work with the technology.

Set expectations - this is the hard part. Make using the technology a requirement. Nope, no favorites, no workarounds.

Train - determine best practices for using the technology, and revisit them often. The process and tools to manage it always evolve.

Don't have the time to do this? Give me a call.

One last note: with every new application come data security issues. Always review security policies and have a lead administrator to manage access and permissions.

End of Year Cleanup

At the end of every year, there is some routine “maintenance” every agency and creative services department should perform.

I know it’s the last business day of the year, but you can (and should) do these things regularly throughout the year…so let’s start now!

I’ll begin with the least enjoyable items on the list since we’re heading into New Year Holiday – and what better way to kick-back and relax than to know you got this annoying stuff off your plate…besides, these two items can directly affect the accuracy of billing, and thereby, profits.

[Blah, blah, blah. I can year you now. Read on anyway.]

Timesheets – Everyone hates them. If management allows you to go more than a week without turning them in, everyone loses. They’re a hassle, and moreover, they become increasingly inaccurate the longer you delay. So do cleanup now and make a resolution to do them daily.

Expense Reports – Second only to timesheets, expense reports are a hassle and tend to be completed only when Finance grumbles. It’s especially tough if you toss receipts into your pocket and try to rebuild your trip or monthly expense report long after it occurred. Resolve to complete expense reports right after a trip, or by the end of the month. No more delays.

Hygiene – I’m talking about clearing your space. Clear out completed projects – from your desk, around your desk, and on your computer. Archive completed projects and assets, delete all those versions taking up valuable space. And if you’re the type to store multiple copies on the cloud, local server and your own device, make a plan for the New Year to consistently save to one place. Others may need access as well…

Tools, Apps and SoftwareThis is very important. People come and go and so does the use of collaborative tools, storage solutions and the access to the systems that run everything – including that service that issues you a paycheck.

Your agency, department and individuals are all vulnerable to theft, attack, sabotage, ransom. So, at the very least, once a year – now is a good time – to audit all the applications you use and remove individuals who are no longer with the agency (remove their name/username/password), have assumed new duties (review/change access privileges); review application setup and templates; archive projects and assets; and shut down applications that are no longer in use. One person is using an app? Kick them off, and introduce them to the one that everyone else is using.

Additionally, an audit of every app that every individual is using in the agency or department is an absolute. The bar to entry for many collaborative apps is low – free to join. Without oversight of apps used, they grow, and before you know it, you now have projects spread across multiple apps, with assets strewn across the globe.

Contain the property you own. It is not okay for an employee to create a Slack account just because they don’t like what is current protocol in the agency.

With that, an audit is a good time to really find out what the staff likes and hates – and why. A collaborative application becomes an annoying side-note when everyone is still communicating via email.

I have spent this past year evaluating dozens of software applications, collaborative apps, and data storage. They run the gamut of accounting, media, CRM, creative, project management and more. From fully-integrated programs to one-offs, there is good reason to evaluate what you currently use, and possibly replace it. (More on that later)

Time wasted going from app to app, copying from one to the other, and the absolute worst… spreadsheets … are killing productivity.

So, do cleanup, audit, evaluate and build a better environment for 2018.

You know, many of the legacy applications out there have been updated to make it super easy to do the stuff you hate the most. I have seen it for myself and I do timesheets. All of them take direction from their users. Systems get better because clients demand it.

Need help? I’m here! charlotte@charlotteblauer.com

Oh, yeah. And I resolve to be more diligent in my postings!

The Traditional Agency Is Dead. . . Again

So I read this piece on Huffington Post today that’s declaring once again, data is the path to successful advertising. Which is missing a recent trend heralded by P&G, Unilever and Restoration Hardware, but hey, the quants gotta stay relevant, right? Here’s a little excerpt to get you in the mood:

“[D]ata is just the beginning of the journey towards better advertising.  Once assembled, the data must be properly studied with the help of a skilled data scientist.  These data specialists are adept at navigating a complex process that is both art and science.  The advent of machine learning has allowed researchers to identify highly complex patterns that would never have been possible through traditional market research.”

Let that sink in. Now, go read Bob Hoffman’s book BadMen, (go buy it now).

The “traditional advertising agency” is not dead. It was hijacked. I witnessed it. Viewed the dazzling display of data become more important than anything else. Especially creative.

I love a great headline. Beautiful images. Simple but compelling copy. The writer of the HuffPo piece made the case that creative focus is only to…win awards.

“People wanted Clio Awards rather than advertising that drove awareness, interest, and ultimately sales.”

and…

“No longer will brands be satisfied with the vagaries of a creative-dictated process.”

Creative Bad. Data Good.

As someone who subscribes to too many magazines (real paper, yes!); watches more TV than I should; and refuses to turn off my ad-blocker on my laptop and phone – even if that means missing a journalistic masterpiece; I can guarantee you that I get all of my advertising contact with – wait for it – off-line advertisers. And most of the advertising I view (those eyeballs that are oh-so-valuable online) is in magazines and newspapers.

Data didn’t make me pick up a copy of Garden & Gun. The title alone was compelling. Who knew?

