The value of good production hand-offs

One of the services I provide is marketing support, which is a fancy way of saying that I help marketing with whatever they need. Much of my work revolves around e-newsletters: tweaking copy provided by a vendor, managing reviews, handing off copy documents to production and even setting up and triggering final sends to millions of customers.

I’ve noticed that marketing often wants to toss work “over the wall” to production and then review it when it’s done. In some cases, this takes the form of a PDF of JPG comp, from which production is then expected to deliver a final, flawless e-mail or Web page. Here is why comps fail in most cases as the sole deliverable for hand-offs:

  • They typically do not reflect the final copy or layout. In my most recent project, there were several individual mails that were represented in old, out-dated templates and one comp that failed to reflect a desired headline style. If production had looked at the comps, they would have carried over many errors that would then have had to be fixed in review. In my experience, review takes plenty of time just fixing actual production mistakes – you don’t need to extend it correcting errors in the handoff.
  • They are poor at conveying notes and small details such as ALT text. And if a detail is missed, the vendor or team member who owns them has to update and then build them out again. This can quickly become a lot of work and delays the process. Or if they are omitted, production may try to guess what you’d want. Do you really want developers guessing what marketing wants?
  • They are difficult or impossible to extract copy from. True, you can cut and paste copy from some PDFs, though it’s not always intuitive and, in my experience, more often than not these documents are locked. And it’s not possible with most other types of image comps. You don’t want production retyping the copy you worked so hard to finalize, right? Because that is what they’ll do if they have to.

Comps can be helpful to give production a visual guide, particularly when introducting a new layout or design. But a Word document is a better handoff for copy. For one thing, you don’t want production retyping your text or making guesses about what to use for ALT text. If you expect production to catch every variance from a comp from an e-mail message, you will probably be disappointed.

Your hand-off document should track changes or at least mark them in comments (doing both is best). Try to make the document look as close to the final copy as possible by including images and using table cells to lay them out alongside your copy. Every image should have ALT text and, if they are clickable, a link. (And why not make them clickable – people do click images, often more than text!) Format your text to look like your comp, matching or at least approximating color and size.

Now don’t get me wrong, comps still have their place: They make great redlines. It’s always valuable to include them with detailed layout specs such as gutter widths (if production is building the layout), fonts and color codes in conjunction with a good copy document. Then production can pull the text and links from your Word document and refer to the comp when laying it out and applying the formatting.

The bottom line here is to anticipate how production will use your hand-off documents and work to minimize the back and forth at the end of the process, where things are most likely to slip.

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