Friday, July 18, 2014

27 DAM Terms Every Studio Manager Should Know

In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power,” John F. Kennedy

As studio managers, it's our duty to keep up with the technology and trends relevant to our industry. You also need to interact with your IT and/or Digital Asset Management personnel and quite frankly even having a 'water cooler' chat with them, to the majority of us, it's a sure trip to Google some of the terms filtered in their 'geeky' vocabulary.

I've put together a list of 27 terms and concepts that in my personal opinion are the most important to any end user of a DAM system. Most of them you probably know already and in general this may help us to brush up on our DAM knowledge, so the next time you talk to the dudes from IT, your first reaction is not a "Huh?" Yes!, I've been there and I must confess this blog has been a very humble and educational experience for myself. I hope you'll find it interesting as well.

Access Control List or ACL is a technical term to refer to permissions which control the visibility, usage and modification of assets (corresponding to activity descriptions like view, download and edit).

An Application Programming Interface or API is a set of specifications used by an application program to communicate and share data with other applications. These are often published as a set of documents by the software vendor. By leveraging the power of an API, developers can execute functions and retrieve their results from an external application. The degree of ease required to achieve system integration and expansion are commensurate with the quality of an API.

A type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as AND, NOT and OR to further produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be "advertising" AND "New York". This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords.

Cataloging means the high-level process of adding metadata to assets in a Digital Asset Management system. It is also called Ingesting.

Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services.
Cloud computing, or in simpler shorthand just "the cloud", also focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also dynamically reallocated per demand.

DAM is an acronym for Digital Asset Management. Digital Asset Management (DAM) – the process of cataloging, finding, delivering and preserving digital assets; including images, documents, video, audio and any other digital file. Digital Asset Management systems provide users with a central location to search, locate, access and share files in an easy and efficient way.

Is transferring a database (assets, metadata, folder structure, etc) from one system to another. Usually happens when one system is replacing another.

A database is typically used in a DAM system to hold metadata about assets. The majority of modern databases are known as Relational Databases (the correct term is RDBMS (Relational Database Management System). In a relational database, tables of information are connected together by using identifiers (or indexes) to do search on them.

Converting a physical/analog file, such as a paper document, slide or printed photograph, into a digital file, i.e., scanning.

A graphical user interface (GUI) is a common type of user interface which allows users to interact with DAM through the use of graphical icons and visual indicators.

Ingesting is also referred to as cataloging. The process of adding or uploading assets to your digital asset management system, and adding, embedding and extracting metadata to/from your assets. Once the assets are in your DAM system, users can search, find, share and work with your digital files.

A vocabulary that uses a collaborative method to categorize your metadata, where freely chosen keywords are used instead of a controlled vocabulary (such as with taxonomy). It could lead to inconsistencies in the classification of information (kitty versus cat, for example).

The action of assigning information to your assets to describe them better and help others find them later. Keywords become part of your digital assets’ metadata. Organizations usually use a combination of taxonomy and folksonomy for describing their assets.

Linked Data is a series of techniques to allow data which is stored in a distributed fashion to be interconnected. It is describes a range of functions, including exposing, sharing, and connecting data.

Media Asset Management (MAM) is generally considered as simply an alternative term for Digital Asset Management, although some would argue that a MAM system only supports video rather than any type of digital file.

Metadata is the data about the data. it's the descriptive information about your files. Digital asset management systems rely heavily on metadata, as it’s critical for searching, retrieving and managing your rich media assets.

This term refers to any files that are created from the original for reference purposes. They are used to represent assets - in general as a low resolution, truncated or otherwise constrained edition. The term is now the more popular way to describe non-original assets that have been rendered specifically for use in Digital Asset Management system.

It's the acronym for Storage Area Network. It's a dedicated network that provides access to consolidated storage. SANs are primarily used to make storage devices, such as disk arrays appear like locally attached devices to an operating system (Server). Typically used by enterprise level organizations.

When talking about databases, your schema is the framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. It is your structure, your list of fields (such as date, author, name, subject, etc) that you would like your catalogs to contain.