I’ve worked in and around advertising for more than 40 years. I was a creative way back and I quietly hung up my T-square when I had the opportunity – or privilege – to work with stunning creatives who made me realize I had no business being at the drawing board. I’m more than happy to clear the path so they can do their work.

Great creatives take words and images that compel me to want that thing. A broad reach introduces people who may have never heard of a product, or an idea. Those individuals would be missed altogether by the targeting methods used today, which are driven by data scientists using machine learning that has identified their highly complex patterns.

Like going online and looking for White Keds. Amazon, BusinessInsider and Twitter all keep me informed of white sneakers. Thanks.

Now, is that advertising that is driving awareness, interest and ultimately sales? No. No it is not. It’s bugging the hell out of me.

Life Happens

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”

So, yes, life has been happening.

Since I last posted, way back last year, I evaluated dozens of creative management solutions. Everything from “free” collaborative tools to deeply integrated enterprise solutions that require a monthly fee. All are specific to creative services.

Imagine, if you will, attending webinars and demos – every day. A list of questions; more questions; follow-up and follow-through.

And there are some really great solutions out there.

My intent was to compile and give a sound synopsis of everything that was relevant to a creative agency or in-house marketing department. Reviews included collaboration, project management, organization, accounting, media, and asset management.

What are the best solutions for my clients? How can I best present the facts and skip the hype?

I was almost there. Then I had a client who needed my undivided attention and I dropped everything.

So glad I did because they were wonderful to work with. Which is so often the case.

But now I’m back – refreshing my reviews and editing them for posting. More webinars and demos.

The best part for you is that you don’t have to sit through hours of reviews. I’m doing that and will share – the great, the good and the so-so.

My goal is to find the right tools to allow creatives more time to be productive – reducing administrative work – while providing the details to keep management informed and happy.

More to come!

The Implementation (Roll-out) Plan

Any project needs a plan. What are you going to do and when is it due?

As with any project, if you don’t have a strategy and a deadline, you run the risk of wasting a whole bunch of time and ending up with an outcome that isn’t recognizable.

Create awareness with your agency or department that there will be some changes. If you have done the preliminary work and received input from everyone (I do mean everyone), then they’re aware there will be change.

Managing change and the transitions that take place will be the hardest part of this process.

Why? Because everyone is working hard, doing their jobs, dealing with deadlines and demands – and now they’ll be doing all that while learning new tools to manage what they do. Whew!

Chances are your colleagues are already stressed and super busy because of the inadequacy of the tools they’re using.

Now you’re asking – no requiring – them to give up their old trusty (and cumbersome) toolkit for something new.

Be prepared.

Get management on board. They have to be champions of change, as well as have your back.

Get a team together – a lead person from each department (e.g. creative, accounting, etc.). They’re responsible for keeping their group up to date on progress.

Meet with the team and put together a schedule.

The schedule can include:

·        Contract approval. This may take time for an in-house department that must go through the budget and legal processes. (I worked with a client that took nine months to approve a contract.)

·        IT preparation. There may be network or system (or even hardware) work that has to be done in advance.

·        Setup and configuration of the system (this varies greatly by provider and some will do this for you). This includes setting up users, clients, departments, and vendors.

·        Testing. Each department lead should test out the various applications to ensure it works as you imagined (and as the solution provider stated). Also a note on testing: Any test projects can skew future reporting (e.g. number of projects by client). Ask your vendor to walk you through closing / deleting them; or perhaps they can make a separate copy of your database for a testing and training environment.

·        Training. There are lots of ways to train. Webinar; live, on site; train the trainer; videos. I have preferences and will post those separately. However, I do recommend that you train by role. Creatives don’t want or need to see what accounting has to do, and vice-versa.

·        Roll out. Do discuss this early. Do you rip off the Band-Aid and launch everyone at once? Start with a single client group to test all applications then roll it out to everyone? There are plenty of pros and cons to each. This too can be a separate post. I’ve tried them all.

·        Go Live. Pick a date and try to stick to it. If the team has stayed on top of every step of the implementation, you should be close to your original schedule.

Once you go live, make sure your team is ready to jump in and help their team members individually. Even though everyone received training, by the time Go Live happens, they’ve done a million other things. So walk individuals through the steps, and take note of any issues. Assist with user-related issues, and log / report any software issues. Bugs happen, and if there is anything that doesn’t work as anticipated, get your rep on the phone and get help immediately – then report back the solution to your team. If there’s a glitch to fix, let your team know when a patch is expected.

Now that you’re live, pull your implementation team together at least once a week at the beginning. Discuss the list of issues, how people are working with the new tools, and compile users’ suggestions (enhancements) and complaints. Share that list with your vendor – they may have had the same requests and complaints from other users. That’s how they make their solutions better.

With all the planning in the world, no one knows what will really happen, or how the agency or department will embrace the new applications until you’re live. If everything falls apart in the first few days and appears insurmountable, then get your team together and go over all the issues.

Sometimes you just have to pull the plug and re-group.

I hate that. And I have done it.

However, you are addressing the needs of your colleagues – they will appreciate it. And a relaunch / reboot with thoughtful consideration will earn some serious buy-in.

One last word on implementation failure. It happens, and unfortunately not uncommon. Often, it’s due to incomplete upfront evaluation and / or lack of support from management. It’s not the end and your vendor should be able to help.

