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Integrating ERP Systems into Creative Organizations

DateJun 10,2020

Organization and integration across horizontal and vertical axes today have become more important than ever in the world of advertising. An effective Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system can not only mitigate some of the new challenges that face advertising agencies. But with the right solution, ad agencies can stay ahead of the curve in today’s high-paced environment. Across the board, agencies are seeing a broad shift toward short-term, project-based engagements in place of the familiar Agency-Of-Record (AOR) relationships that dominated the agency landscape just years ago. In fact, Forbes once described this large-scale change as a result of The Agility Era, a phrase that poignantly captures the industry’s newfound preference for flexibility and streamlined production schedules over relatively unchanging client relationships. The question then becomes: what tools does an agency need to work effectively in such an environment?

In order to remain competitive, every ad agency today needs a robust ERP solution specially tailored to the current needs of the industry. There are myriad benefits of ERP software for all businesses, including the ability to integrate information and communication across business management, customer relationship management (CRM), human resources, distribution, and sales. But due to the ad industry’s global shift toward agility over stability, an even greater emphasis has been placed upon an ability to quickly organize data and integrate that information across key business areas. This is where an effective Agency Management ERP solution can make all the difference in the world for your creative organization. For the remainder of this whitepaper, we’ll take a closer look at just how ERP software is defined, how it can help creative organizations, and how ERP systems can be customized for advertising firms. We’ll end by noting that these benefits and more are included in BORN’s unique Agency Management ERP solution.

What is ERP Software?

Enterprise Resource Planning software refers to a category of business management applications that allow the integration, automation, and synchronization of a host of back-office activities pertaining to business management, customer relationships, sales, production, distribution, and human resources. In short, ERPs provide access to nearly every area of business operations through a single digital point of entry. While each of these areas demands a unique skillset to address ongoing challenges, an effective ERP solution allows unmitigated access to each domain for a real-time organization and business management. Key attributes of an ERP system include means for the top-level organization, bottom-level oversight, and synchronization between key business areas. Importantly, these areas of functionality are brought together into a centralized point of reference found in the ERP dashboard, an administrative panel that provides a “driver’s seat” interface for the entire range of ERP functionality.

One of the most important features of effective ERP systems is the ability to function as a kind of command and control center, a central point of reference for the top-level executives of the different branches of an organization. With this bird’s eye view, a manager or executive can, with minimal effort, glide between different areas of business operation and, when necessary, swoop down to sort out the details of a particularly problematic area. 

A case in point: a particular client appears to be slow to move forward on a new campaign. All of the elements appear to be in place, including a formal estimate, contract, and work order. Upon inspecting the progress log on this client, though, it becomes clear that they are currently still waiting on the client welcome package, a document that collects the timeline, milestones, project team, and deliverables in one convenient location for the client. Because this client was promised such a document upon agreeing to the contract terms, they continue to wait for it before moving forward. Such bottlenecks, while they may seem trivial, can pose significant detriments to the success of a creative organization.

This client management anecdote brings us to another important function of ERP software: the ability to provide detailed bottom-level oversight for specific business activities. ERP systems excel at allowing a broad-level view into business operations. Another area of strength is the kind of transparency into individual business domains required to quickly diagnose problems before they affect other areas of operation. Here’s an example: it becomes apparent that one of your agency’s top client projects is significantly behind schedule for delivery on an upcoming milestone. Upon looking into the project management dashboard, you notice that only one assigned designer belongs to the project, whereas such a workload clearly requires two or more on the job. So, after checking with human resources, you locate two internal designers currently without major commitments. With a quick email, you invite them to work on the high priority project. Problem solved.

The last important general feature of ERP software concerns the ability to synchronize across disparate areas of business operations. Many imagine synchronization as the heart of any business. Indeed, the image of a creative organization as a “well-oiled machine” is perhaps as old as the world of commerce itself. Successful synchronization of activities across different domains can transform a business from an inefficient operation with many loose ends to an optimized “machine” that regularly nails ambitious and high-visibility projects for high-profile clients. Practically, synchronization means that the aims of sales and business development match up with the numbers from finance and accounting, which feed flawlessly into human resources and resource allocation. Once the silos between these domains have been removed, the components can march in lockstep. When used correctly, an ERP can turn a business into a smoothly functioning creative machine.

ERP Benefits to Ad Agency Project Management

Many of the principal challenges for advertising agencies lie in the area of project management. How can a team remain on top of timelines, meet important milestones, and deliver a product that meets and exceeds the client’s expectations? How can teams avoid some of the pitfalls of communication missteps, scheduling conflicts, interpersonal issues, and exceeding project budgets? Each of these challenges can be conceived through the lens of project management, an area that, as noted above, has become increasingly important as creative agencies turn more and more toward working on a per-project basis. Indeed, without the security of AOR relationships, agencies must work harder than ever to maintain a consistent pipeline of projects. Thankfully, the effective use of ERP software can facilitate such a steady stream of client successes, which then translate into a consistent source of agency revenue. Let’s dive specifically into ERP’s four major benefits to project management: communication, scheduling, organizing time entries and invoices, and collaboration.

