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Paperwork Keeps Process and Creative Flowing

A successful system for routing proofs through a creative/production shop is always based on clear communication and mutual respect among partners in the process, no matter how removed they may be from one another in terms of creative function.

But every such system requires paperwork that also should be treated with respect if you wish to make your smooth operation smoother and your creative process more creative.

In terms of paperwork, every shop should have all or most of the following:

· Job bags, for use in routing proofs, perhaps in various sizes.

· Proofing slips, either separate from or printed right on the job bags.

· Change notices, for formal notification of major changes that affect the job, including cancellation.

· Job start forms, with places to jot down all the pertinent details, to which you are encouraged to add any needed attachments such as backgrounders and prior samples.

· Creative briefs, which ask clients or product managers all the right questions to get your artists and writers on track.

· Style manuals, for your outfit and/or for your client companies.

The biggest challenge with forms is getting everyone to become fuss-budgets about using them. No one in the creative industry likes to feel their job is being reduced to paper pushing. Well, maybe your traffic manager enjoys it, but most of us would rather avoid the paperwork. That is, until we get bitten by someone else’s lack of preparation. Then we become self-styled forms police for a week or two until the wrath wears off. The trick is to keep up the routine with consistency, minus the wrath.

The many benefits of observing good form with forms make any minor inconvenience more than worthwhile, not just for the organization but also for each individual in the work flow. Who wants to have to continually stop what they’re doing to find someone who can clarify some detail that should have been clearly marked on a proof or a form or an attachment? It’s not fun, and it’s not productive.

Then there’s the job tracking and management benefits. When forms have been used properly throughout a job’s lifespan, it’s easy to look at a job at any time and see precisely where it’s been and when. And when you rely on forms instead of verbal communication to effect changes on proofs, you always can find out where that really dumb, or brilliant, new idea came from.

Your company no doubt has any number of forms in addition to those mentioned here, for things such as tracking employee hours, and you probably treat them with care. Take as much care with your creative proof routing forms, and you’ll boost productivity and free your creative folks to do what they do best.

Here are some rules to route by:

Use the proofing slip. Without fail, sign the proofing slip when you are done processing the proof, and specify when you need to see the next set of proofs. This sets the creative process in motion.

Sending an unsigned proof back into the system confuses your staff and may cause them to wander the halls for days trying to right themselves in a “Twilight Zone” landscape of almost-familiar objects. The choice is yours.

A picture is worth a thousand (spoken) words. Please do not rely on verbal input to take the place of marks on a proof. Whatever it is, commit it to paper.

In those cases where radical changes in direction require a new input meeting and a restart of the creative process, or the proof is so far off base that a restart is required, mark “restart, new input meeting needed” on the proofing slip and on the proof itself.

Otherwise, mark ordinary changes directly on the proof, in all cases.

Adverse to change. If you use change notices, ensure your staff understands that these notices are only for changes that come from the client or product manager independent of the proof, but that still affect the proof.

Say a cruise ship no longer is docking in Istanbul even though the original itinerary attached to the creative brief said it did. If you just mark the change on the proof without including a change notice to explain it, you might cause someone down the line to stop work on the proof to call you on the change.

On the other hand, if your proof shows a port call in Istanbul simply by mistake, you can just fix that with a mark on the proof itself, no explanation needed. The original itinerary you’ve already provided will back you up.

The idea, always, is to keep the work flowing with as few interruptions as possible. It’s not just a matter of slowing down progress; interrupting the creative process almost always diminishes the quality of the work as well.

Proper use of forms will help you avoid both of those undesirable outcomes.

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