Don't Let Your Catalog Creative Schedule Drive You Crazy
It seems like catalog creative/production schedules, just like budgets, have gotten so tight they drive everyone crazy. Here are nine tips for bringing sanity to your schedule management.
1. Make a list of all the steps. Send a schedule with key dates/deadlines to all involved in the creative process. In addition, you should also make a checklist for yourself of all steps in between. There are often more steps than you remember. By listing all steps, you'll not only have a much better checklist for getting them done, you'll also be better able to move tasks around to get more done earlier.
2. Give one person the authority to manage. Don't just send the schedule and then hope all team members will manage their parts and hit their dates. Some will (treasure those few). Most won't on their own, but can if they're closely managed (true for both staff and vendors). Whomever is managing the schedule needs the authority to move Jane's task to Joe because Joe has time, and to make Pat stop working on X to work on Y.
3. Check in early and often. Most team members in a catalog project are consumed with something else. Don't expect them to check the schedule daily. Typically, they'll be clearing other tasks off their plate and responding to other squeaky wheels. Don't let your deadline sneak up, leaving employees too little time to execute. Be squeaky yourself.
4. Front load; don't be trapped in linear mode. If there's plenty of time before a task needs starting, don't wait and start early. Check your detailed task/steps list. Is Photoshop scheduled for after draft design, but photography is complete now? Photoshop your images now even if it wasn't on the schedule that way. Waiting for the product list before starting design even though you know a new look is wanted? Design new-look test pages now, using the prior catalog's products. You may get that new look approved even before products are finalized and regular design starts.
5. Keep the team busy. For example, is the designer sitting on his hands waiting for pagination? Grab that free time with pages that can be designed now. "I know we're going to have a spread for the new colorful tees, I just don't know all the colors yet or the page numbers." You can fill in the product details on a later round; take advantage of the opportunity to get a jump ahead on design.
6. Be very specific with tasks. Wrong: "I need to have 12 pages to management on Friday." Right: "Send me 2/3, 4/5 and 6/7 by 9 a.m. Tuesday, and 8/9, 10/11 and 12/13 by 8:30 a.m. Wednesday with all corrections made. That will give us Thursday for final changes if needed, and still hit the to-management deadline."
7. The designated page approver won't hit schedule; live with it. Once you kick the layouts upstairs, you can't expect 24-hour turnaround, even if they've agreed to it in writing three times. It's highly likely that they'll take three days to four days instead. Build that buffer into your schedule.
8. What to do when the page approver won't look at pages on a flow basis. Are you working with a page approver who will only review a complete book but not individual pages? Try this partial workaround: send one or a few key spreads early, saying "this is just a draft, we'd love your preliminary feedback." It's likely she/he will look and give valuable feedback to apply to the other pages, improving your chance of quicker approval on the whole later.
9. Assume something will go wrong. How do things go wrong? Let me count the ways. Photo samples were made wrong and must be Photoshopped with different features. Delivery service loses a shipment for three days. The designer went to the hospital. Warehouse shipped wrong products to the studio. The copywriter doesn't like the prescribed copy voice and wants to express herself with her own style. Lightening shut down all power. True stories. Really. And more. The point is, do you have a disaster management backup plan? If not, get one. Front loading as much as possible is one of the best plans — much will already be completed before disaster can strike.
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.