No? I can help. Call or email me.

There is also the human element to consider. Most people hate change. They certainly don’t want another software program that tells them what to do. And sometimes, a stubborn individual just needs to buck-up and get with the program.

Change isn’t insurmountable. It’s just hard.

The Scorecard and Estimate

It's time to narrow-down your list of agency management solutions.

You have to consider a lot of things in the decision process. You have clarified what you need, want, the issues that must be overcome, and how many users (licenses) you will need. Some applications are far better than others in some areas but not in others – or some simply check off a lot more boxes. What’s more important? In all the solutions I’ve used, seen, demoed – one size does not fit all. If I could pick the best features from each and put them together. . . Voila! Perfect!

So, one way (and one that I always employ) is a weighted scorecard. It’s a pretty simple concept, and when you’re trying to solve issues for multiple areas (accounting, creative, and so on), knowing what’s more important can tip the scales on a final decision.

Take your requirements document, it’s been categorized to departments (areas), and a list of requirements sorted by “absolutes / needs / would like to have” for each.

Absolutes are deal-breakers. If the application doesn’t provide it, it’s likely not a contender.

Needs are the things that will streamline operations by eliminating all that redundant drudgery, and will provide a toolkit to really organize your workflow.

Would like to have are those items that perhaps work the way you work (which means less change to your current workflow and less disruption upon implementation) and make your life easier. And a note about “would likes” . . . Ask your rep if their solution can be configured to accommodate your wish list, or, if the provider is willing to do custom programming. Many software providers have the capability to do custom programming for a fee, but sometimes a provider will customize or build a program for you for a small fee (or free) – just ask.

So here’s a simple example of a scorecard – and some advice: Your requirements list will probably be pretty large. It should be a list of everything that addresses everyone’s issues – then consolidated into a clean list. Do be prepared to speak to requests that cannot or will not be addressed. While we’re all hopeful to fix everything, reality can be an immovable object. We’re working on optimizing workflow while retaining employee engagement. More on that later.

There can be a lot of pressure to place a higher value on some items or areas. But ultimately, the purpose of any solution is to increase collaboration and accuracy, reduce redundancy and errors, and be the central hub for everything relating to a project. Always consider the people doing the work and interacting with the applications. If they don’t use it, the value of the solution is greatly diminished.

In other words, it doesn’t work if you don’t use it. Get it?

 

Okay, it may be boring, but it provides simple structure for decision-making. Use it or something like it and keep it as part of your records, because down the road, someone will ask why someone else’s requirement was more important than their requirement. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything.

When I fill in my scorecard, I use a range, one (1) to ten (10). One (1) being in the would like range (employees can use a gif as an avatar – yes I had this request); 10 in the absolute range (must have customizable billing).

Alright, on the scorecard I included cost. Be sure to get costs from your vendors. Costs can include licensing fees (and termination fees), storage, setup, custom programming, implementation assistance, training, support, hardware (some solutions can be hosted on your own server instead of the cloud), and consultants. In my reviews, many providers have knowledgeable staff who can help you through the process. Some don’t but have a list of consultants you can hire to assist in all or part of the process which will incur additional fees.

For some agencies and departments, cost is a huge factor. If it is, cost may be the deal breaker, so get a preliminary estimate upfront. Once you refine your requirements, get a revised estimate. If cost isn’t an issue do get your estimates anyway. Expenditures, whether in an agency or department must be planned and tracked.  

Now do the math. Which solution has the highest score? Are there a couple that are close? Often, a comfort level with the vendor can make the difference. They should be there to help you. Next, have a discussion with your team. What does your gut tell you? If there is any doubt, now is the time to ask questions and get answers. This is a big change for your team and worth clarifying all issues.

Have your answer? Great! Let your selected vendor know, and plan your kickoff. Also, let the vendors that didn't make the cut know as well. Tell them thanks, and tell them why. It helps them improve their product. 

Tired and weary? Let me sum it up:

  •         Categorize and consolidate your Requirements List
  •         Add columns for Value, Score and Total
  •         Fill in your scorecard soon after your demo
  •         Get estimates
  •         Do the math
  •         Meet with the team for Decision Time

What’s next? Will this never end?

Yes, the end is in sight, but it’s only the beginning. Start planning – signing the contract; setting up / configuring; training; rolling it out to everyone.

Put together a schedule.

Next, the rollout plan. 

The Demo

Before you do a demo, do your homework.

Get your evaluation pared-down to your requirements – that’s the Excel spreadsheet that lists what everyone a) needs and b) wants. The time-wasters – which require duplicate entry, or are cumbersome – should be part of the requirements too. You want a solution that will eliminate them.

Determine what you need from the application. A complete, integrated system? Just collaborative tools? Accounting? Media? Project management? A DAM system? Online proofing?

There are hundreds of applications out there. New ones daily, and I’ve been reviewing a ton of them. One size does not fit all.

Keep this in mind: Managing your projects, your department, your agency is NOT social media. It is also not Excel, Google Docs, email or IM.

Consider a solution that will allow the minimal amount of data entry (a single platform is my first choice), with a maximum of time-saving – everything is organized and easy to find.

