We are a very small agency, with just two full-time employees on-site and the rest of our team virtual, so in many ways, remote work is easier for us than it may be for larger organizations trying to manage the behaviors and routines of numerous employees. As a business owner, my goal is to maintain open communication channels between my staff and clients. Offering kindness, patience and compassion is so important, especially during this enormously stressful time.
Instead of writing another “Tips on How to Work from Home” article, I’d like to use this post to give a shout-out to the software companies we utilize every day to keep our agency processes moving forward efficiently and accurately. I’ll start with our media planning and buying software, move into a few of our production/organizational tools and finish with our data and reporting dashboard. I’m excited to share these great products with you and encourage you to check out the links I’ve included to each service for more details.
Media Planning and Buying
Those of us in the paid media industry know that using Excel spreadsheets to keep media authorizations and insertion orders organized is not a sustainable solution. From day one, I knew we needed a cloud-based, secure, integrated media planning and buying software system to plan, book and reconcile our media campaigns. After some starts and stops with other commercial media planning software, we landed on MediaPlanHQ and haven’t looked back! MediaPlanHQ is based in Montreal, Canada and its founder, Robert Maltais, is fluent in French and English, making for some fun language exchanges! As one of their early adopters, we’ve been fortunate to have the chance to beta test some of this software’s newer features. And, the information exchange goes both ways. The MediaPlanHQ team welcomes our feedback and has responded positively to our requests for new system capabilities resulting in a better product. Here are some recent updates:
- They’re working on developing an accounting change log so we can see a step-by-step list of any pricing changes documented over the course of a campaign.
- They allow for different pricing units based on campaign goals, whether CPM, CPC, cost-per-spot or total cost over time. This is important as we build campaigns using different media tactics that are sold based on a variety of metrics.
- It’s easy to download campaign reports containing information on a campaign’s media mix, delivery status, spend and run dates. These are great to have on hand when you’re speaking with a client and need a quick reference.
Anne’s Review: I highly recommend MediaPlanHQ to anyone running a small-to-midsize advertising agency with a full-service media department. You’ll find their team to be extremely responsive and resourceful and the platform itself to be user-friendly and reliable.
Timekeeping and Billing
We’re pretty sure the timekeeping, estimating and billing capabilities of Harvest are the best around. Even when I was solo-preneuring in the early days, I began using it to track my time and to manage my client billing. Now that the company has grown, we have remained avid fans of this robust and affordable software. Here are a few of the features that we really like about Harvest:
- It’s easy to use on both mobile and desktop. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ll get a notification from Harvest asking me if I’ve forgotten to shut off my timer? An easy couple of taps on my phone screen and my oversight is corrected.
- We’re able to set up invoices in advance and schedule them to go out on different dates depending on our billing schedule with a particular client. Late payment reminders (yes, those are sometimes necessary!) are also customizable, and take the stress out of having to remember each individual client’s payment terms.
- Harvest connects to QuickBooks and makes invoice reconciliation easy and accurate. Once a bill is marked “paid” in the Harvest system, it tells Quickbooks. This makes life much easier for our bookkeeper and helps us stay on top of our accounts with more confidence.
Anne’s Review: Five stars for Harvest! Time tracking, estimating and billing are made simpler with this comprehensive and easy-to-adopt system.
Media campaigns require managing a vast number of details. A typical media production calendar includes dates for planning sessions, client presentations, campaign approvals, media specifications, copy deadlines, creative trafficking, and the list goes on. Enter, Asana. The name means “seated” or “situated” in Sanskrit and that’s just how we feel when we use it: calm, steady and assured. We rely on it to keep ourselves organized every day. Some cool software features include:
- The ability to convert a project timeline into multiple formats – lists, post-it-notes or Gantt chart formats – makes this tool accessible to all types of brains. I happen to be a list person, but I know others appreciate having different visual options.
- Premium membership (yes, larger teams end up needing to upgrade) allows us to add vendors and other agency partners to individual projects keeping us better organized and on the same page with deadlines and goals.
- Notification preferences can be set by individual team members. Our operations manager likes to get frequent reminders in her inbox, but, personally, I don’t want to receive a million emails. Having multiple options works for all of us.
Anne’s Review: I can’t say enough about Asana. Having used all of the major competitors over the years, this one is my pick for best production management capabilities.
Media Metrics Reporting
Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the importance of having a robust and accurate media metrics reporting dashboard to collect campaign data and share it with our clients. Using a Cloud-based system to connect all of our paid media API’s and set up this data in customized, easy-to-read dashboards is an important differentiator between our agency and others in the digital advertising arena. Here are some key attributes that we look for in media metrics software:
- In today’s digitally-focused media planning environment, it’s more important than ever to accurately report on the progress of a media campaign. Being able to populate campaign data on a white-labeled metrics dashboard provides us with assurance that our clients’ investments are yielding solid ROI’s and that our campaigns are pacing and performing consistently over time.
- I love being able to present campaign data in various ways via the dashboard. I typically provide linear reports, and at the same time, include charts and graphs representing the same information, which adds visual interest and tells the data story in both pictures and numbers. My clients have responded favorably to this practice and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of detailing our campaign reporting in colorful and meaningful ways.
- Dashboard software should be easy to update, accessible on both web and mobile screens, and should allow for new data “widgets” to be added or removed from a dashboard at any point.
Anne’s Advice: Don’t rely exclusively on the digital vendors to send you a report off of their own dashboard. Invest in your own measurement tools and collect the data yourself.
The systems I’ve described here are the foundation on which Richardson Media Group’s operations and media planning services are run. Each tool fills a different but essential purpose in the daily management of our agency. We benefit from having them at our fingertips wherever we work, making recent remote work adjustments easier and less stressful for everyone.
If you’d like to chat further about any of these tools, or share some of your favorites for keeping your virtual team productive and healthy, please drop me a line. More than ever before, I hope we can share our experiences about how to successfully navigate these scary times and keep conversations open even if our doors are metaphorically closed. Hopefully, it will make social distancing and the sense of isolation that often comes with remote work a little easier to manage.