Tuesday, September 2, 2014

20 Financial Terms Every Studio Manager Should Know

Until we have comprehensive financial education, we'll never see the end of our booms and busts, Robert Kiyosaki

Managing a studio requires a set of skills and expertise in a variety of disciplines, (Oh yes! we have to wear many hats) one of which is financial literacy. Even when you are not running the full operation, you must have the financial knowledge that allows you to read and understand financial reports, get into a meeting with your finance team and be able to articulate at a professional level, adding value to the discussion. You must be able to interact (financially) with other departments and that requires a certain level of business acumen.

I've curated the list below with (in my personal opinion) the most widely used financial terms in the graphic studio business. We are already familiar with most of these terms, but I'm pretty sure this could help us to improve our financial literacy, hence making us more effective managers.
Accounts Payable
It's the money you owe to vendors and suppliers. Any pending invoices you have to pay for goods and services you have requested and received.

Accounts Receivable
It represents the money your clients owe you. You usually claim for it by the means of invoices, after delivering a service that your client has properly requested using a "Work Order" and a "Purchase Order." Accounts Receivable is only one of a series of transactions that are part of the processes involved in billing the client. It is legally enforceable if you follow standard business practices like estimating, getting estimate approvals, and requesting and receiving a purchase order.

It's an inspection done by an independent qualified personnel (outsiders) to a business financial statements to ensure the information represented is fair and true. The purpose of an audit is to provide an objective independent examination of the financial statements, which increase value and credibility to the way a studio is conducting its business affairs. An audit can be done internally and can also be requested by a client. It's a tedious process to go through, however, if the studio has been managed ethically and financially correct you should never be afraid of an audit.

Balance Sheet
It's the statement that summarizes the financial balances of your studio. In other words, it tells the financial position of your business at a determined point in time during a calendar year. The studio has its assets, owner's equity and liabilities, and like in any other business the equation remains the same: assets-liabilities=owner's equity.

A budget is the contemplated amount of money and/or resources to cover for a specific project, expenses, or activity. Budgeting is the best tool managers use to control expenses and resources.

In our context, it means the amount of charges posted on a specific project at a given moment in time, it could be the end of the job or still a work in progress. It reflects all the resources expended on a single job and managers have to be observant this amount never exceeds the (PO) purchase order amount.

It's an approximate calculation of the value of the services and/or goods requested by your clients. This is not a perfect science, however, experience will allow you to prepare more accurate estimates. Following historical data, using the proper billing codes and some common sense (ask questions when in doubt), will help a new manager to get on the right track while performing this important task.

The economic costs that a business incurs in order to obtain gains or revenue. Any outflows of money in return for goods or service are an expense. Whenever the studio purchases material to be used on a project, pays or submit a voucher for a cab ride, buys food for the studio artists working on a late night project, a business-related airline ticket, etc., these are all considered expenses. Usually, when authorized to do so, an employee can pay for an expense out their own pocket and then submit an expense report to be reimbursed later. Payments to suppliers/vendors and salary wages to employees are also considered expenses.

Financial Ratio
It's a quantitative analysis made by establishing a relation between 2 different values from the financial statements. Financial ratios are the tools used by financial managers to read and analyze financial statements. They indicate how the business is performing in a specific period of time, however, they're useless if you have nothing to compare this data with. You can compare it with past performances (historic data) and/or similar business performances. There are several categories of financial ratios, but in this list we're only covering one of the profitability ratios: Profit Margin.

It's the analysis you make to foresee how much you'll spend and how much revenue you'll capture in a specific period of time. It's based on the use of historical data, good assessment/management of your client's expectations, and controlling your expenses. As a matter of fact a good forecasting must start with the expenses.

It's a commercial document issued by the studio to the client after a project has been completed. It indicates the amount of money is owed to the issuer, specifications of the services rendered and the PO number backing up the work request. Invoices also have a unique reference number for tracking and security purposes. When the studio receives invoices from vendors and suppliers, these are considered purchase invoices.