Tagging is a colloquial term given to the process of adding metadata generally and keywords in particular to digital assets.

The technique for creating classifications, using a very controlled vocabulary. Unlike folksonomy, it is hierarchical in nature, and represents information about your assets or metadata. An organization may use taxonomy to better manage the metadata that users will assign to the digital assets.

Transcoding is the process of converting one video or audio format into another. In general it refers to the conversion of one codec to another (e.g. MPEG to FLV), although the description can also apply to conversions between container formats (e.g. QuickTime to AVI).

User Interface (or 'UI') is a generic IT term relating to the method by which a user operates computer software. User interfaces typically are either graphical or command oriented (e.g., written instructions).

The way a file travels to, through and from a DAM system. Workflow reads and acts upon metadata. Workflow can add captions, convert colours and handle distribution. It saves time and errors.

XML is an abbreviation of Extensible Markup Language. XML is a standard for creating markup languages which describe the structure of data so that it can be exchanged between two different systems. It is heavily used in systems integration. Most Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems include features that allow metadata and assets to be supplied to third party systems in XML format.

Extensible Metadata Platform. A standard created by Adobe for processing and storing metadata about all types of digital assets such as images, documents, layout documents, etc. Metadata is embedded into the files and allows files to be shared and transferred without any of the information getting lost.

It's the pioneer of the next generation of cloud-based enterprise asset management systems. I'm very excited of migrating to this innovative system and you can find out more at

Ernie Arias is an Advertising Studio Manager at Hogarth WW. Social Media enthusiast. Dad, husband. Opinions are my own.

References.: DAM Glossary, DAM Learning Center, Wikipedia, ZONZA.

Monday, June 16, 2014

7 Tips To Improve Your Workflow Management

As a Studio Manager, the last thing you want to see is a job circulating countless rounds or a project taking much longer than the estimated time, thus creating a bottleneck in your workflow and affecting your deadline. The ideal is a steady and smooth flow of jobs getting in and out period.


It doesn't matter how big or small your studio is, you need to have a process in place. All entities interacting and affecting your workflow must acknowledge this process. Otherwise, you'll have chaos and disorganization in your studio. There is a misconception about not implementing process because of the size of the studio and in my personal opinion it's just wrong. Process is the only way to guarantee a consistent result on similar tasks.


Every account should have a set of guidelines. If you find yourself working on a new account and you don't have the style guide, it's time to create one. You should communicate to the Account and Creative teams of the need of a style-guide. They'll happily agree, because everybody benefits from having one. This ensures consistency on every job output from this particular account.


Logging-in every job either manually or by means of a software (a database like FileMaker Pro is recommended) will provide very valuable data that can be used to assist you in future decision-making and planning. 


To establish priorities is a no-brainer, but sometimes it can be very tricky. In my opinion, the client should be your number one priority. Jobs that require files to be sent to the client, mechanical releases or any production job in general should be considered a priority. Very often you'll get "rush" requests that in reality are driven by personal agendas—it's just something you have to deal with. 


This is probably the most important part of taking a job to the studio. So many jobs go to an unnecessary number of extra rounds due to a misunderstanding in the briefing. It's a good idea to have the studio artist taking part in the briefing. They usually have questions and the requester can answer them in the spot. At the end of the briefing, make sure everyone is on the same page about the task at hand. Make sure supplied assets are correct, FTP sites, copy sent via e-mail, etc., before the requester leaves, just to make sure that everything is in order and we'll be able to meet the deadline with no problems.


After delegating a job to a studio artist, if he/she finds an issue, give them 10 minutes to figure it out on their own and if they can't, then they must bring it back to their manager, who'll take proper action either by finding a solution or by notifying the requester about the issue.


It's a matter of great concern when a simple advertorial circulates more than 4 times. It's definitely a red flag and you should pay close attention to this. Identify the problem and take action. 

These workflow tips are specifically for an advertising/graphic studio. However, some of them can also be applied to other industries where workflow management is part of the daily work routine. I hope you find them useful. If you have any tips of your own, please share them with us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Crowdsourcing On LinkedIn: What Does It Take To Be A True Professional?

