TPF Group is a global leader in innovation, product and promotional campaigns. We spoke with Mark Barlee — Systems and Operations Manager for the company’s TPF Sports brand — about creative communication, how he fixed the client approval process and why Australians like membership clubs.
TPF Group is made up of three entities
TPF Toys invents and manufactures toys like Splashlings, the current number three girls’ toy in the US. We have an ad agency business called TPF Think and then there is TPF Sports, which is where I work. We’re an end-to-end solution for sports teams, including licensing, manufacturing, distribution and communication.
Membership is a big part of the Australian psyche
People here are passionate about their sports and devoted to their team. Membership is an integral part of all sports clubs and a way for consumers to show their allegiance by wearing their team’s colors. TPF Sports produces and distributes membership packs directly to the members. We send 1.4 million parcels annually in Australia on behalf of sports teams across various codes and participation programs, including Australian rules football, rugby union, rugby league, basketball, soccer, cricket and netball.
Our creative studio is based in Vietnam
The artwork for our products is created there so most of the creative communication between the design team, account managers and clients was done over email. This meant there was a high risk of miscommunication and misinterpretation, as well as the chance that changes could be missed. When you’re dealing with production volumes in the thousands, mistakes are costly.
It’s our job to find better solutions for our customers
We have close to 100 clients with each one producing anywhere from 60-300 different products. Given those quantities, the way we were running the creative side of things was unbelievably inefficient. As Systems and Operations Manager, I mainly deal with fulfillment but once I understood the extent of this problem, I jumped on the chance to find a solution. Our Director, Craig Dyer and I had a look at different collaboration options and eventually landed on Hightail.
We trialled Hightail with eight clients
Our aim at the beginning was to create a regimented process around product approvals. It was basically an indemnity against mistakes so we were clear about which file is the approved version and have that archived correctly so when the preproduction sample arrives, we can benchmark it off that approved artwork. The trial was conducted with three AFL clubs, three National Rugby League clubs and two motorsports teams including Red Bull.
Clients responded well to Hightail
At the end of the trial, we surveyed these clients and the response was great. They liked the ability to see a quick thumbnail of every item in a Space and then click on each one to see the detail. Targeted comments had the biggest impact. Selecting an area and writing a comment on the artwork was much better than listing a whole bunch of comments in an email. It improved communication throughout the process.
The approval system suits our process
In Hightail you can target your approval towards specific people and for specific artwork pieces. This is great for us because we might have three or four products in a Space that are all for the same client, but require a different department to approve. Being able to specify that is really helpful.
Hightail has made a profound difference to our business
The improvement in communication has helped cut the amount of rounds a piece of artwork needs to go through by half. In terms of design time on 100 products that could save us AU$7,500. But it goes a lot deeper than that. Our customers also benefit, which makes them even happier to deal with you and that kind of customer satisfaction is priceless. You can also see the difference for the creative team. When you eliminate so many of the frustrating elements of the creative process, it’s a real morale booster.
All our approvals will go through Hightail
After the success of the trial, we’re expanding our use of Hightail to 48 more clients. The long-term plan is to push it out across the whole TPF Sports brand, so eventually a customer approval won’t happen via any means other than Hightail. It’s the most efficient way to get changes articulated, understood and actioned and has helped us deliver fantastic efficiencies in our service.
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