Start your search. Google, colleagues, groups on LinkedIn all help. I can help too.

Every solution out there has a lovely, short, glossy four-minute video showing how easy their application is to use. They should also have a list of features, and a table of costs associated with those features and the number / type of users.

Consider the benefit of putting your entire agency or department on the system. Collaboration reduces the use of redundant systems (IM, email, system alerts, and so on). At this point, don’t let price dictate what you review. Deals can be made.

Beware of free applications. The bar of entry is low, but once you start using an application, your data, documents and history are there. Adding users, features and using up cloud storage will most likely incur charges. You’re becoming more and more committed. If you need to move to a more robust application, migration of data is a huge pain, so think ahead.

Got a list of solutions? Okay, now ask for demos. Fill out the questionnaire: let them know what kind of organization you have (in-house department, agency); how many employees / users; applications you need; and the key issues or problems you’re trying to solve.

Have a phone call with the rep. Make sure they understand your business and your needs. I worked with a sales rep who was clueless when it came to media, yet he was attempting to sell me their software that “had” a media component. It didn’t. They wanted me to pay to build one. Nope.

Demo Day

Make sure the rep is clear on your objectives. What do you need out of that demo?

Schedule your demo in the morning. At least before lunch. If it’s a lunchtime demo, get there early, get your plates filled up and pay attention.

Setup a room – yep – everyone in one room. No distractions. You’re making an investment in capital and your colleagues’ time.

Have a representative from each area of your team (accounting, creative, AE, media), who will be using the application, in the demo session. You will gain a lot of understanding as to how others will use the solution (and if they have expectations that are out of the blue).

The rep should be very skilled [and engaging] in giving a demo. Everything should work. You should be viewing an actual demo of an actual live program. If they’re giving you a PowerPoint presentation or a video, cut them off immediately. You have to see how their system works.

I like to see how a program works from start-to-finish. How do I open a project? How do I collaborate? How does the system know the message I just sent is linked to a client / a job / a document / a file?

Now that you’ve seen the workflow, what kind of setup and configuration is required? What does the setup look like? How long does it take? What kind of support will they provide?

Ask questions as you go. And do make sure the rep knows that in advance. They must allow time for a little Q & A.

Try to keep the demo within an hour.

If you have detailed needs in specific areas, such as accounting, I’d do the first demo, then ask for a second, in-depth demo so specific questions can be asked and answered.

After the demo, get feedback as soon as possible. 24 hours or less so it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.

Were requirements met? Are there questions? Do a followup with the rep and convey questions. Get answers. If the answer is vague, ask the rep to show you. A five minute GoToMeeting will go a long way to clarify details.

Never accept a “sure we can do that”. They have to demonstrate it.

Once you’ve done your demos. It’s time for an estimate and a scorecard.

Remember…

This is a process. An important one. Do the work because it’s a big investment in time and money. Committing to a new application changes how you work. It should improve your workflow, reduce redundancy and confusion, and be easy to use. There is a learning curve on anything new, and culture can dictate how well change is adopted.

But that’s a whole different discussion.

First, find the solution that works for you.

The [Real] Boring Conference

I just read on my Twitter feed that The Boring Conference is sold out! If you don’t know about this awesome event, check it out here.

I met James Ward via Twitter a few years ago when I was attending a dreadfully boring conference. While listening to the speaker – well, I wasn’t really listening to the speaker – I did what most people do who go to conferences and the content isn’t so, let’s say, engaging – I surfed the interwebs for “boring conference”.

Ta-da! I found James Ward @iamjamesward, and sent him a tweet. To my amazement, he responded immediately.

Mr. Ward expertly got me through those really tough, long hours. Also the fact that the conference was in a casino so there was 24/7 liquor – which helped too.

From The Boring Conference about page:

People have talked about sneezing, toast, IBM tills, the sounds made by vending machines, the Shipping Forecast, barcodes, yellow lines, London shop fronts, the television programme Antiques Road Trip and the features of the Yamaha PSR-175 Portatune keyboard.

 

Yeah, I know. I’ll own it. I work in an area of advertising that some consider boring, a pain, and wholly unnecessary. But hey, someone has to make sure you get paid.

 

Selecting Agency Management Software

*Yawn*

Stay with me here. Whether you’re in an agency or an in-house creative department, you need to manage your work efficiently, easily and with a system that people will actually use.

And just a pause for thought: will you require staff to use the new system / process / workflow? Here’s a piece of advice – if there are no requirements or expectation that the tools will be used, compliance will fail (we're talking time and expense). So make requirements clear – and make sure owners, partners and managers are completely on board and have your back.

Back to business…

You’ve completed your evaluation, compiled and narrowed the list of absolutes, wants, wishes and conversely – everything everyone hates. Never ignore what people despise. It also helps to get an understanding of why they hate whatever it is.

In an agency, there are tools for all roles – from acquiring a client to filing away the work once completed, to buying media and billing for everything.

In an in-house department, there should be a way to take-in work, manage the creative process and perhaps charge-back all or a portion of what you do. And maybe you have a department budget that you must justify every year. A good system has the capabilities built-in to provide those details to the powers-that-be (corporate finance).

