AESB 4.0: Our Cloud Tool to Manage Both Digital and Print Marketing Products

AESB 4.0

What's new about AESB 4.0? A lot.
 
By making the processes of digital and print production more efficient and enabling digital and print services to be ordered and proofed through a single interface, we believe AESB 4.0 will be a game changer for the news publishing industry.
 
AESB 4.0 has several unique benefits for users:
  • Supports a complete range of digital and print products, including spec ads, video, mobile, websites, social media and other revenue-generating opportunities
  • Supports proofing for all media types
  • Increases the profitability of orders by making the process faster and easier
  • Provides extensive business intelligence on an enterprise level, such as year-over-year ad volumes, sales rep productivity, sales results from spec ads produced, client spending trends and more
  • Consolidates a myriad of legacy solutions into a single web-based platform, eliminating the need for multiple, disparate processes and repetitive data entry
  • Integrates with booking, pagination and billing systems to encompass the entire process from sales to billing
  • Meets the needs of salespeople for efficient tracking, proofing and approvals
  • Allows salespeople to enter orders and access data from anywhere—using laptops, tablets and mobile phones
  • Integrates with leading customer relationship management software to store past campaigns, proposals, contracts and other details
Affinity Express digital services The cloud-based, hosted solution is built on the foundation of Mediaspectrum's flagship ad sales platform, which boasts the industry's most comprehensive, state-of-the-art technology for cross-channel advertising sales and publishing. With AESB 4.0, clients need not incur capital expenditures or licenses, install or maintain software and hardware—we take care of everything and give them access to ongoing development and enhancements.
 
By offering efficient production for a diverse range of digital products such as websites and video in addition to ads for traditional print media, and by developing a complete closed-loop system that integrates functions from sales to billing, we enable Affinity Express clients to serve as profitable, full-service marketing resources for SMBs.
AESB 4.0 will help our clients manage their advertising and marketing production even more efficiently than before, making their salespeople more efficient and focused. For every order, it is estimated that a salesperson saves more than an hour of time and 30% in cost.
 
AESB 4.0 is launching on June 1, 2012. Let us know if you want to be one of the early users!

News Publishers' Business Model for Digital Success

The addition of digital agency services is something that every local media company should consider in 2012. Local Media Innovation Alliance - "The Local Digital Ad Agency: Emerging Opportunity for Innovative Media Companies," the Local Media Innovation Alliance, December 2011

To better serve local advertisers and compete for online advertising dollars, adding digital agency services is a major opportunity for news publishers, but achieving profitability is the real challenge.

Some newspapers are trying to build the internal capability and capacity to provide a range of digital production services. Many are discovering this is quite expensive operating overhead to carry and it just doesn't make economic sense. Publishers find it is extremely difficult to outlay new capital to fund the production resources needed, and to do it in such a way that yields positive operating margins.

Another important consideration is that SMB advertisers are highly price sensitive and the price points required to sell high volumes of online marketing services must be extremely competitive.

Despite these challenges, newspapers have had no choice but to plunge into digital services: display ads, iPad ads, websites, mobile, social and video services to balance declining revenues from print. They have to juggle two roles: that of news and content provider to their readers (whether via print or online media) and that of marketing agencies to their customers, providing both digital and print services and helping small-business owners find their way in online marketing.

Newspapers are unrivalled as providers of news and content, which puts them in a prime position to exploit digital revenue opportunities. But the model for digital revenue consists of drawing high volumes of relatively low-yield ads, very different from the high volume, relatively high-yield advertising of traditional newspapers. WAN-IFRA - "Million Dollar Strategies for Newspaper Companies," WAN-IFRA, June 2010

Production of digital services is more expensive than production of print ads. And newspapers traditionally do not have the expertise needed to provide all these digital services.

The high-volume, low-dollar, high-complexity nature of digital programs makes it the most labor-intensive medium in the advertising industry. American Association of Advertising Agencies - "Understanding the Economics of Digital Compared to Traditional Advertising and Media Services," American Association of Advertising Agencies, 2009

The importance of competing in the digital media agency space has become even more pronounced with the recent explosion in tablets and e-readers.

  • Tablet and ebook ownership has nearly doubled since the holidays.
  • B2B C-suite executives are using their tablets to research business purchases online.
  • Mobile browsers spend more per purchase—50% more than smartphone visitors and 20% more than desktop and laptop visitors.

