Outsourcing your creative or artworking needs to external agencies is a given in marketing. After all, that’s where the expertise lies, and where the resource can be scaled to your requirements.
When we formed Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), we determined that the agency side of our business – our Studio, with its banks of artworkers, packaging and retouching specialists, its copywriters and creatives – had to be available round-the-clock. After all, our clients are international, and the world doesn’t stop at 5.30pm Greenwich Mean Time.
But when you’re creating tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of artworks every year, you have to ensure you have a pretty robust quality control process.
Artworkers will review what they’ve created, but it’s not sufficient for them to mark their own homework. Your production and account teams will check the artworks, but often they’ll be looking to see it correctly matches the brief, not always giving artworks that extra level of scrutiny they require.
Dedicated quality control teams are of course the way to go: people with the ability to apply a forensic level of analysis to anything that’s thrown at them.
They can be an odd sort, of course. I recently overheard one of our QC team ask his fellows the following question: “Would you say Chelsea are better than Arsenal?”
Sounds like a simple enough query, but after a short pause, the answer came back. “No. I’d say Chelsea is better than Arsenal. In this instance, you need to use ‘is’ because you’re referring to the team as a singular entity rather than individuals acting independently.”
So, you wouldn’t necessarily want them at your dinner party, but you do want them poring over your artworks.
A lesson from the publishing industry
But there’s more to efficient quality control than employing the right individuals. You also need the best possible processes in place. And where do you find those?
Strangely enough, not in the agency world, but in the world of publishing. No matter how tight our deadlines, how great our workload, national newspapers have been confronting these problems for a lot longer, and have evolved a pretty robust system.
The key lesson we took from publishing is that quality control isn’t something you do at the end of the process: it’s something you do right at the start. When our Studio receives a new creative or bespoke brief from a client, our production managers don’t give it straight to the artworkers, they give it to QC to review.
The brief goes through an in-depth level of analysis – the crucial process of prequalification, before it gets anywhere near InDesign or Illustrator. Grammar and spelling are checked. Questions are asked – is this offer clear? Are there any legal implications? Are all the images correct? Is there any ambiguity in the brief? Is any information missing? If necessary, questions are fired back to our account teams and clarification sought.
This can delay getting it on to a designer’s desktop – something that can initially trouble traditionalists, who don’t feel the job has been started until they see it being designed on a Mac. However, once they realise that prequalification considerably increases the accuracy and speed of the process (through better briefs and vastly reduced amends rounds), they soon see the benefit.
Once the artwork has been created, it pays a second visit to QC for the traditional proofreading stage – to ensure the artwork has been created to brief and all the elements are correct.
The result is an enviable accuracy rate for our Studio, and a team I can always call on if I ever want to know the correct plural of octopus.
Until next time…
About Simon Ward
Simon Ward ITG – Simon is the founder and CEO of pioneering technology-led marketing company, Inspired Thinking Group (ITG). ITG delivers best-in-class marketing software, procurement and studio services to dozens of blue-chip clients, including Audi, M&S, KFC, PUMA and Heineken.
Simon Ward SP Group – Prior to ITG, Simon founded SP Digital in 1998, and in 1999 bought SP Print to form SP Group, creating innovative marketing and point of sale displays for some of the world’s best-known retailers, including M&S, Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett and Calvin Klein.