And by the way, for both agencies and in-house: good tools will show you where you’re making money and what areas are bleeding cash. This comes in handy when you have a client, who once again, wants a deal, or if you’re overworked and are trying to make a case for more staffing.

The bottom line: in either instance, you should have a system in place to manage and track everything – with tools that return information that is useful to managing your daily operation.

Information like, how busy is everyone? Or, where is that project that’s due . . . now? I need a ballpark on how much / how long it takes to do a website? I love ballparks, don’t you?

Start with accounting. If you’re an agency, it’s the foundation for how everything is divvied up. Clients, payroll, cost of doing business – its very structure can influence everything from job number configuration to how you name a project, to how you save and store your client files. Not to mention reports you need and a configurable way to invoice your clients.

If you have an accounting system you love and you need something to manage the work, consider a solution that will “talk” to your accounting program. At the very least an API or some sort of export/import mechanism that isn’t horribly convoluted. Think long term. Will this grow with the agency?

For in-house departments that don’t do any charge-back, you’re probably looking for a project management/collaborative solution.

At the very least, there should be an underlying structure to give you a way to open a job with a unique identifier (I prefer solutions that automatically generate a job number – no risk of duplication); share information; collaborate/communicate within a project; create an estimate; and create a project schedule that can be updated easily.

Remember – I recommend integrated solutions – all data entered and captured in one program.

And don’t forget IT requirements: where is the solution is served (cloud-based or on premise); security requirements (no servers in a bathroom closet); and if there are special hardware and network requirements (remote login, access from a phone or a pad).

Simple, right?

All the solutions I have reviewed have these capabilities. Most are very strong in every respect, but user experience can differ greatly. Ultimately what do you need? What are those really pesky issues that are driving everyone crazy?

These are the solutions I reviewed (all have links to their respective websites):

Fully Integrated

·        Advantage – yes, full disclosure, I worked there. They have a completely new interface.

·        AccountAbility – relatively new to the US market, clean and simple.

·        eSilentPartner – been around a long time and have some really cool PM tools.

·        Workamajig – they did a rewrite and eliminated flash.

Project Management

·        Workgroups DaVinci – I’ve done a preliminary demo and digging deeper next week.

·        Workfront – I followed them since they were AtTask. New interface and a lot of outreach.

Timesheet application

Normally, I would only recommend an integrated solution, but this one is really cool. Yeah, a cool timesheet application. Who would have thought such a thing?

·        OpenHour TimeTracker – These folks just wrote an integration with Advantage, but can run as a standalone – AND… they’re looking at working with other solutions. What I love about this is that it will track everything you touch on your computer – related to projects – and capture it in a timesheet. Writing a Word doc, creating a spreadsheet, doing research on the Web for a client (that’s the proper use of your time) – all can be captured and assigned to a job.

Are you using a solution that is awesome? Let me know. I'd love to do a review.

Coming soon... What to expect from a software demo. Hint: reward those who attend and remain engaged.

The Big Next Step To Organize Your Agency – Get Help!

This week, I provided good information on identifying the frustrating issues that are wreaking havoc in your agency or marketing department.

Not intended to be mind-numbing, I have to admit it is the less exciting side of agency life: process, software – ugh!

But to be successful, profitable, and less of a grind in everyone’s daily duties, going through this process and getting organized is imperative.

Don’t have the time or resources to do it? That’s where people like me can help.

I know. I’m pitching.

But think of it this way, you don’t hire a rookie to shoot a TV spot or build a website for a client. Maybe you need help in the process of discovering your process so you can fix your process.

You can learn as you go, but it can time consuming and expensive. I would imagine you have other responsibilities - like work? Who has time for this? Re-dos in software implementation are unfortunately common due to lack of preparation and simply not understanding from the start how many details are involved. I think I have re-launched solutions for clients as often as I have implemented new ones.

I have talked to and worked with dozens of consultants in this industry. My world is smaller than most. I only consult in the area of agency operations. How to make your agency work better. I'd love to think I'm a creative genius, but no, I leave that to the creative geniuses.

As you start the demo process, as I wrote about in yesterday’s post, the sales reps will probably tell you their solutions will solve [all] your problems. 

Nope. Not even close. That’s why I do what I do independently from the software providers. They are there to sell you software (some listen better than others). Software will fix a bazillion problems - all related to capturing and managing data.

But here’s what software doesn’t fix…people. Software doesn’t understand or fix how people work, what they’re willing/not willing to do, capable/incapable of understanding, how clients can dictate everything (if you let them), and how management fails to really understand what their staff is mired in.

The cleanest process and an outstanding toolkit doesn’t address any of that. And as I’ve said before: people – from partners to the intern – can derail any new system if the people issues aren’t addressed.

My evaluations always account for the human factor. Software doesn’t do that.

So back to the pitch. Evaluations, determining requirements, fleshing out roles and responsibilities, reviewing solutions – that’s just the beginning. It’s work and you need a dedicated team including a leader who is thick-skinned, fair, with a sizable slice of empathy. New systems are disruptive, and should be – for the better.

Software doesn't solve everything. Chocolate does. Freeimages.com/ Konstantinos Dafalias

Software doesn't solve everything. Chocolate does. Freeimages.com/Konstantinos Dafalias

We’re just getting started. Do you want some help? I’d love to talk to you.