After expenses and costs are covered in the price of the service you rendered or any goods you are selling, you add extra money to create the profit. This extra could be a fixed amount or a percentage of all the costs incurred in providing the service.

Operational Cost
Expenses associated with running a studio on a day-to-day basis are considered operational costs (see Expenses). For instance if you receive a request to print and bind 20 books and you purchase $200 dollars worth of paper, the $200 are considered an operational cost. However, if you only used half of the paper, then $100 is considered an expense while the rest go straight to your assets. This example illustrates the difference between cost and expense.

Any business expense not related to direct labor or direct materials that are billed directly to your clients. For instance, rent, utilities, insurance, etc. Overhead expenses have to be taken into consideration when determining or adjusting how much should be charged for the services offered by the studio.

When the total amount of revenue exceeds the expenses, costs and taxes needed to run the studio operation, it's considered a profit.

Profit and Loss Statement (P&L)
It's a financial statement that encapsulates the revenues, costs and expenses in a specific period of time (this could be a quarter or fiscal year). The "P&L" is perhaps the most important tool to help you see the big picture of the "ins and outs" and to put a "plug" in some of the holes to stop the outs. In other words you can easily see which costs and expenses can be cut in order to make the studio more profitable.

Profit Margin
It's the percentage of the revenue that turned into a profit. It's a profitability ratio that you calculate dividing your net profit by the revenue. The profit margin is key information used by financial management to do forecasting and to revise pricing.

Purchase Order
It's a commercial document issued by a client to the studio, indicating the specifications of the services requested. A Purchase Order is issued after the client agrees with the estimate submitted by the studio and until it is accepted, the transaction is not considered contractual. We also submit POs to our vendors and suppliers in order to control the studio purchasing and services requested to external entities.

It's the amount of money the studio receives for the services rendered and goods sold in a specific period of time. In an ideal scenario, the amount reflected on the invoices issued by the studio must equal the revenue.

It's the system used to record how much time studio artists spent on a particular job. Everyone knows what a timesheet is, but I'm including it in this list because in my personal opinion timesheets are the building blocks of the studio's financial structure. There's a reason why studio management is constantly enforcing the correct preparation of them, and CFOs and financial managers send email reminding employees to fill out their timesheets.Simply put, this is the way we bill the clients period.


Ernie Arias is an Advertising Studio Manager at Hogarth WW. Social Media enthusiast. Dad, husband. Opinions are my own.

References.: Wikipedia, Investopedia, Reuters financial glossary and Yahoo.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top 10 Qualities of An Über Presentation Specialist

"Every presenter has the potential to be great; every presentation is high stakes, and every audience deserves the absolute best.
Nancy Duarte

In 1997, I was working at the UBS Swiss Bank Presentation Center as a Mac designer. Part of my job was to assist the presentation artists in recreating logos, plotting graphs and charts in Illustrator and creating background images in Photoshop. The center was divided in 2 departments, the PC artists who worked exclusively on MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint; and the Mac designers working with Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator.

I decided to learn the PC applications to become a cross-platform operator and a more valuable asset to my employer (flagrantly looking for a promotion). To make the story short, I wound up hating PowerPoint because my learning approach to this application was based on my graphic background (totally wrong), and not as a presentation software. It was so frustrating that I even joined the band wagon echoing "PowerPoint sucks!" Needless to say it took me a while to figure out why it doesn't have a visible kerning and tracking feature like the rest of the applications I used to work with.

And the answer is simple, PowerPoint is not for typesetting. It's a Presentation software. And please stop blaming the software for your badly designed slides.
I wanted to share my story with you because this particularly wrong approach kind of summarizes the history behind why there are so many bad, terribly-designed presentations in this world.

In the quest to find the über presentation artist, I used LinkedIn, Behance, Indeed, Monster, and some other job sites and I was able to gather a considerable amount of CVs with the tittles 'Presentation Artist' and 'Presentation Specialist', so I gave priority to the best-designed and well-written ones. It's a no brainer, if you are in the presentation and design business you must show it off in your resume. However, a good-looking resume does not guarantee the owner to have what it takes to be an 'uber presentation specialist.' With that said, we're going to move to the next step: the interview process. You can see below a list of the qualities I was looking for in the interviewees. I classified them into 3 different categories: Technical Knowledge, Design Sense, and Communication.