“The true professional is a person whose action points beyond his or herself to that underlying reality, that hidden wholeness, on which we all can rely.” Parker Palmer 

Last October I started writing an article about the qualities of a true professional, and right in the middle of the first paragraph, an idea came to mind. I thought, "What if instead of writing it on my own, I do some crowdsourcing on Linkedin and pick up the brain of the many professionals on my network?"And that's exactly what I did and what a better place to do it than a discussion group. 

Of the many groups I've been honored with being a member, I decided on using the "Advertising Professionals" group because it has the largest amount of members in our industry. See the whole discussion on this link:

As expected, I received lots of interesting insights from professionals of different backgrounds within the industry which helped me to come up with some bullet points about the essence of being a true professional: 
  • You should never promise what you can't deliver. A true professional always under-promise and over-deliver. Once you lose your CREDIBILITY you'll never get it back.
  • When you're a true professional your actions should never be motivated by personal matters. You must always bring to work your ETHICS 'toolbox.'
  • You should never stop from doing what you have to do because 'this is not my schedule.' When a true professional is asked by his/her boss to do or work on something, you'll never hear the lame excuses 'it is not on my job description' or 'these are not my hours.' A true professional is a CAREER-ORIENTED, TEAM-PLAYER and RESPONSIBLE individual, who is always willing to give more than what he's been asked to do. 
  • Effective COMMUNICATION is a critical skill in every professional. Communication is a 2-way path, so listening carefully and expressing your ideas, clearly, thoroughly, succinctly and accurately should be mastered by a true professional. Either when you're writing an e-mail, having a phone conversation or standing up in a meeting, clear and effective communication is a must. 
  • True professionals are constantly motivated to learn and to keep that knowledge up to date, always fresh. They understand the importance of becoming an EXPERT in their field of work by keeping themselves up to date in the latest software, skills, tools, techniques, required to do their job.
  • Indeed true professionals are models of what every company's code of conduct book says. As a rare breed they are, they'll treat everyone respectfully and pretty much the same way they expect to be treated. Especially when interacting directly with clients and costumers, either selling goods or as a service provider, the way you treat them will determine how successful your business will be. So certainly EMPATHY, COMPASSION, RESPECT and HUMAN RELATIONS skills are in a true
    professional's DNA. 
  • True professionals, regardless of being in a position of power, are humble enough to acknowledge what is not known. They are also capable of admitting their mistakes because they are up-front and responsible individuals. Another HUMILITY signal is that no matter how good they might be, you'll never catch them neither gloating or in a self-praise, boastfulness speech. On the contrary, they'll give credit to whoever deserves credit and possess the best attitude to pass their knowledge to their peers.   
In a nutshell being a true professional is an attitude, a passion that emboldens you to do your work with unparalleled energy and contagious enthusiasm. It's way beyond salary and more about giving and serving. It's also about integrity, responsibility, commitment and trustworthiness. Unfortunately for some individuals, you can't fake any of these values, and that makes being a true professional a very powerful brand. A brand that anyone would like to be associated with.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Coaching and Mentoring: The Keys to Being a Successful Leader

 If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. John Quincy Adams
Coaching and mentoring are by far the most effective ways to build a team and become a successful leader. They create a strong connection between supervisor and employees by building trust and loyalty, simply because employees feel that they are being valued and appreciated by their supervisor and/or organization.

When an employee is working under the type of leadership that invests in their career advancement —a leadership that not only sets goals and objectives, but also gives clear directions and access to the resources they need to attain top performance— they become a highly motivated employee, and highly motivated employees are usually the most productive ones.

More Commitment and Higher Employee Retention

When employees are experiencing growth and advancement in their careers, it's extremely difficult for them to leave. Realizing that their supervisor cares, the feeling of gratitude for the newly learned skills, and the perception of being part of the team are all powerful elements that strengthen their commitment and increase the accountability on any given task.