Call me 702-370-7447 or email charlotte@charlotteblauer.com Completely painless.

Next step is selecting software! Wow, advertising is exciting!

Evaluate Options For Your Agency – What’s in Your Toolkit?

Often, an agency or marketing department will look to a software application to solve those nagging issues plaguing their productivity or profits – or morale.

When you’re frustrated – things are late, you can’t find the latest version, hundreds of emails from the client to sift through, the budget and timeline are blown – and work is all about putting out the next fire – it’s time to take a long look at what's being used to manage work.  

Was there one thing that triggered the decision to finally look for a fix?

You know that evaluation (from yesterday's post) you completed? It’s time to compile a list of all the tools everyone (yes, everyone in the agency) is using to communicate, manage and store their work.

If your agency or department has been growing, you probably have outgrown the tools you started with – and then added apps, spreadsheets and folders along the way to get a handle on what’s going on.

My guess is that none of those folders, apps, or programs talk to one-another.

Redundancies. Lots of them. Send an email, note what was done on a spreadsheet, IM a colleague, search your notes. Time wasted.

Get your team together and go through your evaluation to make a list of every tool used, from the basics like email, Word and Excel; to collaborative programs like Basecamp or Slack; shared resources like Google Docs and SharePoint (or shared folders on a server for that matter); local chat/IM. Accounting programs such as QuickBooks; timesheet apps; and then on to agency-centric enterprise programs – or perhaps you’re linked into one of the enterprise systems such as NetSuite or SAP – compile a comprehensive list of everything being used.

  • Note each tool, what it’s used for and who is using it.
  • Where are the redundancies?
  • Why is staff using those tools, and why aren’t they using what you already have?
  • What do they like/dislike about the tools?
  • Is there an associated cost for each user? For storage?
  • What exactly is the biggest problem you’re trying to solve?

I’m all about a single integrated solution – something that can manage everything from accounting to collaboration. The reason? Everything is captured in one application – organized, searchable and structured.

Perhaps you only need an application to augment what you’re using. Is there something that will integrate with what you’re using? Can an API be written? Always look for integration.

Now it’s time to get your evaluation team together and review the options available. If you’re looking to replace all or part of them, write your list of requirements – such as accounting, media, project management, chat – and so on. What functions and reports do you need? 

Now that you have your list, it’s time for…demos! They’re not as fun as watching paint dry, but if you’ve prepared your list, it will actually be a worthwhile experience.

Check the Web, groups on LinkedIn, 4A’s, Second Wind – there are a lot of sources  (I’ll have some reviews next week to help). There are also some sites where you can search for software solutions based on your business – however, what I’ve found hasn’t been that great. Agencies and marketing departments have specific needs and these sites tend to gather information in very broad terms and have recommendations that require a fair amount of configuration. 

Go with the pros who know your business.

Once you’ve selected a few vendors, ask for a demo. And when I say demo, get a live person to give you a live demo. Let them know the areas you want to review (from accounting to creative dashboards to media if you need) and the size of your agency (size matters).

In the process of doing my reviews, I have had plenty of 2-1/2 minute pre-fab demos sent to me showing features. Even a couple 20 minute demos - all features. 

They don’t do anything for me - I have to know how their systems will work for my needs. You need that information too.

If a provider wants you to make a big investment in time and dollars, they can get a rep to show you how the system works and answer questions as you go.

Dig in and have a representative from each area of your agency ( like a biller, AE, art director, PM, media planner, etc.). Did I say ask questions? Make the rep show you the applications and how they can solve your problems. This is about running your agency. Take notes on your requirements sheet

Are they checking items off your list?

Ask how long it takes to setup and roll-out (implementation), if they provide free/paid assistance and training. What kind of support do they have (email, live person)? 

This exercise will provide a scorecard.

Meet with your team and compare scores. You are now narrowing your options to a solution.

Evaluate Options For Your Agency

Before I go any further, I highly recommend putting together a team to sift through the comments you gathered. Get a representative from each area – from creative to accounting (you interviewed them too, didn’t you?) Evaluations usually don’t require deep analysis because when you sort issues into categories, you’ll be able to decipher the nuances of those issues. A representative from each area can spot and understand patterns quickly. There may be some issues where you need to dig deeper – identify those and have the representative uncover the details.

About your team… Meet once a week at first, put together the plan and schedule and assign to-dos. As you move through the process and get closer to implementing new process or tools, you’ll need to meet more frequently. Think of this as you would any large project for a client. Oh yeah, and track your time! Assign a job number and post time to it. It’s overhead, but it’s an internal project, nonetheless.

From the interviews, you should be able to map your process – steps from start-to-finish. Note the number of, and what tools (software, applications, folders, email, IM…ugh everything!) used to manage work; identify redundancies; and also, be sure to take note of personnel issues.

About personnel issues… This can be a sticky subject, but as I said in my last post, if you don’t address the human factor, progress can be derailed. An attitude, a difficult individual whose name is mentioned frequently, lack of training – these will all come to light and clarify what needs to be done. This will help prepare you for developing a strategy for how to get a new or revised system in place.