Pew Research Center - Pew Research Center, January 2012 (via HubSpot)

Journal Register Company, and now Digital First Media, has been pushing their Digital First strategy for a while now, and other newspapers are following their lead.

As Mike Fogel of Hearst Newspapers had mentioned, the strength that traditional news publishers possess is their sales people: the friendly neighborhood newspaper rep who knows the customer's business.

Traditionally, newspapers have sold advertisements based on the products they have to offer—in other words, an internally focused sales process. The consultative sales approach focuses on the client, the advertiser, and his or her business needs. If the client wants to introduce a new product, highlight a grand opening, improve brand recognition, or reach a certain demographic, then newspaper sales people can construct a campaign including a host of publishing elements to achieve success for the advertiser. WAN-IFRA - "Million Dollar Strategies for Newspaper Companies," WAN-IFRA, June 2010

For Digital First Media and Hearst Newspapers, focusing on strong core competencies of sales and local relationships and aligning with a proven interactive delivery partner is the business model that works.

Affinity Express provides digital services to publishers that benefit their customers, and that can be offered with quality as great and at prices as affordable as they would get anywhere else. Partnering with Affinity Express is the perfect answer, because we have trained and nurtured our employees to become subject matter experts in services newspapers provide and want to provide their customers. At the same time, we learn from each client and constantly work on improving our services, including the technology we use to deliver them.

The reason why newspapers are such a valued partner for us—and we for them—is that we complement each other so well. With their market insight and our product knowledge, we develop new revenue products together: services that their customers can take advantage of and that we can build more cost-efficiently, quickly and with better quality than anyone else.

Some newspapers will still try to build digital service offerings internally for a variety of reasons, but they will probably not make much money carrying high fixed costs and selling at the low prices needed to attract SMB advertisers. Fortunately, there are options to partner and establish an economic model that makes sense for both news publishers and their SMB clients.


2011: The Year in Review

2011 has been a significant year for Affinity Express. We have come closer to many of our goals and set ourselves new bars to cross in 2012. As we begin the year, I’d like to share some of the company’s significant accomplishments in 2011:

  • We were named to the “Global Services 100” list for the second year in a row. It is significant that we are the only BPO provider who is 100% dedicated to transforming advertising and marketing production on the list—none of our major competitors were featured.
  • We gained new clients in all of our business segments, including several reputed and large companies
  • Our team has and will continue to grow. In 2011, we recruited several hundred people in Pune and Manila while keeping attrition well within BPO industry benchmarks. We now have 900 employees over all our offices.
  • Affinity Express completed our re-location in India to an SEZ campus and qualified for tax-free zone exemption status.
  •  We expanded on our interactive services, building our teams in video, website, editorial, iPad ads, HTML emails, website copywriting, and ad operations.

From a financial perspective, we showed impressive progress.

  • Sales grew by double digits compared to 2010, as did gross profits.
  • Sales outstanding went from 36 days down to 33 days, helping us to improve our cash flow.

These accomplishments show that we laid the groundwork for an outstanding 2012. Our news publishing clients are under pressure to transform in a digital world. They have the opportunity to provide digital services to their local small and medium size business (SMB) advertisers as a growing source of profitable revenue. Our current strategy is to focus on this interactive opportunity with newspapers, which maximizes return on our current resources. We are also focused on diversifying to serve non-newspaper enterprises—corporations which have higher-end, more complex and customized interactive service needs that require different skill sets and marketing approaches. In my opinion, the foundation of our company's success is that we address the most important needs of clients by creating opportunities for them to increase revenues. We transform advertising and marketing production operations and learned that sales and revenue are more important to clients today than straight cost savings. According to Ed Nair of Global Services, “the global services industry has gone clearly beyond the paradigm of “more work at lesser cost’. Companies are routinely seeking business outcomes and, in some cases, new forms of business value.” Affinity Express is uniquely poised to deliver upon this promise and continue to be the leader in our category. There is no doubt we have come a long way, should celebrate our achievements and can look forward to even more impressive accomplishments in 2012 and the years ahead.


Newspaper Publishers Offer Digital Services through BPO

News onlineAfter years of cost cutting, why are some newspaper publishers actually staffing up their in-house digital production operations and investing in technology and tools for new interactive services like video advertising, deals-of-the-day, social media services, etc.? As newspapers rethink and reinvent their business model, they should engage business process outsourcing to generate profitable revenues that will sustain their businesses and pay for quality journalism well into the future.

