Stink : Contact Management Database 03 February 2009
Posted by : Gareth Shapiro
Producing television advertising is a global business. An advertising production company may have their office in London while needing to show a new script to a director who is on location in Hong Kong. It is exactly because of this type of situation that Stink decided to make their current in-house system an online application. Essentially this is business software that is accessed using a web browser and is available to staff wherever they may be, provided they have an Internet connection.
At the beginning of the project I spent some time at the Stink offices understanding the flow of information within their business and how the system, we were embarking on building, would interact with this data.
Being a company of crazy guys and crazy girls they liked to tease me about pattern of yellow sticky notes that I used to cover a desk with while mapping out the architecture of their soon be be built custom information system, but I was pretty chuffed with it to be honest.
User interviews were conducted across the entire organisation with the Managing Director and Producers through to Runners having input. This was often not done in ideal scenarios with phones going off constantly, music blaring, people riding skateboards and playing desk basketball. Don't get me wrong they work very hard at Stink but it is the type of environment you would expect at an advertising production company.
The goal was to automate the flow of information as much as possible while providing a pleasant, useful and ultimately rewarding experience for the staff who had suffered two failed attempts to get this type of system off the ground.
Contacts and Companies
The development process was broken up into phases and the first part was to provide Stink with a database of company contacts. There was an element of rescuing information from their old File Maker system and developing automating importing tools, with the help of a 3rd party information provider. Against each contact a rich set of information is recorded.
There is an obvious relationship between contacts and companies and there was a requirement for conventional group administration, enabling grouping contacts together for mail outs and other marketing activities. Notes and, for information auditing purposes, which staff member had initially entered the information and who had last edited it is saved.
If a contact's mobile phone number is held the system allows SMS messages to be sent directly from the application interface using a third party provider.
Scripts and Send Outs
The next phase of the project was to enable the system to track the scripts that Stink receives from advertising agencies and the show reels that are sent out to promote their work. Of course this information needs to be recorded against the contact and company information established in the first phase of the project.
As you can imagine high definition video files are too big to email around. If that sort of media is your day to day business then those sorts of files can even be a chore to manage on a network. Stink utilises the online repository service of a third party provider called Beam TV who also did the encoding of the footage into video. This provides a clear advantage to the company who put together showreels online and send links to people while still maintaining the traditional approach of making a DVD and popping it in the post.
Both types of show reels need to be recorded on the database and this project was a pilot for Beam TV's XML API which is tightly integrated into the process of adding a show reel to the database. Stink are now able to browse their contacts and track which showreels being sent out to whom result in new scripts coming back in to the company for pitching. Even if a contact has moved the system shows where they were working at any stage of interacting with Stink and not only could a list of showreels be viewed but the actual versions of the particular spot sent to a contact could be watched without leaving the system.
Not quite as exciting as high definition video but important none the less, a rich set of business reporting was included in the final build. All search results regardless of topic can be sent to a printer and individual records within the results easily excluded. Daily status reports are created with one click which produced a print friendly PDF.