Reducing Cost of Freelancers

It also helps you to bring everyone to the next level of skills, which in return will improve the quality of performance delivered by your team. In a very challenging job market, where good talent is scarce and expensive, you're better off investing time and resources in helping your staff to realize their full potential, rather than hiring an expensive freelancer. Just imagine the immensely positive impact in your ROI if you're able to reduce or completely cutoff the spending on freelancers.

In a work environment that's constantly changing due to technology and/or economy, quickly adapting to new situations is a must. If you are a manager these days, you're probably facing more work to do with less people to work with; or maybe you've been asked to stop spending on freelancers for the next two months, even though your workflow will not lessen during that period. This is the time when you look at your staff and wish you had two or three copies of your best performer; it's also the time for a reality check, and to start thinking about how easy it would be if your under-performers could develop to their fullest potential.

The Infamous Indispensable Man

Have you ever heard a business owner or an employee gloating about every time they go on vacation, their shop or office descends into anarchy and chaos? You can actually see how important and proud they feel when they're talking about this. Their ego is so inflated they're oblivious to the fact that there's nothing to be proud of. Nobody, absolutely no one, should be indispensable! And when we let this happen, it just means we've failed as managers.

There's a tendency with some insecure individuals, out of the fear of losing their jobs, to "mark territory" and keep a tight grip on certain important tasks that may require specialized training. This is a very common and harmful practice in the workplace and the way to avoid it is simple. As a manager or business owner you need to ensure your coaching and training programs are followed thoroughly as part of the process, never allowing individuals to come up with their very own "personalized system," i.e., user names and passwords to access vendors and client sites, when needed, must be available to anyone in the office.

In an advertising studio, we have individuals with different sets of skills and degrees of expertise. It would be almost impossible to have a studio full of know-it-all, Jack-of-all-trades studio artists, but what you can do is to motivate and coach the team so they can strengthen their weakest skills by supporting them with the proper training. So when your best production artist is out, your designer can handle the task of producing a mechanical.

Leadership is about giving and sharing knowledge, which is the most precious asset anyone can possess, with the only difference that whoever gives knowledge is not losing a bit of it, and this is a beautiful thing. An organization with a structured coaching and mentoring programs would not suffer much if one of the key employees decides to go on a long vacation or leave the company, and periods of transition, i.e., promotion or succession, will go really smoothly.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Love, The Most Precious of All Human Values!

The morning after Christmas, I was lying down on the couch, watching cartoons with my kids and enjoying my coffee when suddenly my mobile rang. It was my mother who wanted to know about the kids since we didn't celebrate together. I hung up the phone and one of my boys asked me what's the meaning of the word 'value,' (I've just mentioned that word while talking to my mother).

I described value by asking him a simple question, "we have two equal boxes, ones is full of toys and the other is full of dirt, which one is more valuable to you? His answer was obviously the box full of toys and my job was done! He now knows what 'value' means. However, I thought this was a great opportunity to get a bit deeper in the topic and talk to them about personal values.

I turned off the TV and asked them, "Come on guys, let's do something fun and interesting! We're going to learn a bit more about 'value.' Let's now learn the meaning of Personal Values." They were not so thrilled about my idea (I've just interrupted their favorite show). But I continued anyway, after all I didn't feel I was being disruptive because one of them initiated the whole thing.

I asked them to look for their dictionary and gave everyone a list of five thoroughly selected values (all social and human-interaction related values.) Here is the list: Obedience, organization, respect, responsibility, tidiness, honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness, integrity, poise, composure, resilience, generosity, altruism and empathy. They already knew some of these words and a few of the ones they didn't know, were not listed on their dictionary, so they wound up using mine.

When we finished discussing every word, I asked them to visualize two exactly equal treasure chests, one full with gold and diamonds, and the other full of wood. If both chests are closed, we'll need to open them up in order to know what's inside. Then I changed the treasure chests with people and asked, "imagine two individuals, one is responsible, loyal, honest, generous and trustworthy; the other is irresponsible, dishonest, petty-minded, and deceiver. In your opinion which one possess the values you'd like your friends and the people around you to have? They all agreed the first one has the values they would like their friends to have. Then my six years old daughter asked me, "like gold and diamonds in the box, what would be the most precious of all values for a person to have?

