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!!