In 2010, advertising revenues for newspapers continued to fall, about 6.3% for the year. Print circulation also continued to decline (5% daily and 4.5% for Sunday), according to The State of the News Media 2011, Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. On top of that, the past year saw a surge in expenses, which puts limits on funding both for experiments and for maintaining editorial quality in print and digital formats.

Declines of last year weren't as horrendous as those in 2009, and publishers have moved decisively to increase digital revenues (in some cases charging online readers and in others branching into new businesses like e-commerce). New business models are proliferating as news organizations search for novel sources of revenue and cost reduction ("Bulletins from the Future", The Economist, 7/9/11).

Although revenue from online advertising is growing, it's not fast enough to fill the gap opened up by declines in print ads and circulation. As The Economist notes, "Online advertising typically brings in less than 20% of a newspaper's ad revenues and rates on all but the most prominent pages are falling." As a result, online ad revenues will not be enough to cover the cost of running traditional new organizations.

Now this August 22nd article in the Wall Street Journal, "Newspapers Edit Down Outlooks," indicates there might be a return to job cuts and other belt-tightening moves.

The obvious point: it is absolutely critical to diversify, build new revenue opportunities and develop compelling options for advertisers to be competitive.

Along these lines, in April of 2010 Journal Register CEO John Paton instituted the Ben Franklin Project, an attempt to focus the company's papers on being "digital first, print last." Earlier this year, Editor & Publisher listed three of the Journal Register newspapers on its annual "10 Newspapers That Do It Right" list.

The project seems to be working: unique visitors were up 58% and page views up 31% in the first quarter of 2011 for Journal Register sites, compared to the first quarter of 2010. There was a 67% increase in digital ad revenue and digital sales accounted for 15% of all ad revenue (before Paton, ad sales had been only 6% digital).

What's different about the approach at Journal Register? As John Paton says, "We're outsourcing everything. If it doesn't have anything to do with the creation of content, marketing and research . . . then we're either outsourcing it, reducing it, stopping it or selling it."

Paton and other publishing executives have good reason to act, as digital revenues just surpassed newspaper print revenues for the first time. More money was spent on online advertising than on newspaper advertising in 2010. Online advertising overall grew 13.9% to 25.8 billion, based on data from eMarketer. Pew Research Center estimated that newspapers took in $22.8 billion in print ad revenue in 2010.

The problem with other publishers, in the opinion of Martin C. Langeveld in his News after Newspapers blog, is:

Most newspaper groups pay lip service to "digital first," but in reality they're focused on the daily print edition. And that's why audience attention will continue to go to new media unencumbered by print, like Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Patch, Gawker Media, and hosts of others.

While working to expand digital revenues and increase audiences, publishers should stick to the core of what newspapers do best: content. In an American Society of News Editors and American Press Institute survey, editors identified three major challenges for the next 18 months:

  1. Maintain quality writing and editing despite budget and staffing cuts
  2. Redefine roles, strategies and tactics for moving newsrooms from once-a-day to continuously updated, 24/7 news and information
  3. Exploit mobile opportunities as a way of distributing content and building audience

Notice that increasing working capital and capital expenditures associated with  hiring digital designers, buying new software and hardware, establishing video ad production teams, training in new media and the like don't make the list.

As Paton noted, publishers also need to market. Small- to medium-sized business advertisers could benefit tremendously from bundled digital offerings to establish their visibility and attract customers. Newspapers have strong reach through their direct sales forces and credibility among this audience. They should leverage it by consulting and offering new interactive services.

But they should keep in mind that most of the advertisers can't or don't want to have to do it themselves—produce videos, design coupons, create directory listings or set up social media sites and ads. In fact, the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor asked small companies what new hire would most help their business and 9% said a social media expert, making it the second most popular choice after bookkeeper.

Newspaper companies shouldn't be setting up entirely in-house operations to deliver these new services themselves either. Outsourcing of various non-core functions transforms operations. This was proven with print ad production for newspapers over the past several years. Now it's time to transform newspaper companies into true multi-media publishers. And the best way for them to do that is to partner with qualified production resources such as Affinity Express.

By being agile and moving in real time with advertisers and readers, newspapers can survive and even thrive in the digital age. After all, they are the pros at publishing.