My brain paused for a few seconds, thinking about the best answer for my daughter's question and suddenly I was able to clearly see the answer. "Love it is my dear Jazz. If you fill your heart with love you'll fulfill all the other values," I replied to my daughter. I just couldn't believe how did I mention fifteen personal values and forgot the most precious of all. It all started with me trying to teach something to my kids and I was the one learning the lesson!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

LinkedIn Recommendations: An Advertising Studio Manager's Insight

By Ernie Arias 

"Credit to the fullest the good qualities to be found in others, even though they may far outshine your own." William M. Peck

A LinkedIn recommendation has more value than just a Like, sharing or commenting on any of the other social networks. As a matter of fact, if you think about this, it's the equivalent of all three social media metric markers in one single post. Let me explain, when you recommend someone it's always a positive comment about an individual's performance (like and comment) and when you post it, you're actually sharing it to all your contacts (share). Not to mention that once you post a recommendation and the recipient approves, it gets embedded on both of your profiles permanently (of course, unless you withdraw it). So we're talking about a triple combo of a share, a like and a comment with no expiration date!! Get the idea!

Motivation Through Recognition

The other great value of a recommendation via LinkedIn is that it's by far the cheapest, and one of the most appreciated, ways of performance recognition. Unfortunately, it's also so underrated and underutilized because of the misconception of identifying salary raises as the only way to recognize employees, and perhaps some more traditional individuals are just concerned about using the mainstream media and going public with it. But you can't imagine how good it feels to get a simple word of praise, compliment, pat-on-the-back or a LinkedIn recommendation (BTW, it's free). It's such a great motivation knowing that your effort has been recognized by your boss, your peers or anyone within your working environment. It works like fuel, igniting you to accomplish more and greater things within your company.

The True Essence of a Recommendation

Recommendations have been traditionally requested by individuals, either when quitting a job, or when being laid off for reasons not related to performance. It's usually called a recommendation or reference letter, depending on to whom the letter is addressed. These type of references are also requested by Human Resources departments and managers at any level involved in the hiring process. As a studio manager, I've both received and requested references about job candidates, and I've observed there's something in common: There is a non-written code between managers about the trustworthiness of these references and recommendations. Your professional reputation and integrity are simply on the line if you're ever caught lying about an employee's past performance.

We can clearly see three very distinctive aspects in a LinkedIn recommendation, starting with how it's perceived from a social media point of view; the amazing motivational power it has, which can be utilized by managers and HR in their reward programs; and the qualitative value of being trustworthy by adhering to its true essence.

Tips From The Experts

Most social media experts advise that before you ask for something you first have to give something, and the same principle applies to LinkedIn recommendations. Many following this tip are trading or swapping recommendations with fellow professionals. The truth of the matter is, regardless how you get a recommendation, it better be trustworthy. Having several recommendations could make any LinkedIn profile look good. However, you need to keep in mind that what really counts—it's not a social media metric algorithm (Klout, Peerindex, Kred, etc.) scrawling your profile. Instead, it's a pair of human eyes reading and assessing the content that will enable you to land the job. Quality over quantity!!


Your opinion is greatly appreciated and if you liked this article, please use the share buttons below to spread the word.

Ernie Arias

Monday, April 30, 2012

Delegation, The Power To Empower

By Ernie Arias
"I just do what I'm really good at, to delegate. The rest I delegate it."  twitted on July 14th, 2011.

My first gig as a studio manager was about ten years ago. A responsibility I earned because of my work ethic, outstanding skills as a studio artist and an excellent interaction with my co-workers as well as with the Traffic Coordinators, Editorial, Print Production and Account personnel. Pretty much everyone agreed I was right for the position and I was very excited in taking this new challenging opportunity. However, today I look back and realize how 'green' I was, regardless how super-talented I might be.

I still remember my first week as being such a traumatic and stressful experience, because either I wanted to do everything myself or at least be involved in it more than I needed to be as a supervisor. There I was, completely out of my comfort zone and as someone else pointed out, "I found myself distrusting my piers," the very same individuals I've never judged or distrusted before when I was not a supervisor. On the contrary, they were all excellent professionals and we had a very strong studio process in place plus a newly created quality control unit. As a matter of fact, there was no rationale that could have possibly explained my behavior. So what was wrong? What's happening?

