The Devil is in the detail

October 02, 2017

If you are going to make an error on one of your jobs, it's highly likely that the error will be in the micro, not the macro. It might be a spelling error on a brochure; or an extra zero in annual report financials; or the wrong address supplied for a POS roll-out. Those 'small' errors can be all it takes to derail a project, cost your agency thousands of dollars, or even lose an account. 

One of the most important skills that an account manager can possess is having attention-to-detail. It's easy to expect it, and it's easy to say that you have it, but being able to prove it day-after-day is what ultimately counts. So what exactly does having 'attention-to-detail' really mean? 


Where mistakes happen

Critical and costly errors usually flow four ways: 

  1. From your client to your agency. 
  2. From your agency to your client. 
  3. From a supplier to your client. 
  4. From your agency to the public. 


Client to agency 

Not all information or content that you receive from your client will be accurate (including briefs, copy, images, video, audio, etc.). There may be spelling or grammar errors, incorrect data, be poorly written, feature old branding, or may not make sense. 

It's important to read through and check all content that a client supplies BEFORE you give it to your team to use. If you find basic spelling or grammar errors, then you should make those changes yourself. If you find other elements that require clarification, then you should talk with your client as early in the process as possible, as they may have to go back to their colleagues (or suppliers) to answer your questions or source correct files. 

Remember that clients are not (necessarily) creatives or copywriters. They are looking to you to provide those services, make their work look good, and make them look good. You need to save your client from any embarrassment, therefore even if you have been supplied with sub-standard content, it is still your responsibility to make sure the end product is error-free, and something your client and your agency can proudly stand behind. 


Agency to client 

The second type of errors manifests either in your personal communication with your client, or when you send strategic documents or artwork proofs to your client. You need to be able to catch these internally-created errors before your client has a chance to see them. 

Even though this type of error may not have yet reached the public, it can still make you and your agency look bad. It can convey a message that you don't proof work properly, don't care, don't listen, or don't understand their business. Even basic spelling errors in your email communication will speak to your level of professionalism (or lack of). 

You should be checking for things such as: 

  • Spelling. 
  • Grammar. 
  • Brand guidelines. 
  • Colours. 
  • Images. 
  • Layout. 
  • Size. 
  • Mandatories. 
  • Client preferences. 
  • Client requests. 
  • Technical accuracy. 
  • Delivery addresses. 
  • Contact information. 
  • Valid web addresses. 

A good way to ensure that you have made all the changes a client has asked for is to take a printout of your client's requested changes, then mark each change off with a highlighter pen if the change has been made. That way you won't miss anything. 

Be especially careful if you are proof-reading work that contains legal copy or financial information, such as annual reports and terms and conditions.  


Supplier to client 

It is quite common to send a job off to a supplier (e.g. printing company) and have them deliver the finished work directly to your client or another location of their choosing (for time expediency or delivery logistics). If the job does get delivered directly, then you have no opportunity to do a quality control check and make sure everything is as expected. 

If your client receives a delivery and the work is wrong, you can bet that you and your agency will be held accountable (whether it was your fault or not). Therefore, it is always in your best interest to check production work whenever possible before it reaches your client. 

You can usually ask for a printed sample to be supplied to you at the same time that your client receives their copies. In the case of large items (such as banners, signage, billboard skins, 3-dimensional builds, etc.) you can ask for a photo to be emailed to you as soon as the work is complete. 

If you choose to deliver work directly from your supplier to your client, it's a good idea to ask your client to check the delivery straight away. The last thing you want is for a box of brochures to be put away into a storage room - unchecked - then pulled out for your client's next tradeshow only to find that something is wrong! 


Agency to public 

This is usually the most damaging type of error with the most serious of consequences. Once a mistake is in the public forum it can be very difficult to retract or rectify. 

A pricing error on a live website can be changed quickly, but what happens if that same pricing error is in a catalogue that has just been letterbox-dropped to thousands of households? Or if the wrong image was sent out on an eDM? Or if the printed name tag for your client's key sponsor has their name spelt incorrectly? 

You need to be ultra-vigilant with all work that is going into the public eye. This means double-checking that you always have a sign-off from your client; that pdf files are correct before being sent to suppliers; and that you check all production work is error-free (even doing press-checks if required). 


Proof-reading and signing off work - who is responsible? 

In the 'old days' when proofing was done via hardcopy, clients would often sign on the hard copy to show that they had checked the work and approved for it to go to print. There was a clear understanding that they were taking full responsibility for the approval to proceed to print (because the sign-off form said as much). These days the line of responsibility is not so clear. 

The majority of modern proofing is done via PDFs and email. You can bet there is no formal declaration stating "here is my signature to prove I take full responsibility for signing off this work and be it on my head if anything is wrong". You'll be lucky if you receive a return email which just says "yep, please proceed". 

Any 'sign-off' that you may receive will implicitly mean that your client takes responsibility for their decision. Be careful though, because if any issue is found (that is not obviously the result of client error), then your client will be on the phone demanding an urgent reprint or fix at your agency's expense. 

The best way to prevent this situation is to make sure your client receives work that is 100% correct, 100% of the time; which comes down to exercising superior attention-to-detail skills, and not letting any error slip through; and that responsibility falls squarely on you! 



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