One of the most frequent and important problem areas for every creative organization is communication. So much rests upon the ability to obtain accurate information and convey it to the appropriate internal departments and, when necessary, to clients. An ERP can help facilitate clear and effective communication by providing up-to-date information in a given area and allowing one to cross-reference that data with the operations of another domain. Through direct database integration, managers can quickly match resource allocation to project needs and communicate these needs to executives or account managers. Similarly, a chief executive officer can ascertain which clients are optimal for the company to devote more resources to and which to scale back. Armed with such unambiguous data, communication between specific business channels becomes just as lucid.

Related to communication is the issue of scheduling, a task that becomes more complex as an agency scales in number and grows in geography. How can a creative organization, regardless of its size, coordinate between employees of varying status to ensure they are able to have effective meetings, on the one hand, while enjoying concentrated “heads down” time, on the other. Although seemingly straightforward, achieving such a state can pose quite a challenge—especially for agencies who work with talent (and clients) in multiple time zones. This is an area that the project management tools included in an effective ERP system handle with ease. With the ERP interface, a project manager can schedule meetings that bring together internal creative talent with the appropriate personnel in management to spearhead a project. An ERP can also help facilitate client meetings and keep track of both internal and external preferences for scheduling and time management.

Related to the issue of scheduling is the need for every creative agency to keep track of work hours as they pertain to specific projects, along with the ability to generate corresponding client invoices. In most agencies, designers and other creative talent work on multiple projects simultaneously. Using an external bookkeeping application can work in such a situation, although options for seamless horizontal integration remain limited. Want to correlate projected profitability with the current number of logged hours for a project? If you’re willing to toggle between at least three or four applications such a task is possible. But another, more streamlined, way to approach such a task would be to use the time to track features of an effective ERP solution. This data can be correlated directly to additional metrics such as profitability and specific financial goals.

There is perhaps no better-defining the feature of a successful ad agency than its ability to collaborate. From building internal teams of talent to working with external contractors to striking the right creative chord with each client, collaboration—the task of providing the conditions for people to work together—is a critical aspect of every creative organization. Project managers are often put in charge of making sure these important relationships continue to flourish in ways that are beneficial for all parties involved. Here, as with other areas, ERP software can be one’s best partner in the facilitation of the kinds of collaborative relationships that help drive a successful creative team. Specifically, by tracking information related to the personalities and preferences of each team member, an ERP can help project managers match talent to project in efficient and productive ways. To this end, project managers and executives combine high-level project data with low-level HR information to build composite images of how teams collaborate.

The above-mentioned benefits to ERP users focus on activities that typically relate to project management tasks. It is important to note, though, that the perks of ERP software extend far beyond those of a project management tool. Indeed, benefits to agencies using ERP software also include customer loyalty, increased revenues, reduced overall costs, and even data security. Customers receive consistent treatment across multiple projects, each of which is executed with efficient communication, time management, and collaboration. Satisfied customers come back for more work. And such results are even further enhanced through built-in ERP CRM tools. As a direct result of this increased activity, overall revenues increase and costs fall due to an increase in efficiency. Finally, because documentation, process flow, and project management are kept in a protected business area, as a result, the agency’s security is improved.


Customizing ERP Systems for Ad Agencies

The onset of The Agility Era has meant an increase in demands and expectations for ad agencies across the board. With a high number of projects and increased demands from clients and internal stakeholders, creative agencies need to be on the top of their game now more than ever. Out with the slow-moving and reliable AOR paradigm, in with the fast-paced per-project working model that dominates today’s ad industry. Along similar lines, while the emergence of digital media has opened up various online avenues for advertising, it has also sped up turnaround times. Jobs that would have been formerly delivered in five months are now expected in less than five weeks. Quicker turnaround times mean that jobs must be even more tightly organized with clearer communication between each part. 

Today, only with an effective Agency Management ERP solution can such demands for efficiency and productivity be met. Importantly, these ERP solutions work the way an agency works, providing simplicity for creatives, flexibility for client-facing teams, and control for finance. These customized ERPs help to manage the entire creative process, from engaging with clients to planning a job, scheduling resources, and project delivery through to billing and reporting on profits and utilization. Agencies ultimately deliver better client results, achieve higher margins, and make work more enjoyable for everyone with ERP software—whether an independent platform or as an integrated solution.

Why use BORN?

BORN Group’s Management ERP solution is unique in that it brings together the basic components of an effective ERP software tool (top-level organization, bottom-level oversight, and synchronization between key business areas) with ad agency project management features (communication and scheduling tools, time entry and invoices, and collaboration tools). By combining these key areas of business, project, and resource management, BORN’s Agency Management ERP remains the top choice for ad agencies worldwide. From a high-level view, BORN’s competitive Agency Management ERP solution brings you:

  1. Project and Resource Management – flexible and easy to use, this component accounts for the day-to-day management of jobs, people, and the creative process.
  2. Financial Management – this component provides complete visibility and control over budgets, finances, and compliance.
  3. Social Collaboration – streamlines communication for jobs across key departments and business areas and in order to drive delivery and meet client expectations.
  4. CRM Scalability – monitor the needs of each client more accurately by tracking resources, costs, and customer satisfaction.
  5. Manage Leads – keep track of lead generation through built-in CRM integration and lead management tools.

As noted above, these enhancements also lead directly to customer loyalty, increased revenues, reduced overall costs, and data security. Additionally, BORN’s solution has been shown to lead to increases in customer loyalty, which can be invaluable for ad agencies working in The Agility Era. Overall, BORN’s Agency Management ERP is a highly effective solution for creative organizations working in today’s fast-paced advertising industry.

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