Program Manager, Fulfillment Staff Must Communicate Regularly

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Insert media has always been built on trust. Inserts are placed in a program with the expectation that they will be distributed as contracted. These days, the insert media community consists of a tight-knit group of people where integrity is serious business. Any new industry player who breaches this trust faces a long road to re-establish legitimacy.


Communication is central to this relationship. The program manager needs to reassure the broker or advertiser that the distribution of its inserts is on time, as expected. Any lack of this distribution status can make advertisers nervous and damage a program at many levels.


It sounds perfectly simple, but typically the marketing and financial officers see the benefits of a package insert program while the warehouse staff is left in the dark. For them, it's another step, albeit a small one, in the fulfillment process.


When the program manager calls the fulfillment staff to ask about the status of insert distribution, the request is relegated to a low priority on the things-to-do list -- not because the fulfillment staff doesn't care, but because no one has taken the time to discuss the big picture.


When a new program is being established, a good manager visits the fulfillment center to build rapport with the operations staff. From a practical standpoint, they need to know how much material to expect and when to expect it. But it is also important to explain how an insert program will benefit the company as a whole by adding revenue and acquiring new customers.


The fulfillment staff also needs to know that the program manager has an interest in keeping the daily functions of the insert program from interrupting their first responsibility: sending out customer orders.


The best plans can become irrelevant quickly. Package count projections are a variable and should be confirmed at regular intervals. Most marketers that ship to customers have a good estimate on the number of packages they expect to ship at any given time, but unforeseen circumstances can kill the usefulness of projected counts.


When a program manager is unaware of any changes in distribution, the ability to react is taken away, resulting in two general outcomes:


First, distribution that is ahead of schedule means lost revenue for the program owner. In this case, an informed program manager may be able to find last-minute advertisers to take the additional space while increasing the amount of space taken by current advertisers.


Second, slow distribution has a more dangerous consequence, if left unchecked. Delayed distribution can create a huge backlog of inserts and rate concessions on time-sensitive orders as well as reluctance for an advertiser to return with future orders.


A backlog of inserts takes valuable warehouse space. Because of the nature of the medium, old inserts cannot be destroyed, nor can they be accelerated (two consecutive months of inserts in the same package). The program manager can remedy this problem by consolidating orders from upcoming months, but this solution can be done only prior to collating the inserts into the envelope that is placed in the package.


Longer, unchecked delays can result in loss of revenue through rate concessions or, in rare cases, refusal to pay for the order altogether. The sooner a program manager knows that distribution is delayed, the more seamless the solution.


The following tips facilitate good communication between the program manager and the program owner's fulfillment operations.


· Meet the fulfillment staff face-to-face. At the start of a new program, the program manager should meet with the fulfillment staff to explain the program's purpose and clarify their importance to its success. If possible, the program owner or corporate contact should accompany the manager.


· Create a regular update schedule. A weekly or biweekly time (i.e., every Friday) for status updates from the fulfillment center creates consistency in communication.


· Devise an easy to follow inventory document. The program manager should use a standard document listing what the warehouse should have in inventory. This accelerates response because it will be faster for the fulfillment center to check its inventory against a list than to count inventory from scratch. This is especially important for programs that are hand inserted because insert tracking is more convoluted.


· Ensure the fulfillment center has the program manager's contact information in case of an emergency. If the fulfillment staff can reach the manager immediately when problems arise, resulting delays can be minimized.


· Establish alternative contacts. Including a second fulfillment center contact in correspondence between the program manager and main fulfillment center contact creates a backup if the main contact is out or too busy to respond immediately.


· Include the corporate contact or program owner in all fulfillment center correspondence. It may not be necessary for the corporate contact or program owner to be part of the nitty-gritty, but it may lend credibility to the program manager in the eyes of the fulfillment staff. It may also prevent recapping correspondence to the program owner if a problem develops.


· Finally, follow up any phone conversation with an e-mail. A simple e-mail confirming the points of a phone conversation also keeps the program owner and secondary fulfillment center contact aware of any changes.


With regular communication between the program manager and fulfillment center staff, an insert program can be smooth sailing. Smooth sailing reassures advertisers that they are getting what they paid for.


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