Guest Blog: What’s happened to sequential sign-off?

Content provided by Second Wind Online
Author: Deborah Budd

For any agency folks who have been in the business longer than ten years, sequential sign-off is a familiar concept. It refers to everyone involved in a project or campaign taking responsibility for their portion of the job, and affixing their signatures to their work, approving it as “done” before handing it on to the next person.

Typically, sequential sign-off was a paper-based function. Agencies used approval slips that stayed with the job through completion. Or, production job jackets were imprinted with sign-off forms; these big envelopes were passed around the agency from account service to traffic to creative, back to traffic and finally into production. They held not only signatures, but all of the essential paperwork and ephemera that accumulated throughout the development and production process, including the original job requisition, job input and creative brief, copy notes and drafts, change orders, CCRs, and so on.

Today, the wide use of digital agency management, traffic and workflow systems has made those old sign-off methods problematic. Since so much of our work is digital, and communications happen over the Internet, the paper trail is now much smaller; and the need for a production job jacket to store paperwork has likewise shrunk.

So how do agencies handle sequential sign-off today?

We still believe sign-off is important—not because we need to know whom to blame when things go wrong or mistakes happen, but because asking agency people, and clients, to put their John Henrys on a proof or approval slip encourages an “I’d better check this one more time” attitude. Being asked to assume responsibility causes people to act more responsibly. And that works (for the most part) with clients, too.

So here is an outline for sequential sign-off you can try at your agency.

  1. At the start of any project, the account executive should note the client’s job input, including which client contacts will be responsible for “signing off” on various aspects of the job. Who will okay the creative and strategic concept? Which staff people will supply copy resources and approve copy? Who is allowed to authorize moving from creative to production? Who approves proofs? Estimates? Invoices?
  2. The AE brings this information back to the agency, included as part of his initial Job Requisition and Job Input, along with a ballpark idea of budget.
  3. The Traffic or Project Manager opens the job, and creates the necessary files for archiving communications, project proofs, documents and forms.
  4. The Traffic or Project Manager schedules the job based on key due dates the AE has provided. This is called setting up a “critical path.” The critical path includes important due dates and the names of client contacts who must sign-off at key stages.
  5. Traffic sends the critical path to the AE; s/he approves and sends it on to the client. The client okays the critical path in writing, reconfirms the authorized personnel for sign-offs, and accepts responsibility for providing necessary resources and working to help meet deadlines. (We like to include a Client Responsibility Disclaimer as part of project agreements.)
  6. As the project moves through creative development and into production, sign-offs are obtained as noted on the critical path schedule. These can be hard copy (paper-based), obtained when the account executive makes an in-person delivery to the client for sign-off; or digital (email, signature and date on a PDF proof, confirmation via online project management sites such as BaseCamp, etc.). These communications should be archived as part of the job documentation or record that anyone on the project can refer to at any time during and after the project. (Paper-based approvals should be scanned and added to the digital record.)
  7. Make sure digital proofs are tagged with date and time stamps. To make proofs interactive, help clients find a markup app or teach them to use Adobe Acrobat Pro for marking up proofs. All proofs should be labeled and saved based on time and date. Approved PDFs should be tagged “approved” and passed on to the next stage of production.
  8. When changes are requested above and beyond the original “scope of work,” production must issue a revised estimate, and the AE must create a CCR (Client Contact Report) affirming the change. The client is then copied and requested to sign-off on the recorded change, and when necessary, the revised estimate.
  9. One individual should be responsible for obtaining needed approvals before a job moves to the next stage of the critical path. We recommend assigning either the AE or the Traffic/Project Manager. If a signature is missing, that person has authority to stop everything until client approval is received.
  10. When a job is completed, all communications, and especially approvals, should be archived with the other project files. These CYAs* could save your bacon at some point in your career, or at least ensure that a client acknowledges their own culpability should an error occur.

Process is important to the smooth functioning of your agency as it grows. The more people you hire, and the more clients you serve, the more you need a structured process to ensure efficient production, and minimize errors. If you don’t have some form of sequential sign-off as part of your process, start looking at how to include it. A record of written approvals is a critical part of a sound workflow system. How do you handle sign-offs?

* Cover Your Ass

The content of this blog was provided by Second Wind. Thanks Tony Mikes and Deborah Budd for the great information!

To learn more about how Function Point can help you handle sequential sign-off today, contact one of our Account Executives by clicking on the button below. We can help!

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