1.-Before start working on a deck the presentation specialist must know if it's going to be a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. (you better get this one down if you don't want to work twice).
2.-Identify what computer platform is going to be used and make sure there won't be any issues with fonts or movie files. Testing is required to ensure presentation will go smoothly.
3.-Anticipate if any of the slides from the presentation will be re-purposed as a board to make sure resolution is not an issue.
4.-The specialist should be proficient in all the major slide ware applications (PowerPoint, Keynote, SlideShare and Prezi); and the Adobe Creative Suite to process and create custom artwork to avoid falling in the trap of using those cheesy native graphics.

5.-Design with simplicity in mind. Put meaning and purpose as the main focus of your design. Even when the requester wants to stuff a slide with lots of copy, charts, and/or graphics, you should suggest a better way to represent the information. Either by using a provocative and powerful image that tells a story (remember the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words") or by creating more slides or builds, etc. Your input is greatly appreciated, specially when you're adding value to the presentation.
6.-Color should flow consistently across the deck (graphics, charts, photos, solid backgrounds, etc.,) following your selected color scheme. Make type visible by creating contrast with color.
7.-Creation of templates on demand. The uber presentation specialist should be able to create a few templates (at least 5 slides per template) at the beginning of a project, so the presenter can have options to choose from and determine a final look and feel. He/she must also be able to create a full-fledged template that covers all the possible slide situations if requested to do so. These templates usually have over 30 slides.
8.-Thorough knowledge of diagrams, graphs, maps, charts and infographics structure. You should be able to represent data and to bring abstract information to life via visual graphics.
9.-Attention to detail is paramount. An uber presentation specialist will make sure graphics and specifically logos are not out of proportion. Even when you didn't do it, the minute you start working on a presentation, you own it.

The uber presentation specialist recognizes the importance of getting involve with the presentation. When in doubt will ask questions. Understanding and feeling the message embedded in the presenter's sketches is absolutely necessary to deliver a top performance. The more you understand the story behind those slides, the better you'll communicate with the team.The presentation specialist must be assertive and at the same time respectful when suggesting an idea or issuing an opinion. Don't ever try to impose your graphic 'genius' to the presenter. As long as they feel comfortable delivering their message in a particular way, it's always good to remember they are the ones facing the audience, not you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Finding the Über Presentation Artist

 “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.” Paul Rand

In the middle of the Summer of 2009, I found myself searching our servers—looking for all the presentation work (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc.,) our studio has done since 2005 to date. The studio director during that time had already scheduled a meeting to scrutinize all these assets to determine what we had delivered so far, and what we should do moving forward.

It was pretty obvious to everyone the need to raise the bar in our presentation delivery.

By looking at the big picture, we realized most of the presentations were using a corporate-look and dated template. No disrespect to corporate style templates, but we are in the business of selling creativity. We definitely could have done much better than that. We also found out that some of the best work was done in Indesign and presented as interactive PDFs, which can probably make you think the solution to achieve better-looking presentation slides is creating them in Adobe CS since this is the preferred designer's tool and everyone in the studio is proficient using Adobe. It sounded like a good option, but the reality is that almost all the time the requesters of these projects ask for either PowerPoint or Keynote because they can do last minute edits to their presentation. 

I left that meeting with one goal in mind, to leverage my social media and resource management skills to find the Über presentation specialist. And you bet I found not one, but a handful of über presentation specialists that became part of the pool of freelancers we call on a regular basis.

Stay in touch for the continuation of this story in my next article: “Top 10 Qualities of An Über Presentation Specialist.” A list similar to The Über Production Artist.


Ernie Arias is an Advertising Studio Manager at Hogarth WW. Social Media enthusiast. Dad, husband. Opinions are my own.

