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!

I hope you've enjoyed the article. Please post your opinion. Comments are greatly appreciated!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Corporate Fitness 101: Managing A Lean Studio

By Ernie Arias

 Advertising industry, with its highs and lows, offers quite an interesting challenge in financial management. The need to maintain 'healthy' quarterly financial statements regardless of business 'going south' on a downhill ride, it is perhaps the most important task and responsibility over the shoulders of a CFO and any department director presenting financial reports. And among all agency's departments, the studio is undoubtedly the quintessential, role model of a business unit within a business because of its service-provider nature, therefore it's at the same time the easiest one to be outsourced in its entirety.

I bring outsourcing into this article as the total opposite solution some Operation Managers opt for, when things go sour financially speaking. The bottom line is that it's a business and it needs to be profitable otherwise it will collapse.

Technology, The Backbone Of 'The Skeleton Crew'
Backbone and Skeleton might sound a little creepy, but the reality is that we must rely on cutting-edge technology to streamline and optimize tasks. Just like robotics technology replaced dozens of hard-labor employees in a processing plant, the same way cutting-edge technology like Dalim Twist, Xinet WebNative suite, FMP-JobCharge, etc., allow us to streamline our work flow, to increase productivity and to manage with a few good ones (über studio artists.)

You can go technical if you want, and utilize sophisticated methods to determine who are the studio overachievers that will allow you to run a lean studio; SWOT analyses, performance reviews, the Pareto or 80/20 rule,, etc., the truth is that you already know who they are and if you don't my recommendation is to do the 'mental exercise' so when the time comes to cut staff you are ready for it. (This might sound cruel and heartless but the reality is every employee's salary must represent 3X revenue in order to have a healthy profit margin, hence the need of managers to make sometimes unpopular decisions.)

Staffing Agencies + Social Networks
Now that you're running the studio with a reduced number of excellent employees, one thing you don't want to do is to burn them out. It wouldn't be proper to "reward" or better say to punish them with ridiculous amount of work, unless you want to compromise the morale in your team.

It is true that in this business we have to put many times the extra effort. However, this should never be the norm. In order to create sustainability with this model you need to have a reliable source of freelancers that will cover the over flow, so having a good commercial relationship with staffing agencies plus building your own pool of talented freelancers by the means of social networks, it is the way to go.

Fluctuating Work Flow
With this business model there is absolute guarantee the staffers' profit margin will be substantially high and bringing freelancers will always have a rationale, so regardless is billable or non-billable you should have a positive profit margin or worst case scenario, at least you'll cut even.

Communication between departments is critical. Getting timely heads up from Project Managers and Print Producers will allow the studio manager to staff properly and to keep any project within the estimated budget. There is also the need to incorporate certain preemptive measures as part of our billing and staffing process to avoid undesirable situations with the requester.

Get Lean Without Being Mean
As I mentioned before, this is a business and it must be profitable otherwise it might collapse. But you don't need to be a corporate tyrant in order to achieve this, on the contrary, now that you have a crew of super qualified and talented individuals who are giving you 110% whenever is required, you must consider putting your management efforts towards keeping a high morale within your group by the means of compensation, reward programs and even salary raises. If you used the 80/20 rule to pick them up you should know that they were the 20% of your crew responsible for generating 80% of the revenue, so they really deserve it.


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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Retrospective: Top 12 Social Media Tweets From An Advertising Studio Manager

It has been almost a year when I experienced a strong connection with social media and started using pretty much all social networks. To celebrate my first year of actively tweeting, I've collected some of my most memorable tweets (descending chronological order) to share with you: 
I hope you enjoy my story and can appreciate the ingenuity within these tweets. It's like someone who've just discovered this powerful new thing and is so excited about it. Since then my enthusiasm has just grown exponentially and I've been studying and experimenting with social media. The more I do it the more I like it. I believe I've just found an activity that turned out to define a turning point in my life and professional career. 'Enhorabuena Social Media.'