Now that your team has insight on common problems, bottlenecks, and redundant systems, it’s time to look at the tools currently at your disposal. Do you have a mish-mash of applications, folders, and servers? Do you have a system in place that is seldom used, cumbersome, or universally despised?

Options – Current Tools/Systems

The current tools could be out of date, perhaps weren’t configured properly, or maybe no one really knows how to use them. With any of those scenarios, staff who have to get things done ASAP will use anything that’s fast and easy…even if that means duplicating data. Verify that the current system actually offers what your staff needs. If not, start researching new systems. I am a true believer in integrated solutions for managing an agency. (I’ll be posting reviews next week). But before you look elsewhere, check with your vendor and find if they have upgrades, assistance and training. Changing entire systems can be a lot of work (time and expense) – but really worth the effort to improve operations if your current solution is crap.

And one caveat on what you’re currently using... If the staff hates it (no matter the reason), giving them a glittering new version may not overcome their jaded opinions. Keep that in mind…

Options – New Tools/Systems

There are a ton of options out there. Ultimately, you have to lay a foundation of basic needs.

  • What applications do you need? Accounting, CRM, project management, media, proofing, communication/collaboration, asset management/sharing. That’s just the start.
  • How are you going to use it? Desktops, pads, phones, remote access.
  • Do you want a cloud solution or on your own server? This leads to a big list of IT and security questions. Especially if you have clients who have strict security and SOX requirements.

Based on your interviews, the first item will narrow your list. You want efficiency? An integrated solution is key. Client data, projects, everything is sourced in one place.

The second item is convenience, but also how your staff works. If they work from home or travel a lot, staying on top of projects without having a convoluted login process makes life easier and collaboration a snap.

The third item cannot be overlooked. If you have a client that has critical security requirements, you need to address it right away. Their sensitive information is in your hands. Insurance, healthcare and government clients are just a few who require a highly-secure environment. Well, everyone should have a highly-secure environment, but they just don’t give it a lot of thought...they rely on you to take care of them.

Now it’s time to look at software applications!

You know, I was going to do this in one post, but enough for today. We’ll talk tools tomorrow.

Is Your Agency In Chaos? First Evaluate Your Situation.

You’ve heard it before: the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one.

Maybe you’re not in total chaos, but there are some really frustrating issues. It’s time to do an evaluation.

How often do you go in search of a solution – no – a quick fix to an issue that rears its ugly head at a horrible time – only to find you have to address that same issue again and again?

So, fix A) you put a new step in place – a requirement – so there is no repeat offense. In time you’ll have dozens of steps, checks, reviews and a process everyone hates.

Or, fix B) the staff creates workarounds, second-guess what’s coming, put their own safety-nets in place (email reminders). Basically do a whole lot of extra work so that they’re covered.

C.Y.A. is a waste of T.I.M.E.

Here’s a quote from Einstein…

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

It’s time to get your agency in order, but first, you have to evaluate your process (yes, that P-word), from start-to-finish. I have gone through evaluations dozens and dozens of times with clients – even when I was the one in the agency dealing with the chaos. Mapping the steps your staff takes peels back the layers to reveal the glue-stick and paperclips that are holding your process together.

Do spend the time up-front to perform a thorough evaluation, and solutions to those frustrating issues will begin to surface.

Before you start the evaluation – talk to management/owners/partners and get them to commit to supporting the process. If they want a happy team, and perhaps be a bit more efficient (and profitable too), they must have your back. They should announce the endeavor you're about to take on, that they support it – and support you.

I always start with a brief interview with the powers that be. Their heads are not in the details of the day-to-day, but hearing their concerns is huge and should be kept in mind as you work through this process. What are their expectations?

Next, I sit down and talk to everyone. Yep. Everyone individually. Let them tell you everything. From nagging little details to major issues with a co-worker. You will be astounded at what you learn.

I call this the Complaint Department.

Yeah, I know people say that taking complaints makes you part of the problem but I disagree. I guarantee this: if you do not listen to complaints, they will never go away and derail any new systems you put in place. Listen carefully and take notes. Personal (and personnel) information stays with you, and may clarify some of the reasons why things aren’t running like clockwork.

I take handwritten notes while I chat with staff. Using a laptop seems impersonal – like I’m taking a survey. Ick. I schedule a half hour per person - that's usually about all they can spare.

Later, I put my notes in an Excel document. This is one of the very few times I will recommend Excel. More on that later…

The document is a simple grid which I separate by department: Account, Creative, and so on. Then I list the individual, role, what tools they use to manage their work (this is extremely important when you’re looking for a new software solution), notes on the conversation, and key takeaways.

  • What are the steps you take to do your job?
  • What tools do you use? (programs, spreadsheets, aps)
  • Is there an ap being used no one else is using?
  • What are the constant pain points?
  • How do you communicate with coworkers?
  • Where are documents stored? Versions?
  • What redundancies or workarounds are you using?
  • Who is being a giant pain?

As you go through interviews and fill up the spreadsheet, themes will emerge. Sometimes you just have to get a person started and they will unload. 

Bottom line: you want to find out what staff does; how they do it; the tools they use; their frustrations; and last, how they feel about working there.

