When was your last big goof? Did it cost you a client? Your job? Your firstborn or, worse yet, your reputation? (May it Rest In Peace.) Within our industry lurk land mines waiting to take the lives of those who take on projects without proven processes and quality checks. Yes, ours is a creative field, with what we do being more an art than a science. Blah, blah, blah. But, here's the clincher: The most-profitable PR agencies and most-respected PR departments are those who make the fewest mistakes and the largest gains, because they think and act more like engineers and less like artists. Just For Feet Runs Customers Off Big stakes lead to big expectations. Microscopic results lead to ball- busting backlash -– or, worse yet, an all-out reputation crisis -– when campaigns curdle in the marketplace. Such was the case when Just for Feet CEO Harold Ruttenberg invested nearly $7 million in creative and media for a 1999 Super Bowl ad produced by Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications of Rochester, NY. The Kenya ad, labeled as the Ad from Hell in an article on Salon.com, was criticized by customers, the media, and the advertising industry and quickly became known as the "Just for Racists" spot. Ruttenberg sued Saatchi & Saatchi for what amounted to advertising malpractice, because he says the company badgered him into buying an ad he hated, an ad that ran against his will and over his objections, before a global audience of 127 million viewers. The outcome of the lawsuit? Who cares! A company that had been No. 6 in Fortune magazine’s list of "America’s Fastest Growing Companies," filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2000. Just for Feet's big goof (their goof because they signed off on it) weighs in as the screw-up of that or most any year, but it's the everyday goofs that can suck the color out of your cheeks and the green out of your commercial bank account. Take reprints, for example. Errors that squeak past the bluelines make up nearly 10 to 20 percent of most printers' revenues, according to Bill Carroll of ArtCraft Printing. Those same errors eat into agency profits and too often past the 15 to 18 percent agency markup. Quality: Who’s In Control? River City Studio got wise to the leak and put a quality-control guru on its staff. Now nothing leaves the shop until Leslie Gilbert says so. Gilbert and her team of hawk-eyes run each layout through a meticulous proofing and pre-press process, which includes a pass through some sophisticated pre-flight software. River City Studio owner Deb Turpin says the quality checks have reduced fatal errors by 98.9 percent. Another local agency brought my partner in as a consultant for six months, after their internal processes failed to detect an error of their own making that cost them $13,000 to reprint. It only takes one big screw-up to make the extra "cost" of quality processes look a whole lot more like an insurance policy. You can stand the small hits, but not the motengators! So yea for River City and all PR pros who elect to tighten their loose ways. If you don't know where to start, check out the gospel according to Andersen, the folks that used to be Arthur Andersen. They link best practices to business processes in the book "Best Practices: Building Your Business with Customer-Focused Solutions." Or, if you want a more entrepreneurial roundup of ideas, pick up a copy of the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. Gerber touts a business model called the franchise prototype, in which a "system" runs the business, and people run the system. The secret to success is fine-tuning your systems. Think McDonald's. Trust Us, Nothing Can Go Wrong Go Wrong Go xazcxy&&% Better systems prevent production breakdowns and attendant exposure to the dark side (getting fired or getting sued). No doubt it's our hard-to-understand, unscientific industry that makes insurance companies steer clear. Do you realize ours is one of the few industries that can't secure professional liability insurance? Insurance agencies won't underwrite a policy for ad agency and PR firms, because we're too risky. Well, Christ! No wonder it can be such a hard sell to convince a Fortune 500, lawyer-rich company to sign on the dotted line or, better yet, to trust "our" instincts vs. theirs (you know, like Just For Feet trusted Saatchi and Saatchi). If you want to impress your boss or potential client, show them your mapped-out processes. In my earlier days as an entrepreneur, I recall competing for a piece of business that wanted to see my firm's documented process for branding, story placements, and client service. We didn't have processes per se, so we doctored up the coolest-looking flowchart, one that would make any civil engineer proud. We didn't get the business, but we did get our act together and processes in place. Today I love planning and testing, charting out solutions, conducting media evaluations, and landing press for my clients through a methodical process I'll share in future articles. Call me a geek or, more accurately, marred and scarred with the experience of flying by the seat of my pants. I'd rather be a process geek than roadkill. Wouldn't you?