Core Values for the Affinity Express ELITE Club

A couple of years ago, we articulated the core values of Affinity Express:

  • We are passionate about efficiency and measuring continuous improvement.
  • We work hard and exceed expectations—our own and our clients.
  • We harness our creativity, dynamism and innovativeness to make our clients look good.
  • We are team players who are honest and transparent with each other.
  • We conduct ourselves with the highest standard of ethics and integrity.

These are values our company stands on, and we wanted every employee of Affinity Express to live and work by them.

Award function in India office of Affinity Express
Award function in the India office (I'm in the center)

Recently, we decided to present these values to employees again, in a fresh way that would resonate with everyone who works here.

I believe every employee of Affinity Express is part of a special, dedicated and talented group. So when we discussed words that would symbolize the spirit of Affinity Express, this one word received unanimous approval:

ELITE. Or,

Excellence

Leadership

Innovation

Teamwork

Ethics

The acronym starts with excellence because Affinity Express works to continually improve quality and better serve clients. It also recognizes leadership and encourages employees to go above and beyond. Constant innovation has helped us to achieve industry leadership in a BPO niche category because we find better ways to get things done and enhance our creativity. We've been celebrating teamwork for years and will keep this up, since we can't function effectively if we don't work together. And, of course, we insist upon ethical behavior in all our dealings with employees, prospects and clients.

To drive the message home, we plan to overhaul our existing awards system, align it globally and bring it under the umbrella of ELITE. We'll have awards to recognize employees for exhibiting each of these five core values. We have already announced a design contest for employees, for a cool new logo for ELITE. We're still working out the details, but let me say that the marketing and HR teams and those of us in senior management are very excited about this initiative, and we hope to infuse everyone else in the company with our enthusiasm.


Display Ads Booming: Who is handling the creative production?

Who is doing the creative?Google predicts the display ad market is set to go through an “amazing revolution” in the coming years, estimating the market will be worth $50 billion worldwide in 2015. In addition to the growth in volumes, there is a plethora of formats with 18 different “standard” display unit sizes in the AIB guidelines. That’s before you count the multitude of options for video and rich media. In a survey of major brands, 56% have rich media, video or interactive features in their ads

At the same time, the use of simple static banners is not disappearing, contrary to all dire predictions. Just take a look at Facebook’s use of simple and small formats, which is helping to keep traditional display ads alive.

This tremendous growth in volume and variety of display ad formats begs the question: how is this creative production, and for that matter versioning and online ad maintenance, going to get done quickly and economically? And if it is being created by an internal team or an outside third-party agency, I have to ask at what cost to the advertiser?

The frequent optimization of display ads and creative refreshes are generally credited with driving user engagement (and therefore value), but mean significantly increased workloads and labor costs—that’s if you can find the talent!

 Major Players, the UK’s leading creative recruiter, reported in May 2010 that the industry is currently experiencing a skills shortage for experienced talent to fill digital production and project management jobs.

Karine Lionnet, Major Players’ head of recruitment for creative services jobs said: "The market for creative services jobs has definitely changed over the last couple of years. With the digital explosion in full swing, the demand for tech savvy talent has led to the best candidates being snapped up, leaving traditional agencies and talent struggling to make the move into the digital job space."

This is one of many such articles written in the past couple of years on the difficulty of sourcing qualified interactive production personnel to keep up with the explosion of online advertising. Clearly, the growing high-volume, low-dollar and high-complexity nature of interactive campaigns makes it the most labor-intensive medium in the advertising industry. But few if any of the authors actually recommend a viable solution to the dilemma of delivering fresh, relevant and timely display ads in higher frequencies when advertisers are simultaneously demanding lower costs and higher ROIs on their marketing investments.

We have been witnessing this challenge first-hand with our clients at Affinity Express, who are trying to reach potential customers through highly customized and focused online marketing while saving money. In contrast to many technology companies, we do not believe automation is the complete answer, despite what Google says about Teracent for the Google Content Network or about DoubleClick Rich Media. 

Automation for sure has strategic relevance in trying to figure out the return on the marketing investment and in serving up regimented, template-based ads. However, this falls short of the mark when it comes to developing the differentiating creative messages specific to a brand and its value proposition. In and of itself, great creative that resonates with targeted individuals (one-to-one) or demographics is paramount to marketing results.