Friday, July 18, 2014

27 DAM Terms Every Studio Manager Should Know

In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power,” John F. Kennedy

As studio managers, it's our duty to keep up with the technology and trends relevant to our industry. You also need to interact with your IT and/or Digital Asset Management personnel and quite frankly even having a 'water cooler' chat with them, to the majority of us, it's a sure trip to Google some of the terms filtered in their 'geeky' vocabulary.

I've put together a list of 27 terms and concepts that in my personal opinion are the most important to any end user of a DAM system. Most of them you probably know already and in general this may help us to brush up on our DAM knowledge, so the next time you talk to the dudes from IT, your first reaction is not a "Huh?" Yes!, I've been there and I must confess this blog has been a very humble and educational experience for myself. I hope you'll find it interesting as well.

Access Control List or ACL is a technical term to refer to permissions which control the visibility, usage and modification of assets (corresponding to activity descriptions like view, download and edit).

An Application Programming Interface or API is a set of specifications used by an application program to communicate and share data with other applications. These are often published as a set of documents by the software vendor. By leveraging the power of an API, developers can execute functions and retrieve their results from an external application. The degree of ease required to achieve system integration and expansion are commensurate with the quality of an API.

A type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as AND, NOT and OR to further produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be "advertising" AND "New York". This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords.

Cataloging means the high-level process of adding metadata to assets in a Digital Asset Management system. It is also called Ingesting.

Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services.
Cloud computing, or in simpler shorthand just "the cloud", also focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but are also dynamically reallocated per demand.

DAM is an acronym for Digital Asset Management. Digital Asset Management (DAM) – the process of cataloging, finding, delivering and preserving digital assets; including images, documents, video, audio and any other digital file. Digital Asset Management systems provide users with a central location to search, locate, access and share files in an easy and efficient way.

Is transferring a database (assets, metadata, folder structure, etc) from one system to another. Usually happens when one system is replacing another.

A database is typically used in a DAM system to hold metadata about assets. The majority of modern databases are known as Relational Databases (the correct term is RDBMS (Relational Database Management System). In a relational database, tables of information are connected together by using identifiers (or indexes) to do search on them.

Converting a physical/analog file, such as a paper document, slide or printed photograph, into a digital file, i.e., scanning.

A graphical user interface (GUI) is a common type of user interface which allows users to interact with DAM through the use of graphical icons and visual indicators.

Ingesting is also referred to as cataloging. The process of adding or uploading assets to your digital asset management system, and adding, embedding and extracting metadata to/from your assets. Once the assets are in your DAM system, users can search, find, share and work with your digital files.

A vocabulary that uses a collaborative method to categorize your metadata, where freely chosen keywords are used instead of a controlled vocabulary (such as with taxonomy). It could lead to inconsistencies in the classification of information (kitty versus cat, for example).

The action of assigning information to your assets to describe them better and help others find them later. Keywords become part of your digital assets’ metadata. Organizations usually use a combination of taxonomy and folksonomy for describing their assets.

Linked Data is a series of techniques to allow data which is stored in a distributed fashion to be interconnected. It is describes a range of functions, including exposing, sharing, and connecting data.

Media Asset Management (MAM) is generally considered as simply an alternative term for Digital Asset Management, although some would argue that a MAM system only supports video rather than any type of digital file.

Metadata is the data about the data. it's the descriptive information about your files. Digital asset management systems rely heavily on metadata, as it’s critical for searching, retrieving and managing your rich media assets.

This term refers to any files that are created from the original for reference purposes. They are used to represent assets - in general as a low resolution, truncated or otherwise constrained edition. The term is now the more popular way to describe non-original assets that have been rendered specifically for use in Digital Asset Management system.

It's the acronym for Storage Area Network. It's a dedicated network that provides access to consolidated storage. SANs are primarily used to make storage devices, such as disk arrays appear like locally attached devices to an operating system (Server). Typically used by enterprise level organizations.

When talking about databases, your schema is the framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. It is your structure, your list of fields (such as date, author, name, subject, etc) that you would like your catalogs to contain.