My problem was very simple, I was not delegating as much as I should. It took me a while until I was able to adjust to my new responsibilities as manager and learned to delegate effectively.

The Big Picture

Delegation is probably one of the most important skills a studio manager must possess and it's as simple as assessing the job requests, dealing with priorities and distributing the workload among your staff (and freelancers), always following the cardinal rule of not doing anything that doesn't absolutely need to be done by you. It's very easy to fall in the trap of creating a work overload on your desk if you don't delegate effectively, especially to those who are very skillful and can take care of any task as good as any studio artist or even better. You need to focus in your task as a manager in order to maintain control over the workflow, priorities, process and quality of the final delivery. You must sit down on the 'Captain's chair' to be able to see the 'big picture' and ensure the operation is running smoothly, as well as to identify, anticipate any potential problem and take corrective action.

Building Trust And Empowering Your Staff

By delegating, assigning important tasks, you build trust and create a sense of ownership and empowerment among your team. Trust is essential to leadership and team building, and also to earn respect beyond your appointed position. Good employees are very observant of the manager's ability to delegate and when they sense they're not being utilized as much as they can perform or to the level they can perform, they simply feel themselves as not being trusted, hence a bit demoralized. They can also misjudge the manager as not being confident or even worse, holding a heavy workload on your desk might also be misinterpreted as territorial protection.

The good news is that delegation is a skill, and as any skill it can be learned. Not surprisingly, there is a very tight connection between your title and your ability to delegate. The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more refined and effective your delegation skills must be.


If you've made it to this point it means you read this article. Awesome!! Your opinion is greatly appreciated and if you like it, please use the share buttons to spread the word.
Ernie Arias

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A New Business Pitch: Put The Bubbly On Ice, This One Is A Win!!

By Ernie Arias

Of all activities, New Business pitches are the most exhausting, demanding and strenuous projects in any advertising studio. They can also be the most satisfying and rewarding, especially when the 'cherry on top' is a big WIN. It feels as if you're putting your hands on the most coveted of all trophies after a fierce and long competition.

What a win Represents

Winning a new account or getting more business out of an existing client, it's essentially what our business is about. You don't have to be a genius to realize that a new account will bring financial gains to your company and eventually this translates into securing job spots, the possibility of hiring more talent, new creative challenge that comes with a new product, brand or market and it also opens the door to expand the clientele because of all the good PR that comes with a new business win. It's not a coincidence when an agency wins an account, several others come right after. Simply put, every new business acquisition adds equity to an agency's brand.

Team effort and studio's role

You can certainly compare a new business pitch with a competition because that's exactly what it is. Several agencies competing against each other in a showdown of creativity, marketing and business strategies. The studio is an integral team member in this 'competition' and plays two very important and distinctive roles. The one prior to a presentation and what we do after the agency wins an account.

Let's use this analogy from ancient times to represent the studio roles: Hunters would go out into the wild for days and come back to 'put the meat on the table.' Then you have the people who'd cook and grill this meat to perfection in order to feed the whole tribe. Prior to the hunting campaign there was a team preparing those hunters with proper weapons and some food and water to survive several days out of their shelter. In this analogy the group of people preparing the hunters represent the studios.

Every creative execution, regardless the media in which is going to be presented, goes to the studios for an exhaustive clean-up and meticulous scrutiny before it's produced either as a printed and mounted board or as a video presentation. After a win, the studios are in charge of delivering ads (print and digital), web sites, direct mail, in-store and OOH pieces to vendors and publications. Some people usually call it the 'dirty work,' while I call it the 'Final Touch.' And the quality of this 'final touch' in combination with an excellent creative output and a stellar Account team performance is what allows an agency to get more business from an existing client.

Don't you want to be part of this?