In fact, Neal Mohan, Vice President of Product Management at Google, says that “advertisers today are increasingly seeking to run campaigns that are highly measurable and relevant to users. . . . But great ad campaigns are about more than clicks or numbers. The best campaigns are so memorable and effective because they make an emotional bond with us.” That requires people and creativity. And the required volume of transactions means significant resources and cost.

I found common ground with Scott Belsky in “Shaping the Future: 7 Predictions for the Creative Community” which was published in Fast Company on January 6, 2011. 

He predicts: “The advertising agency of the future will consist of account managers, administrative staff, and a tiny leadership team that provides creative direction. The creative production itself will be distributed to individuals and small teams around the globe who are at the top of their game. The same applies to corporate marketing departments and other creative firms.”

Mr. Belsky goes on to say that resources for finding and managing top talent were extremely limited in the past. Now, the rise of online networks, as well as project management and collaboration tools are empowering creative professionals and ushering in a new era of independence.

According to Mr. Belsky, “There is remarkable talent emerging from all corners of the globe. . . . The only problem is that this talent doesn't need to work for you anymore. In the new era of ‘distributed creative production,’ top talent will be able to work on their own terms. The companies (and clients) that welcome this future will benefit from better creative output.” He believes the latest shifts in creative industries will ultimately empower creative professionals.

I couldn’t agree more. But rather than ad-hoc project bidding or online networks which can be problematic, progressive major agencies and corporations will want designated professional teams with defined processes that can scale and consistently adhere to branding standards (versus turning over projects from time to time, which would tie up management and possibly cost more in set-up and revision efforts).

 They will also need robust systems and business continuity planning, as large companies and agencies will not want to risk missing critical launch or publication deadlines because of power or Internet outages and the like.

 The best of all worlds is to achieve:  creative production to meet the demand + cost reductions, high standards and flexibility – risk = business process outsourcing for advertising and marketing production. To me, that sounds like a great way to meet the demand.

 It’s the only solution that adds up and addresses all the current needs, including the talent and a platform for management of the provider to optimize advertising across channels. There is no approach that is more effective at empowering brands to promote their products and services globally and competitively.


CEO Insight: Looking Forward at 2011

Affinity Express Blog: FireworksAs we head into 2011 and our eleventh year in business, the Marketing Team asked me to provide a view of Affinity Express from my vantage point, give insight into my management approach and talk about what I see coming in the future.

Since 2008, when I first became CEO of Affinity Express, my vision was to develop a top-performing, global team with a burning desire to continually improve everything they do for clients and employees; a team who could work with me to build a fast-growing, early mover business process outsourcing (BPO) company in the media production industry. I realized at the time that this was no small task, but believed strongly in our potential.

A relatively short time later, in 2010, we received an indication that we are well on our way to realizing this vision. Affinity Express was named to the Global Services 100 list, which recognizes companies that define global outsourcing. Many major corporations in more established outsourcing categories were featured, yet Affinity Express was the only provider of advertising and marketing production solutions on the list.

This is a wonderful honor and I consider it a testament to the passion and teamwork of all our talented people.

This teamwork we have at Affinity Express today is a great accomplishment in itself, but was not something that happened overnight. We are an international organization, with many employees working on virtual teams. Our offshore production platforms provide scale and speed at a low cost. Our onshore personnel in North America provide clients with responsiveness, subject matter expertise and technology solutions. The key to bringing them together is strong teamwork along with effective processes and thorough communication. Working as a team gives us the ability to be responsive, understand requirements, build efficient practices and communicate to minimize the complexities of outsourcing and maximize results.

It’s important to note that you can’t have strong teamwork if you don’t have the best team members. My greatest challenge when I first came to Affinity Express was identifying, selecting and developing “A” players throughout the company to execute our strategy. The next step was to focus and manage the entrepreneurial spirit of our managers and creative employees to drive improvements to customer service, sales and operations. Now that we have many of the right people in the right roles aspiring to the right goals, we can more effectively deliver value to all Affinity Express stakeholders—clients, employees and investors alike.

To facilitate focus and teamwork, my daily and weekly schedule is carefully planned in a recurring series of group and one-to-one meetings across the enterprise. Aside from being well-informed, this approach lets me “connect the dots.” I listen and study existing organizational, functional or client needs and match them with resources to effect improvements. At the same time, I ask myself constantly what I can do that will contribute to my critical success factors—my top three initiatives that will really impact the business positively.

