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Do You Want a Graphic with That?

(September 2003) posted on Tue Sep 02, 2003

Franchise-model for enterprise publishing ensures brand consistency


By Jake Widman

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an online demonstration of a new publishing option available to your local Ace Hardware Commercial and Industrial (C&I) Supply store. The system, called Ace C&I BYO Flyer and set up and maintained for Ace by TotalWorks of Chicago, enables individual stores to produce customized advertising flyers. The need for custom flyers arises from the fact that while many products might be on sale in a given month, not all of them would be appropriate for every store to advertise--an Ace store in Florida, for instance, would look foolish distributing an ad for snow shovels.

The BYO Flyer system relies on what TotalWorks vice president of sales and marketing Jim Constantine calls "Webtop publishing:" the manager of a store logs on to a server using a standard Web browser and selects corporate-approved layouts, images, and copy, and the flyer is automatically built and delivered in PDF format for local printing. The Ace store in Florida can choose barbecue grills and one in Minnesota can choose snow shovels, and each has a flyer suitable for its customers.

During our discussion, Constantine mentioned that corporate decision-makers often get nervous when they first hear about this kind of decentralized publishing. They fear a loss of control--that allowing each store to produce its own flyer will dilute the brand and the corporate message. But paradoxically, the BYO Flyer system actually enforces brand control. Each store's flyer may be different, but since they're all assembled from corporate-approved elements (product shots, descriptions, tag lines) arranged in an approved way, each one hews to the guidelines set up by Ace.

Soon after my demo with TotalWorks, I got the chance to speak with Mike Maziarka of CAP Ventures and chair of the Enterprise Publishing Conference at this year's Seybold Seminars San Francisco. Maziarka mentioned that this kind of decentralization of publishing is going to be one of the themes of the conference. He pointed out that it will rely on technology that makes it easier for a nonprofessional to create documents, which demands systems with simple interfaces and limited choices.

It's like the problem McDonald's faces with its hamburgers. Food has to be prepared locally--there's no way McDonald's can ship precooked hamburgers from a central location to be sold at each franchise. So the company has invested in technological solutions for making sure that the burgers and fries at each McDonald's come out the way they should. They do that by limiting choices--the deep fryers, for instance, have timers that lift the potatoes out of the oil at the right time, without relying on a cook to decide on their own when the fries are done.

The need for just-in-time and local production of documents is putting the same kind of pressure on cross-media publishers to come up with technological solutions to guarantee control of the product even as the production is decentralized. The BYO Flyer system is one such solution, but it won't be the last. Enterprises will look more and more to such "franchise publishing" options to meet today's marketing demands.


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