Seven Ways to Avoid Collateral Damage

Service firms must rely almost wholly upon collaterals to attract and interest customers. With no tangible product to see, touch, or try out before buying, these companies need to convey their quality, reliability, and value by proxy—and collaterals play a major role here.  Collaterals are “service samples” for potential customers.  They represent their companies symbolically through the quality and value of their content, the appeal of their graphic design and color schemes, and even, in the case of printed materials, their texture.

So, we have materials that 1) must successfully represent the company and its services and 2) take up a significant portion of the marketing budget.  Add in the fact that the preparation and production of collaterals call for specialized skills—copy writing, graphic design, web design, printing, to name a few—that require outside contractors, and we have a program that needs good management to achieve the highest return on investment.

Managing contractors to get the best collaterals for the best value is often a major challenge for small and medium service firms. The array of skills needed and the choices for final output can cause the cost pendulum to swing wildly:

– Pay too little and you end up with stuff that doesn’t represent you or, worse, is detrimental to your image.

– Pay too much and you aren’t getting anywhere near the best value for your investment, or, worse, your materials end up being held hostage by your contractors because they are too complex for you or anybody else to take over.

How can you avoid “collateral” damage to your company’s image and/or your bank account? Here are six strategies, in reverse order of importance, that will stack the deck in your favor.

7.   Resist the DIY impulse. Unless you or a member of your staff really do have the skills needed to turn out good (=results producing) materials, don’t try doing it yourself. Better to have no brochure than one that looks “homemade” by someone who doesn’t know a font from a hole in the ground or who thinks that white space is a snow-covered field in Minnesota.

6.   Get the most skills that you can from one person. Any creative contractor you hire should be multitalented. For example, last year I worked with a graphic designer who was excellent in both web design and hard copy design—and understood the differences between the two.  For the cost of his design time, I was able to apply his output to multiple items and have hard copy pieces that matched the web site.

5.   Only hire team players. Your creative contractors need to be more interested in your business objectives and results than in art for art’s sake. When you are reviewing proposed designs or creative solutions, ask what, why, how. What business benefit will this provide? Why a 6-color brochure rather than a 4-color one? How is a Shockwave movie going to attract more business from the web site? There may be valid business answers to these and other questions; if so, go for it. If not, pass by the artsy stuff and concentrate on more practical items.

4.   Keep up with output technologies. Printing technology has drastically changed over the two decades I’ve dealt with it, and it continues to do so. Make sure that you are using the best technology fit for your hard copy materials. Assuming that you have hired multitalented team players, you have built-in advisors who will match you up with the most effective (quality and cost) output medium for your needs.

3.   Strive for as much self sufficiency as possible. While you do not want to go the DIY route for your collaterals, you still want to maintain control of them and do as much as is feasible yourself.  For example, have your designer create templates for repeating pieces such as newsletters or proposals, then prepare these documents in house. Another element of self sufficiency is obtaining and storing electronic copies of all artwork, in original format as well as any derived versions. You own the art, so don’t brook any refusals to provide it.

2.   Practice good project management. Any project must be managed, and creative projects must be managed even more carefully. Plan any collateral preparation with a timeline, milestones, and resources, then manage your contractors according to the plan. Depending on the scope of the work and its business criticality, you might consider building in incentive bonuses to key contractors based on criteria such as early delivery, adherence to design specs, or other performance indicator.

1.   Clarify your objectives before you start looking for contractors. To get the best possible return on investment from your collaterals, you need to clearly understand what you want to achieve from them. The results your collaterals produce should tie in to your marketing and business objectives; if you aren’t clear what those objectives are, attend to those first before attempting to create materials. The first contractor you hire, in fact, may be a marketing consultant who can work with you to clarify your objectives and identify means to measure the ability of your entire marketing program (including collaterals) to support their achievement.

Pursuing these strategies will help keep your collaterals on track in terms of their effectiveness as your representativeArticle Submission, and will ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck from the “artistic” side of your marketing equation.