I hope you've enjoyed the article. Please post your opinion. Comments are greatly appreciated!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On A Quest To Hire The Über Production Artist

After reading my blog post "The Über-Manager: A True Story", a high-end Retoucher asked me what does it take to be an Über-Studio Artist and I answered the following:

"In my story about the Über-Manager, I am referring to an individual who cannot only manage but work and do pretty much anything in a studio. In your case to be an Über-Artist you'll have to take the 'Specialist' approach instead of the 'do-it-all.' Retouchers, unlike Production Artists, don't need to know as many applications, instead they need to be specialists in order to find their niche, a position and to create professional brand.

Studio Managers really appreciate when a Retouching Artist knows about color profiles, effective resolution, spot color usage, file formats and technical prepress knowledge. However, what really gives you an edge is to be a specialist within the specialty. For instance if you are an expert retoucher in high-fashion or jewelry, or a wizard doing background extensions out of 'nada.' Those are the qualities that will make you stand out from the crowd."

With this thought in mind I started analyzing the characteristics we look for when hiring a studio artist.  In general we want them to be responsible and reliable, to have a good attitude, expertise in their field and software knowledge, etc. 

Production Artist qualities
A mechanical artist needs to be a pre-press wizard, someone who understands that we receive comps (visual layouts) from Art Directors and we need to transform them into a printable piece (mechanicals ready for production). Let's put together a list of the most notable skills a production artist should have:

  • Software—Proficiency using Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat is a must. Shortcuts knowledge is what makes the difference between a power user and a junior artist. Speed and quality are critical in a production environment.
  • Pre-flighting—Thorough knowledge about effective resolution, color trapping, color profiles, how to troubleshoot files, i.e., a banding gradient, PMS colors appearing twice in the color palette because of bad naming, etc.
  • Logo usage and Branding, Style Guide knowledge—It's a godsend when a production artist knows all the nuances about a specific account.
  • Typography and Typesetting skills—Font knowledge and font management usage. Being detail oriented and able to identify when tracking and kerning are not right or inconsistent, having the eye to appreciate when leading and/or paragraph spacing is/are off or inconsistent, minimize the use of text boxes with the proper use of Indesign typesetting tools (setting tabs and tables when appropriate), creation of style sheets and spell checking before printing.
  • Mechanical Revisions—Attention to detail is required for every Studio Artist, and while doing a revision to a mechanical might not be a difficult or glamorous task, you'd be surprised at how many times a simple punctuation or deletion request is missed in a round. Good Production Artists check their own work before it goes to proofreading.
  • Design sense—Even though most of the production artist job posts say "not a designer position," in my opinion every production artist should have the ability to interpret the Art Director's design and must be able to translate and respect the integrity of such design when resizing a mechanical. Beyond the obvious knowledge of bleed, trim and safety, it is very important to see when elements are not properly aligned, cluttered, off-balance and/or disproportionate. Art Directors truly appreciate when Production Artists add value to their layouts.
  • Diecuts—Setting up mechanicals with foldouts, gatefolds,  BRCs, pockets and interesting printing processes like spot varnish, metallic inks, die construction, etc., is like Disneyland to the Production Artists. It is the kind of task that allows them to show a certain degree of expertise in the trade. (In my days as a Production Artist those were my favorite.)
  • Workflow and Process—A good Production Artist follows directions and understands how important it is to adhere to the studio process. File organization, folder structure and naming conventions must be consistent across the board.
  • Delivering files to pubs and vendors—PDF X1A workflow is the standard when delivering files to a publication. However, a Collect for Output (CFO) is the norm when delivering files to a vendor. So it's really important for a Production Artist to understand the science behind a PDF X1A compliant file as much as it's important to make sure that all assets have been collected when doing a CFO. A common mistake the artists make when doing a CFO is missing to collect either a font or a bitmap file that's being used in an Illustrator file. Testing and attention to detail are a must when doing file delivery.

With the rise of new technology like Dalim Twist (Pre-media) and Xinet Webnative (Digital Asset Management system); Adstream (file delivery to pubs); and software upgrades (Slugger, Cropster, Color Breaker, etc.) that streamlines tedious and complicated tasks, the job of a Production Artist has become much easier than what it used to be a few years ago. Nevertheless, technology is just an aide. Just knowing how to use a software doesn't make you an Über Production Artist, but the understanding and knowledge of the concepts behind that technology. Either by means of traditional paste-up or using computer technology the true concept of a mechanical build is what counts.


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