Why Outsourcing your FactSheets to a Service Bureau is Risky

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By Emilie Totten

outsourcing factsheet automation to a service bureau is risky

Every investment marketer would love to get tedious tasks, like updating factsheets, off of their plate. Automation is a great way to accomplish this. When you’re considering how to automate your factsheets or other investment marketing collateral, there are essentially four different approaches you can consider.

Your options are:

There are pros and cons with each of these options and, depending on your firm’s situation and goals, one of these options will be the best fit. Firms operating under tight budgets and resources will often gravitate toward the first option on this list — outsourcing to a service bureau. The manual production of marketing collateral like factsheets, commentaries, and client reports is labor intensive and laden with risk. Not to mention, it’s often the least gratifying work that the marketing team does. “Kicking it over the fence” to a fully outsourced service provider often seems like the most attractive option.

The advantages of outsourcing your investment marketing collateral to a service bureau

There are really two big advantages to hiring a service bureau to do your production work.

  1. First, it frees-up your resources by getting the keystroke work off your team’s plate.
  2. The second is that a service bureau is typically the cheapest option of those mentioned above.

When budgets are tight, outsourcing to a service bureau may seem like a no-brainer. Just ship them the data and wait for documents to come back.  It sounds lovely and gets the work off your team’s plate at a low cost.  You can then refocus their efforts on more strategic marketing — ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. However, you should take a look at the opportunity costs and residual overhead that come into play.

The disadvantages of outsourcing to a service bureau

Despite the obvious advantages of freeing up time and resources, there are some significant disadvantages to consider when evaluating the opportunity cost of going with this option. In other words, what’s the cost of getting this work off your plate?

Longer turnaround times: Speed-to-market is a key competitive advantage in the asset management sales process. Getting your information updated on your documents, websites, emails, and other sales and marketing channels faster than your competitors is critical to your business. The most competitive firms get their fact sheets out in 10 business days (or fewer) after month or quarter end. This is hard to do when you outsource to a service bureau. This is because you likely will not have the ability to make changes in real time. Even making a simple edit like changing a comma to a period or changing a disclosure might take a day or two to turn around. Consider all of the changes that may occur in a typical production cycle, and the implications of a day or two turnaround. If you can’t get your information out quickly, you risk losing this competitive edge. Many firms offering to outsource this type of work will not guarantee a turnaround time or finish date.  Marketing and sales materials with outdated information makes you look unprofessional and could potentially cause you to lose deals. Recently, a Head of Product Management told me that his firm lost billions of dollars in institutional assets due to slow turnaround of marketing and sales materials. Speed to market of your marketing content is a strategic asset that can’t be overlooked.

Limited access to the technology: With a service bureau, you usually don’t have access to the technology they’re using to automate.  If you’re not enabled to view or make changes through the technology platform, there is a real lack of being in control of your process. In a fully outsourced scenario, everything is done for you out of sight and out of mind. The simplest things like changing a comma to a period will have to be communicated to someone at the service bureau, changed on their end, and then sent back to you for review. A lot of time can be wasted in the back and forth, which can be very frustrating. In fact I’ve heard many client stories where the outsource service bureau advertises sophisticated automation and sharing of content, but in real life the project work is largely keyboard efforts from offshore teams. This leaves you, the client, being left to catch many of the errors and inconsistencies introduced by these manual efforts.

Limited data input flexibility: This point should actually be FIRST on this list. Data is usually the number one bottleneck in the automated marketing production and sales enablement process. When you’re outsourcing the production of your marketing content, you may be required to deliver your data in a specific format. This could be a big headache every production cycle if there are changes in the data format or business rules. Service bureaus don’t typically provide a lot of flexibility with data input, meaning you’re most likely be required to conform to a rigid data format requirement. If you’re going to outsource, there are hybrid solutions that give you the technology with an intuitive interface to allow your team to manipulate the data in real time. A technology-enabled automation provider will have experts who can troubleshoot data problems and solve issues quickly to avoid production delays. I recently published a complete guide on integrating data for content automation. For a deeper dive on this topic, give it a read!

Limited data output (visualization) capabilities:On a closely related note, service bureaus using standard desktop publishing tools often have limited options for data visualizations – these limits not being disclosed during the sales process. In other words, you may be limited to a small library of standardized data visualizations (charts, graphs, and tables). Sometimes, if your firm has graphics that are very brand-specific, they cannot be recreated by a service bureau. This means you may have to make compromises that will change the look and feel or your custom reports. No one should have to make compromises in the communication they provide to their investors.

Conclusion

In sum, outsourcing the production of your marketing collateral like factsheets and commentaries to a service bureau has its advantages…but these come at a cost.  You can never truly get this work off of your plate entirely, and that is a good thing. Having some control over the change management process and the way your data is consumed and displayed can make all the difference in your competitive strategy. Cheaper is not always better, and paying a little more for a technology-enabled service may very well get you a positive and compelling ROI in the end.

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Emilie is Head of Marketing at Synthesis. She is passionate about buyer personas, the client experience, and making marketing work for the bottom line. Emilie graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor's degree in Advertising in 2004. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, son, daughter, and two crazy cats. She fanatically roots for the Chicago Bears, despite their terrible record. Go Bears!

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