Traits that I think help me in leading Affinity Express are punctuality, organization and preparation. Proper planning and expectation setting between interdependent worldwide teams is essential to achieving success for BPO companies, especially those that provide mission-critical services to clients that require accuracy and deadline compliance.

In addition, there is something to be said for balance. Working for a BPO is a 24/7 job, but I still try to relax and re-energize. I live on six acres of property and enjoy getting outside on the weekends to garden and do other projects around the house. Plus, I have two dogs which require plenty of attention. And, because I live just outside New York City, it is great to take advantage of all the exciting activities it has to offer with my family and friends.

Looking forward to the next ten years, it is clear that the Affinity Express business model is core to our success. It differentiates us, is sustainable and allows us to be profitable. But the heart of the company is our people. The Affinity Express team offers a compelling mix of expertise, scale, quality, value and commitment—ensuring we will be valued partners to clients, a great place to work and a healthy organization that will be around for a long, long time. I wish all of you the best in 2011 and beyond and thank all Affinity Express employees for their continued dedication and hard work.


Summing Up 2010

Affinity Express Accomplishments of 2010As we enter the last month of 2010, I have been thinking about what we have achieved this year and how we can do better next year. 2010 was particularly good for Affinity Express. I'd like to share with you some of what we have accomplished.

  1. We celebrated our ten-year anniversary. We have grown from a 125-person embroidery digitizing company to an 800-person advertising and marketing production company. This year, we celebrated our success, but also set our sights on what we want to achieve next.
  2. We added several of the largest clients in our history in the category of multi-media publishers and on-boarded them in record time.
  3. We were included in the 2010 Global Services 100. We were thrilled to be one of the "companies that define global outsourcing", especially as we're the only provider 100% dedicated to marketing and advertising production on that list. And it's gratifying to be among bigger outsourcing companies such as HCL and TCS.
  4. We were featured in the Inside Business TV show hosted by Fred Thompson and aired nationally on the Fox Business Network on Saturday, June 26, 2010.
  5. We conducted a client satisfaction survey for graphic services in which we were rated four (out of a maximum of five) on quality of graphic work and price.
  6. We expanded our interactive services, starting by bringing in a Chief Digital Officer and a Director of Interaction and Web Design to gain more focus and depth in our interactive services offerings.
  7. We completed one million orders via IDEA, the Interactive Digital Entry Assistant that is one of several workflow tools we developed at Affinity Express, and that many of our graphic services and document creation clients use to place orders and store files.
  8. We increased our commitment to community service, getting involved with Go Red for Women and a program for street youth, designing cards for military care packages, and encouraging employees to volunteer their time.
  9. We expanded our online presence, starting this blog in May, building profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and trying to engage more closely with our clients and employees.
  10. We launched the Learning Center to streamline and improve training programs for our global team.

Business Processing Association Philippines Networking Event

I was recently privileged to be invited to a networking dinner hosted by the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P). This Global Sourcing Meeting held on July 29 in New York was part of a larger event, the World BPO Forum.

Affinity Express has a close relationship with the Philippines, not only because we have one of our large offshore production centers located in Manila, but also because our parent company, Ayala Corporation, is one of the oldest and largest conglomerates in the Philippines. I was excited that this event would allow me to network with other people who have business interests—or are interested in doing business—in the Philippines.

The event started with a welcome address by the Consul General of the Philippines. We then had a presentation by the CEO of the BPA/P on “Why the Philippines?” Of course, I’m already sold on this topic, but I attended with interest nonetheless.

Later on, I was invited to address the gathering. It was exciting to stand in front of a hundred or so senior business executives and talk about Affinity Express and our presence in the Philippines, hoping that our experience would be of some use to others. 

We were fortunate because LiveIt Investments, Ltd., the holding company for Ayala Corporation’s investments in the BPO sector, acquired Affinity Express in December of 2006.  At that time, we had an established operation in Pune, India, and there were already plans for an additional facility for back-up purposes.  Because of the growth of BPO services, the access to design talent and the presence of LiveIt and Ayala Corporation, it made sense to select Manila for the new site.  As a result of the focus on enticing BPOs to come to the Philippines, the strong English speaking skills and the pool of talented designers, we were able to build the Affinity Express operation in record time.  We were quickly able to provide the local team with direction on catering to the demands of various types of North American companies in a high-volume and quick turn time outsourcing environment.