That last one is hard, but happiness can be as simple as making sure you have an in and out board so they know where their copywriter is.

The result of this exercise is your Current Situation.

Enough for today. This step, depending on the size of your agency will take some time. But the payoff is huge. This is about making informed decisions for your agency.

If you’d like some help getting started, contact me directly. charlotte@charlotteblauer.com

About Excel – Excel seems to be the go-to program for just about everything. A spreadsheet is a lovely thing. But it is fragile. Keystroke errors, sharing, redundancies – it’s just too inefficient, but I get it, it’s easy to use. If you’re in an agency or a marketing department over four people, look to an integrated database solution to manage operations.

Respect Change.

Implementing new software doesn’t have to turn your agency upside-down. you need a plan and a little dose of reality. 

Respect change and everything it entails.

Unfortunately, I’ve been offline a lot lately. But now it’s time to get back to it. I shouldn’t have been away so long because the way we work is changing so quickly.

I’ve been away, working with clients, reviewing software, putting out fires, allaying fears and spending a little time at home preparing for the HOT season in Vegas.

With Q1 over, I’m sure many who have implemented new systems to manage the agency or in-house department are moving right along swimmingly. Everything is perfect.

It isn't? What now?!

There’s more to adding to your toolkit than adopting another free app or yet a new, new space in Google docs.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be going over the steps to evaluate your current systems (you did that first, right?), evaluate new systems (and grill ‘em on the details), plan for implementation, and finally – go live with less trauma.

Oh, and I’ll be including some software reviews.

Change is never easy, but neither are operations with multiple, redundant, disconnected pieces.

Let's make better use of our time with a sensible toolkit - and a sensible implementation.

A little zen before I tell you what to do... Freeimages.com/Eric Nelson

A little zen before I tell you what to do... Freeimages.com/Eric Nelson

Think of agency management software as having an amazing toolkit, and experts who know how to use them - and apply them to how you work. When you collaborate with the people who have been down that path, you'll get the most out of that investment.

 

What’s ahead?

  • Evaluate your situation. What’s working, what’s not, what do you want?

  • Evaluate options. Is it time to invest in new systems, or maybe rework the old ones?

  • Evaluate tools. What’s best for your agency depends on a range of issues that are seldom considered in addition to accounting and project management.

  • Create a plan. What are realistic expectations for setup [data entry/imports], implementation, and change management? Who’s going to do the work?

  • Create a schedule. It takes time to get everything in place, tested, and a roll-out that is successful. Setting expectations with your colleagues will turn it from rumor to reality. Everyone likes to know what’s going on. Especially if it affects them.

  • Roll-out and re-boot. I can almost guarantee that you will rework a few areas after you launch. How people use the tools available will amaze you.

  • Therapy corner. I always provide this as a service to my clients. Vent, cry, or blame the software – then we dig in and fix issues. 

Job Opening

I know wonderful folks in the agency world, and sometimes one of them needs an awesome person to be part of their team. 

That time is now. My friends at Moroch are looking for a highly skilled Director of Project Management, 10 solid years experience in all mediums, and knows how to calmly manage a great team that is very busy.

Your Moment of Zen. freeimages.com/michael&christinarichert

Your Moment of Zen. freeimages.com/michael&christinarichert

I wouldn't put this out there if I didn't love this group. So go, apply now!

Purpose

The purpose of my blog is to acknowledge the day-to-day in an agency or in-house marketing department and provide ways to make things run smoother. Less stressful. Efficiently.

I’m hired by management to assess the situation and recommend solutions. I do that by talking to everyone – from the CEO to the kid in the mailroom (which could be one in the same). I find out what they do, how they do it, the tools they use and the gaps, hurdles and obstructions that waste their time.

Then we outline them and tackle every issue.

So, while catering to the guys and gals who hire me, I know the ones who really know the score are the people doing the work. They are pushed, stressed and giving their best to overcome some pretty ridiculous situations. Rules / lack of rules, redundancies, little direction, interruptions – and still deadlines loom and budgets must be met. A deep well of knowledge exists there.

Tack-strips in this car chase are everywhere. Yet the staff is committed to getting to their destination: get the work done.

Treat them right. They’re generating revenue.

So to all management, I will often call you out on the blunders you make – knowingly or unknowingly – so your business will run better and you can retain staff that will do whatever it takes to do amazing creative.

Your Moment of Zen. freeimages.com/thomasmoller

Your Moment of Zen. freeimages.com/thomasmoller

Buck up. Do the same for them.

This is tough love for those who take the chances, put everything on the line, and make the opportunity possible for everyone in their agency.

Re-Start

I took a break. Yeah, I had some awesome clients who deserved my undivided attention (love the folks in Minneapolis!); I've done a lot of reading and research on things that matter when organizing an agency (lifelong learning); and I got through the holidays, which seem so long ago.

Las Vegas is getting warmer, will be in the 70s this week. All that whining when it was below my preferred temps (it DID get into the 20s) is forgotten and now that I'm thawed I'm ready to get rolling.

Oh, and New Year's resolutions? Broke them all already. (blog every day, exercise 5 times a week, etc.)

Thanks for hanging in there with me! Let salvation begin.