The danger of digital sign off

With each passing year of my career in marketing, I find myself recounting more tales from a bygone era. This is a sure sign of middle age, but I hope that by sharing my own experiences, I will in some small way help my brand team and other marketers out there avoid making some of my most foolish mistakes.

When I was an assistant brand manager, I suffered the misfortune of printing a piece of packaging that contained the wrong barcode. The barcode that I had signed off on an earlier proof had somehow been mistaken for another later in the process.

Sadly, this was not discovered until after the factory had produced finished goods in the new packaging. It was the howler of all howlers. I thought I would be fired but my boss kindly took the bullet on my behalf as punishment for failing to double check my work. The situation was made marginally better by our sales director, who brilliantly managed to sell the consignment of problem stock to an export customer whose stores didn’t use barcodes.

I learned a few things from that experience. First, you should always stay on friendly terms with the sales director and, most importantly, that as a line manager you are ultimately responsible for the actions of your team.

This should not be confused with signing off every single piece of artwork and a refusal to delegate, but it does mean you have a duty of care to ensure that the team members you are responsible for are doing their job correctly.

Which is pretty scary because I find the modern marketing era of digital artwork is both terrific and terrifying. Numerous versions of artwork files fly through cyberspace, which enables fast feedback and changes, yet also multiplies the opportunity for errors along the way as artworkers cut and paste their way to final sign off and approval.

My inbox is bombarded with emails from my team asking me to sign off their latest version of packaging, advertising, promotional materials and collateral. It is out of control and approving things on screen is a dangerous game.

Call me old fashioned, but I am now going to insist on hard copy approvals only from this day on. And I hope that in doing so, I help my team avoid a fate worse than mine.

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