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In the Groove

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I n 1968, legendary British rock band The Moody Blues released its psychedelic counterculture album, “In Search Of The Lost Chord.” Four decades later, Guitar Center went on its own journey of discovery and found a cloud computing solution that struck just the right notes.

It was more of an operational journey than a musical one for the 200-store chain, but the end result was no less rewarding. Working with ProofHQ, Guitar Center streamlined the lengthy and organizationally complex review and approval process for print advertisements, circulars, catalogs and web pages.

ProofHQ offers online proofing tools that facilitate commenting and markup, create a collaborative workflow, keep track of feedback and enable users to preview large, production-ready files in seconds.

A folder-sharing feature enables visuals to be shared with an individual, group or the entire company; proofs added to the folder are automatically shared with those with access, and can be opened and downloaded right from the desktop.

Efficiency, accountability issues
“Our business was expanding rapidly but our process for reviewing proofs was still manual,” says James Smith, director of merchandise operations and promotions for Guitar Center. “Also, we were becoming much more digitally oriented, creating material for the web. We also started running television ads and needed a platform to proof and review these new elements to our business.”

One of the difficulties for the organization was the physical distribution and review of proofs for ads. “We were spending too much time making copies and walking them around to other offices, where more people looked them over and made their own corrections. Then the materials had to go back to the creative services department, which went through all these copies that had been marked for corrections or adjustments,” Smith says.

Guitar Center doesn’t use an outside advertising agency: “our internal creative services department handles everything,” he says. “It was easy when we only had five people marking up proofs. But our organization has grown, and keeping track of communication between the groups was getting increasingly difficult. We have proofs going out to as many as 60 people.”

Making corrections expediently also became increasingly difficult. “We’re not talking about one proof at a time,” Smith says. “We were averaging 2,500 jobs per year at the time, and all with multiple versions. Some can be a single-sided element like our in-house posters, but others can be 150-page circulars. So we’re looking at hundreds of proofs every month, each with two to four versions. Passing them around manually was no longer efficient.”

This wasn’t the only concern. Inventory replenishment and planning departments also review advertising artwork to ensure the stores will have the best in-stock position possible. “Our inventory managers rely on having visibility to the artwork being built, just in case there are any last-minute changes that might not have been communicated properly,” he says.

There also were accountability issues: If an error went to press, it was difficult to pinpoint, in a timely fashion, just where things went wrong.

Ugraded tool set
After researching solutions, Smith was convinced ProofHQ was the answer. “The simplicity of the platform and ability to handle video as well as print made it the right solution for us,” he says. But it still took six months to sell the idea within Guitar Center — getting people to realize that the organization was at a tipping point, and managing the flow of creative was something they could do better. “Once we got people behind the idea of electronic proofing, it was just a matter of making sure our processes were ready to adopt this new tool and to build the training,” Smith says.

Implementation began in 2009 and took about three months. “We wanted to make sure we were not going to disrupt our current processes,” he says. “We didn’t want a whole lot of change. We just wanted to upgrade our tool set to run more efficiently.”

Results have exceeded expectations. Electronic proofing “has helped us integrate some of our businesses into one office and work much more quickly and efficiently,” Smith says. The creative services department is now providing service to multiple brands instead of one. Yet, despite the increased workload, “ProofHQ has allowed us to become much more nimble in sending creative materials out for comment and aggregating those comments for the artists.

“Previously we might have had three days for a proofing round,” he says. “Physical copies had to be passed around for everyone to mark up. But these people only had a fraction of the three-day time period. Now everyone gets a full three days to go over the material. They can work on a proof when they need to and that, in turn, allows them to handle more projects within that timeframe.”

Guitar Center has shared some thoughts about the system — some upgrades the company would like to see — with ProofHQ – but the tool remains “powerful enough to handle the volume we require,” Smith says.