Tagging is a colloquial term given to the process of adding metadata generally and keywords in particular to digital assets.

The technique for creating classifications, using a very controlled vocabulary. Unlike folksonomy, it is hierarchical in nature, and represents information about your assets or metadata. An organization may use taxonomy to better manage the metadata that users will assign to the digital assets.

Transcoding is the process of converting one video or audio format into another. In general it refers to the conversion of one codec to another (e.g. MPEG to FLV), although the description can also apply to conversions between container formats (e.g. QuickTime to AVI).

User Interface (or 'UI') is a generic IT term relating to the method by which a user operates computer software. User interfaces typically are either graphical or command oriented (e.g., written instructions).

The way a file travels to, through and from a DAM system. Workflow reads and acts upon metadata. Workflow can add captions, convert colours and handle distribution. It saves time and errors.

XML is an abbreviation of Extensible Markup Language. XML is a standard for creating markup languages which describe the structure of data so that it can be exchanged between two different systems. It is heavily used in systems integration. Most Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems include features that allow metadata and assets to be supplied to third party systems in XML format.

Extensible Metadata Platform. A standard created by Adobe for processing and storing metadata about all types of digital assets such as images, documents, layout documents, etc. Metadata is embedded into the files and allows files to be shared and transferred without any of the information getting lost.

It's the pioneer of the next generation of cloud-based enterprise asset management systems. I'm very excited of migrating to this innovative system and you can find out more at zonza.com.

Ernie Arias is an Advertising Studio Manager at Hogarth WW. Social Media enthusiast. Dad, husband. Opinions are my own.

References.: DAM Glossary, DAM Learning Center, Wikipedia, ZONZA.

Monday, June 16, 2014

7 Tips To Improve Your Workflow Management

As a Studio Manager, the last thing you want to see is a job circulating countless rounds or a project taking much longer than the estimated time, thus creating a bottleneck in your workflow and affecting your deadline. The ideal is a steady and smooth flow of jobs getting in and out period.


It doesn't matter how big or small your studio is, you need to have a process in place. All entities interacting and affecting your workflow must acknowledge this process. Otherwise, you'll have chaos and disorganization in your studio. There is a misconception about not implementing process because of the size of the studio and in my personal opinion it's just wrong. Process is the only way to guarantee a consistent result on similar tasks.


Every account should have a set of guidelines. If you find yourself working on a new account and you don't have the style guide, it's time to create one. You should communicate to the Account and Creative teams of the need of a style-guide. They'll happily agree, because everybody benefits from having one. This ensures consistency on every job output from this particular account.


Logging-in every job either manually or by means of a software (a database like FileMaker Pro is recommended) will provide very valuable data that can be used to assist you in future decision-making and planning. 


To establish priorities is a no-brainer, but sometimes it can be very tricky. In my opinion, the client should be your number one priority. Jobs that require files to be sent to the client, mechanical releases or any production job in general should be considered a priority. Very often you'll get "rush" requests that in reality are driven by personal agendas—it's just something you have to deal with. 


This is probably the most important part of taking a job to the studio. So many jobs go to an unnecessary number of extra rounds due to a misunderstanding in the briefing. It's a good idea to have the studio artist taking part in the briefing. They usually have questions and the requester can answer them in the spot. At the end of the briefing, make sure everyone is on the same page about the task at hand. Make sure supplied assets are correct, FTP sites, copy sent via e-mail, etc., before the requester leaves, just to make sure that everything is in order and we'll be able to meet the deadline with no problems.


After delegating a job to a studio artist, if he/she finds an issue, give them 10 minutes to figure it out on their own and if they can't, then they must bring it back to their manager, who'll take proper action either by finding a solution or by notifying the requester about the issue.


It's a matter of great concern when a simple advertorial circulates more than 4 times. It's definitely a red flag and you should pay close attention to this. Identify the problem and take action. 

These workflow tips are specifically for an advertising/graphic studio. However, some of them can also be applied to other industries where workflow management is part of the daily work routine. I hope you find them useful. If you have any tips of your own, please share them with us.