It’s a relatively new idea that digital and print media production can be offshored. Affinity Express is an early mover in a new business process outsourcing segment. We bring to our clients the experience of a large team of graphic designers without most of the costs and investment of time associated with a traditional ad agency. Companies are challenged on how to get advertising and marketing production done fast and economically, and that’s where we come in. Our clients are assured that their operations are as cost-effective as they can be, and they can tap into knowledge and expertise that might not exist within the company. By leaving ad and marketing production to us, companies can concentrate on their core competencies and increase speed to market. Even ad agencies and marketing companies outsource to us to take advantage of our cost efficiencies, enabling them to focus on highly-creative work, as well as increase their profitability.

Our presence in the Philippines has reinforced our position as the biggest (and I believe, the best!) company in the field.  We will continue to drive initiatives to recruit the best creative and design talent from top Filipino schools.  The company will also use the skills of designers in the Philippines to test and expand the product offerings marketed by Affinity Express (for example, interactive services such as website design and Flash video).  Furthermore, the systems and workflow in Manila are redundant to those of Affinity Express operations in the U.S. and India, providing the company and our clients with disaster recovery and continuity planning.  Ultimately, our operation in the Philippines helps Affinity Express to be more competitive and on the cutting edge of the advertising and marketing production solutions clients demand today.

Event hosted by Business Processing Association of the Philippines

Guests at the BPAP Event

At the informal networking part of the event later, I was excited to have many people come over and express interest in Affinity Express and what we do. As a sales person and as the CEO of Affinity Express, this was the most gratifying part of the evening for me.  The people I met didn’t realize advertising and marketing production could be outsourced, and I’m glad I was able to give them insight into how viable and effective this strategy can be with the right partner.


How to Ensure Quality from Your Outsourcing Provider

Being an outsourcing provider isn’t easy: you constantly struggle to prove value to your customer and to stay ahead of all your competitors.  In terms of quality, an outsourcing provider must be capable of delivering similar or better output than clients’ own internal resources at a competitive cost.

From the buyer perspective, trust in the quality and responsiveness of an outsourcing company is essential if clients are to free themselves from behind-the-scenes operational details.  That’s why providers have to earn their clients’ confidence day in and day out—providers are only as good as the last file delivered!

From the outsourcing company perspective, quality and rework costs spiral out of control, services levels and morale sink and the ability to meet contractual obligations suffers when its employees fail to execute as needed.

If you are planning to outsource a mission-critical function, here are some suggestions on what to consider.

  1. Providers should have documented processes to on-board clients and develop new services.  If they don’t, this is a major red flag because you won’t know what is required of you and your team, or how issues will be addressed when they arise.
  2. A typical component of early-stage outsourcing relationships is tests or pilots.  Therefore, providers should have defined processes that ensure they meet the expectations of prospects before they ever become long-term clients.
  3. Once the partnership is solidified, at a minimum outsourcing companies must have ongoing monitoring of quality and solicit feedback from clients in a two-way dialog to confirm expectations are met.  There should be daily, weekly and monthly reports to show progress and how any issues were solved.
  4. Steering committee calls with key members of the provider and client teams are valuable and help to clarify details and build a cooperative relationship.
  5. It sounds basic, but there should be a focus on eliminating typographical, spelling and number, email and web address formatting errors.  Some ways outsourcing companies address this area are operator-level quality orientations, refresher training sessions, cheat sheets and process checklists.  In addition, operator cross-checking and peer reviews, with metrics to support continuous improvement, are often used.
  6. Internal reporting should track the accuracy of individual team members to show the total number of transactions and the number that failed.  Reporting for error-type frequency allows operation managers to create programs to reduce specific issues and improve quality.
  7. An indicator that a provider believes in continuous improvement is that there are incentive programs in place to reward great performance.  In these initiatives, teams must work together to maintain and enhance quality, while adhering to requirements in client contracts.

Training plays a key role in quality improvement, as does ongoing vigilance to check that expectations are met on a project-by-project basis.  But the most critical factor, in our experience, is a company-wide commitment to excellence and culture that encourages teamwork in driving quality.

Ultimately, mismanaged outsourcing relationships and poor execution can cause providers to lose investments in their accounts and clients to incur high costs in switching to different partners.  That is why it is so important to understand how providers approach quality. In the Affinity Express world, we have to strive for good design and constantly improve creativity, but no one would see our beautifully conceived ideas if headlines were spelled incorrectly!


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