Imagine having the cost-saving benefits of outsourcing, but retaining complete control and input over your ads day to day, while also virtually eliminating make-goods and reducing extra costs associated with “after deadline” ads.

That’s what’s happened since Halifax Media Group began its innovative Creative Service Center. The CSC serves as a resource for ad construction and design for 36 newspapers and affiliated Web sites located in six states, primarily in the southeastern United States.

The Center allows Halifax to produce a large volume of ads with consistency and accountability, and to outsource its ad construction and design to an internal department of the company. 

Local newspapers get the benefit of cost savings associated with outsourcing, but retain complete control and input over the ads day to day. The CSC provides quality, competence, and speed — the ingredients needed to produce ads daily on deadline. The Center does this in an atmosphere that fosters teamwork, development, and growth.

The CSC works in a team-within-a-team framework. To maintain volume and consistency, teams within the CSC handle clusters of newspapers and smaller groups within the teams handle specific properties. This structure allows the flexibility to manage varying workloads without additional local personnel, as well as helping CSC designers to be familiar with the local advertisers and better understand their needs.

The CSC is divided into three teams. Each team: 

  • Provides services for a group of newspapers split primarily along geographic boundaries. 

  • Consists of designers who specialise in print ads, designers who specialise in digital ads, and hybrid designers who work in both print and digital platforms.

    “In this way, we are changing our culture a bit,” says Sam Kirkwood, CSC director. “In the past we had strictly-print or strictly-digital designers. Now were are attracting — and creating — designers who do both, and do both well.”

  • Has groups of designers that are dedicated or subdivided into servicing a smaller set of newspapers within the team.

    “By using a team-within-a-team concept, we keep designers who are familiar with a newspaper and their customers working with that newspaper,” Kirkwood says. “But we can also bring in the rest of the team during periods of heavier workloads.”

The ability to direct resources to busy areas is key. This allows the CSC to run more efficiently. Busy times at a particular newspaper simply require the re-allocation of resources within the CSC instead of a local property having to hire additional personnel. 

Having both print and digital designers work within a team enables the CSC to maintain consistency for campaigns that publish in both mediums. This flexibility allows the local sales teams to present complete campaigns encompassing newsprint, digital, magazine, and collateral material for customers.

The implementation of campaigns is seamless — tickets turned in replicate into the ad tracking system, ultimately into the hands of the designers at the CSC who create them. 

The CSC is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The location helps the CSC attract young talent from the nearby University of Alabama, as well as from surrounding states.

“The influx of young professionals mixed with our more seasoned designers creates a strong balance of new ideas and experience,” Kirkwood says. “We use this balance to continually provide our properties a fresh look while maintaining consistency our customers expect.” 

The experienced designers serve as mentors to newer designers. “It’s a two-way street,” Kirkwood says. “The more experienced designers are also absorbing new knowledge and styles from the younger people.”

Continuing education and informal “knowledge-swap” sessions keep designers current on software and techniques to improve both speed and quality. 

The decision to employ a robust ad tracking system enables the CSC to be highly efficient and pinpoint an ad’s status at any point, even weeks or months after the ad has published.

At the core of the CSC is a versatile ad tracking system Xpance, created by Morcor, Inc. Using this system, ads can be routed to specific teams and specific designers within that team. It also allows managers to track what happens to an ad and when. 

“It allows us to efficiently move ads through the system, but it does much more than that,” Kirkwood says. “It provides a trail of who worked on an ad and the date and time of their work.” 

With a goal of 24 hours or less on turn-around times (most ads are turned around within a few hours), a tracking system is critical. The system creates a log for each ad as soon as it is created in the billing system. This log follows the ad through completion. It is continually updated each time the ad is worked on, modified, proofed, or revised. 

Managers are able to use the logs to monitor how many ads are produced by each designer, how much time is spent on each ad, and how many revisions an ad goes through. Using this information, the CSC is better able to predict where bottlenecks may occur and direct resources to those areas ahead of time.

Tracking the revisions is also important to the CSC. It allows them to identify problem areas and promptly address them.

“Numerous revisions on an ad generally signals a communication problem, either between the sales person and the customer, or with the CSC,” Kirkwood says. “Regardless, it has to be addressed in order to move ads effectively.”

One benefit of the system is the near elimination of make-good ads. An online proofing component tracks e-mails sent to the customer, as well as their responses. It tracks submitted revisions and the resulting proof.

“We tell our properties we can help them virtually eliminate make-goods as long as set protocols are followed,” Kirkwood says. “This system allows us to do this.”