So after knowing all of these interesting facts, don't you want to be part of the team working on the next new business pitch? Well, I do. And I believe every employee should embrace new business as one of the most (or maybe the most) important projects in an agency. New business efforts bring cohesion, strengthen our culture, raise the morale and promote high employee engagement, not to mention of all the good things that come after a win. 

I can hear the Commodore shouting, with his powerful and commanding voice, "Bring the champagne! This is a win! Let's celebrate!!"


If you've made it to this point it means you read this article. Awesome!! Your opinion is greatly appreciated and if you like it, please use the share buttons to spread the word.
Ernie Arias

Friday, March 23, 2012

Studio Procedures and Deadlines: Walking The Tightrope

By Ernie Arias

"To manage a studio is not enough to walk the fine line between business and service, yet stick to process. We also need emotional intelligence." Ernie Arias on Twitter 7/8/2011
Small graphic businesses, design firms and some boutique agencies are not as complexly organized and well-structured as a large advertising firm. This becomes more evident when it comes to creative services and more specifically the studio. Many of these organizations don't even have a studio but instead a unit where graphic designers, art directors, retouchers and producers converge and everyone is a "Jack-of-all-trades," multifaceted and super-qualified employee. Camaraderie, proactivity and team work are always present, and this might be the perfect environment for creative ideas to flourish in. However, you can also find a bit of disorganization; lack of structure and procedures, which affect the workflow and billing system.

Several books, articles and non-traditional media about BPM (Business Process Management) have been written and pretty much all of them agree on one thing: the main reason for having or creating management procedures is to guarantee consistency in delivering a product or a service. There is a popular saying; "measure it twice and cut it once." I am going to use it as an analogy. In our case, it would be "follow the process and you only have to work once."

Standard Studio Procedures
Standard studio procedures have been created out of learned experience and most of the time are based on trial and error, by what is demanded on a particular situation in a specific moment, with means that have been proven to be effective. Procedures prevent errors, streamline the work and guarantee consistency, regardless of who is working on any given job. So it's very important to watch out for those requests to avoid studio procedures because they will compromise the deadline. Be tactful and convey to requesters how important it is to follow the process. Ask them about the possibility of extending the—deadline because if something goes wrong, there's always going to be time to fix it.

There are some procedures common to every studio, but I'll just mention 3 of the most important ones:
  • Proofreading—Every job routing out of the studio needs to be proofread. You should never, ever buy into "No, it doesn't need to be proofread. It's just internal." Or "We don't have time to proofread the document." Well, I've got news for you. As a studio manager, you're accountable for any misspelling errors if you go along with such an irresponsible attitude. My recommendation is to either greek the copy or place a watermark across the document with something like "DOCUMENT WAS NOT PROOFREAD, AS PER REQUEST. STUDIO IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY MISSPELLING ERRORS." This will definitely deter any requester trying to avoid proofreading.
  • Flight-check and Quality Control—Every completed job going to a pub, a vendor or any digital/web material needs to be checked thoroughly prior to release. Studios are the final destination of all the laborious efforts made by the rest of the teams. We are the last line of defense, hence the need to create a robust QC process. Whether created with cutting-edge technology or manually, every job going out has to be perfect.
  • Routing Signatures—Slugs are a standard medium to route jobs throughout the agency and there's a signature box in it for everyone responsible for overseeing each round. It is imperative that everyone involved sign off on every single round to prevent an excessive amount of rounds and to increase accountability. With today's digital technology, there shouldn't be excuses for not routing a job to all parties involved. When an editor, a proofreader, or a studio manager address some issues about a job on the routing printout, those queries require the addressee's attention. It is very frustrating when a job routes back to the studio with unanswered queries.
No Procedure Is Set In Stone
Every studio has its own personality and for that reason it needs its own customized directives, based on industry standard procedures, to be able to function and engage seamlessly with the rest of the agency. Procedures are meant to streamline, to ensure quality, to increase accountability and, as I mentioned before, to ensure consistency in your output. It's a very well discussed and thorough process before you establish a determined procedure but the reality is that a new technology (software or hardware), a new client, or even the economy can trigger a revision in your current process. It's not a perfect science but it helps immensely in our quotidian management routine!

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