How marketing agency APS Group is winning with Content Orchestration


APS Group is an international marketing services organization that is differentiating itself and providing greater value to clients through Content Orchestration. 

The agency offers full end-to-end creative services. A large proportion of their work is ad hoc, with tight deadlines, and a small proportion is regularly-timed magazine-style content. They also have a distributed organization, with some teams onsite with clients, and other teams located at APS Group offices.

This combination of working styles, situations, and clients, means that Content Orchestration is critical to maintain efficiency and productivity. In this interview, we talked to Mark Verschuuren, IT Change Manager, Jochem Verschure, Studio Operations Manager, and Keith Welsh - Studio Operations Director about how they approach technology to ensure they can meet the needs of customers. 


Welcome APS Group! Maybe we can start with why technology is important to your business, and what are you trying to achieve from your focus on technology?

aps_group_stock.pngKeith: Well if you look at the history of the company, or indeed the history of any successful agency, there is always a need to evolve and offer something different to your competitors. For example, APS Group originally comes from a print background, but recognized there was a greater need for integrated services, and so we have eventually moved to a model where we provide a full marketing suite. Likewise, we were one of the first companies to embed teams onsite with clients. This was very successful. But now we can make huge gains by using technology to differentiate ourselves and provide a more compelling proposition to our clients. 

Jochem: Yes there are a few reasons why it is important for us to focus on technology. A key one is efficiency. This is important for faster time-to-market, but it is more than that. It is also to make sure everything is controlled, the necessary level of quality is there, and all the revisions and the audit trail are in place, so that the team can work and go back very quickly if necessary. 

Another important reason is internal collaboration. We have offices across the UK and in the Netherlands. With the right technology in place, people in the Netherlands can pick up work for clients in the UK, and vice versa, put it back in the system, and we can move very quickly and stay very agile as an organization. 


Maybe you can walk us through your technical setup, where you have come from, and how it is moving you closer to your goals? 

Keith: We have constantly been looking for efficiency gains, but historically, we had a very siloed approach in that each office had its own internal processes. Over recent years we have collectively tried to come up with a holistic process that uses centralized servers, and gives access to the same assets, and work with the same processes, and therefore we can all share resources that much easier if necessary. With the recent addition of WoodWing’s cloud DAM solution we are a big step closer to realizing that vision. 

Jochem: In terms of actual tools, the main components are an Operation Manager (OM) system, which we built in house, a task management solution, and WoodWing. These three components are tightly integrated with one another to ensure a seamless workflow - what WoodWing would call “Content Orchestration.” 


The creative industry is having a lot of challenges with the sustainability of their business models nowadays. Without sharing any secrets, can you comment on how your approach to technology is impacting your business?

Mark: We have already talked about efficiency gains. These have a double benefit on a business level. We pass some of our savings onto our customers, which helps us stay competitive. But the efficiency gains also offer us some protection on our margins. So along with the faster and more convenient ways of working there is a positive impact in a business sense. 


When you are talking to a prospect or new client, at what point do you bring technology into the conversation?

Keith: One thing to note is that we combine our ideas with the technology. We don’t sell the technology - we sell what it can do for the client, and quite often can offer savings as a result - in both time to market and cost. Having said that, it can often be during the pitch process, and even during the first meeting. At this stage the prospect has already identified what they want in terms of what an agency can traditionally do - be that artwork, design, or digital, or the whole lot. But what is interesting is that we can come in and pitch our creative ideas and talent, but not only that, a trusted environment to work in, all the workflow and tooling, and equally, I can't even begin to tell you how important that whole audit trail and connectivity between our systems is to a client. 

We come in and pitch our creative ideas and talent, but not only that, a trusted environment to work in, all the workflow and tooling, and that whole audit trail and connectivity between our systems. 

Mark: In the pitch itself what we do is give a demo of the full process. At this point they have already seen design and digital, but the integrated workflow is not something that other agencies are really offering. They have not seen an approach where we are giving them all due diligence care and attention to their work. So there is a certain wow factor that makes them sit up and take notice. 

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You touched a little on what the client finds valuable, on that note, what does a “standard” workflow look like?

Jochem: We have specifically designed our system to be user-friendly and versatile enough to handle any type of workflow, whether it is ad hoc, regular, long-term, or short-term. It starts with a client or an account manager filling out a briefing form, and uploading it into our OM, where a project and job is created. This triggers a task in the task management solution, where it is picked up by the studio staff. In the background a checkout is triggered from the OM system to WoodWing. WoodWing automatically creates an upload URL, so the assigned person can upload assets for the job. 

aps_group_stock2.pngThis will automatically be checked out to WoodWing, so we have the standardized structure we need there for the Studio employee to work with. The only thing the staff member needs is the project management task. Within the project management task there are links to WoodWing, the OM system, the asset upload, and it is easy for this specific person to work. 


How big of an impact has working with WoodWing’s DAM made? 

Mark: Certainly on a technical and workflow level it has been a game changer. With our legacy system, our tools were detached, and you would have to leave one to go to the other. WoodWing is a linchpin, helping us connect everything. We now have a system that isn’t only integrated with APIs, but has for want of a better phrase, an intelligent link between our OM and tasking solutions, enabling that seamless workflow, plus tracking and versioning capabilities, which makes such a difference to both staff and clients. 


So were the integration possibilities the reason why you chose to partner with WoodWing? Or were there other factors at play?

Jochem: The openness and flexibility of WoodWing was definitely a key advantage. Another reason is that it is a centralized asset store, with version and revision control built in. This is really important. For example, if we want to change a graphic that exists on multiple documents, I can update the file in WoodWing, and this will automatically update the InDesign file. This means we don’t need to go searching through multiple InDesign files. The other factors were the ease of use for our staff,  and that the system is quite fast. So WoodWing ticked a lot of boxes. 


What does the future hold for APS Group in terms of the system you are building?

Keith: We have had the current system with WoodWing in place for several months now, for a number of key clients and 80 staff, with several briefings per day per person and a few dozen tasks. This is now our standard setup for new clients, and over the coming year, we will also migrate all the existing clients that are not working in this system onto it. We expect to have 200 staff working in it over the next year. 


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