I.T.@Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Sears Automates Ad Review
CaseShare Systems develops a collaborative repository.
By John James
SEARS, Roebuck and Co., not surprisingly, is one of the top advertisers in the nation and the country's largest retail advertiser. We advertise in every media which exists -- print, TV, radio, direct mail, online, billboards, etc. We annually spend in excess of $1 billion in advertising our goods and services. Our print advertising can create up to 93 million impressions a week.
As you can imagine, that created a lot of work for our two outside firms who conducted a legal "review" of all advertising materials for each of our 55 "strategic business units" (for example, "Home Appliances," "Tools" and "Lawn and Garden") that produce advertising materials.
When I joined the company in 1999, as associate general counsel, marketing practice, I quickly realized we needed a comprehensive ad review system. One of the first goals I set for our marketing practice section was to bring the legal advertising review work in-house, to reduce costs.
However, that goal was actually secondary to the desire to create a more effective ad review process. We wanted to be on the front lines with our business partners (i.e, the people we work with in our business units) so that our legal department could better understand and assume with them reasonable business risks in a timely manner in the very competitive environment in which we do business.
Increasing speed, agility and the quality of the reviews was my biggest goal and challenge. Even with unlimited staff (not a possibility), we faced astounding volume and frequency of ads --12,000 to 15,000 annually. We needed to manage the flow of ads (mostly paper) to our legal staff for review, and return comments back to the SBUs, usually within two to four hours.
We needed to create a "real-time" document review and management system that would allow us to review each ad and maintain an adequate historical paper trail. We needed shared network capabilities, because not all of the ad review process would be brought in-house at once.
One of my first goals: bring advertising review work in-house, and reduce costs.
The system also needed the capability to upload scanned ads and other documents, to not only reduce the generation of paper and the filing of paper but also create a retrieval process for the information.
As a first step, we looked at the document management and retention systems used by our outside counsel ad review firms. We learned that they used a database in Microsoft Access that not only had many limitations in its functionality, but was also too unstable and prone to crash. We explored opportunities with four vendors who had previously approached us about their information management systems.
The next step was to determine what type of database we wanted and needed in order to bring the advertising review work in-house.
We knew we wanted/needed a strong system that had unlimited capacity, agility and ease of use for both the reviewer and the recipient/client; what we didn't know, was whether or not this idea of ours was possible.
We talked to our internal I.T. department, but they were bogged down with Y2K preparations. We then turned to one of our outside counsel firms, Holland and Hart, to ask about how they handled their technology. Holland and Hart was already handling trademark work for us, and when we found out that the firm designed their own Web-based technology programs, we invited them to Chicago to explore whether they could handle our problems.
Holland and Hart (through its subsidiary now called CaseShare Systems Inc.) offered the opportunity to move from the Microsoft Access database to a Web-based repository system.
Of particular interest to us was the ability to have a centralized database, that all counsel (inside and outside) could share. With a shared database, we could all work in it at the same time and save on copying that information over at a later date when everything is brought in-house. We also explored the possibilities of scanning our ads in and using on screen post-it notes for our comments. This added feature would eliminate a lot of the actual paper and filing, not to mention that the retrieval process of information would be all that much easier to locate.
Both CaseShare and Sears formed teams to work through our "wish list" and the technological capabilities. We both spent two to three months just trying to see if CaseShare could build a system like this for us before we signed a contract. Once we gave a green light to the project, it took about four months to build and another month to test the system and make sure all was running properly before we went online. While I can't recall all the specific issues we had to work through, they were typical of the kinds of problems you can expect with a complex database/imaging/workflow system, and were quickly fixed.
Our new advertising review system is designed to run over the Internet, combining a document database with an image repository and e-mail enabled work flow tools. The process starts with the uploading of a copy of the ad in digital form (Adobe Acrobat) to CaseShare's central repository. Along with the ad image, the administrator fills in basic information about the ad (deadlines, market, business unit, etc.) and selects the appropriate business contacts and reviewer. Once that is done, the system sends the selected reviewer an e-mail message asking him or her to log onto the system and review the ad.
When the reviewer logs into the system, he or she starts at an "in box" which contains a listing of ads that need to be reviewed. By clicking on an ad, the reviewer goes to a special workspace containing information about the ad, ad contacts, the business unit involved, and links to the ad itself. The reviewer can review the ad and make comments on the Web page.
Where a particular product is mentioned, the reviewer can click into the database and see information about the product, along with a list of pre-approved claims. Where appropriate, the reviewer can link to substantiation materials (such as a manual, report, study, etc.) Thus, the reviewer can take advantage of earlier work, see earlier approved substantiation materials, and generally, avoid reinventing the wheel.
From there, the reviewer places comments on a simple Web form, which can be sent back by e-mail to the appropriate business and legal representatives at Sears. All of the related information is tracked and stored centrally, so administrators can keep track of deadlines, ads, products mentioned and approved claims.
We completed installation in October 2000, and already have demonstrated substantial savings in outside legal fees annually because everything is now done in-house: well over $1 million. The system paid for itself in two months and the head count increase was one attorney, one paralegal and one dedicated administrative support person.
Since the implementation and debugging of the ad review database, my staff had the opportunity and developed the experience with working in the database to see the need for some redesigns.
We just completed our upgrades with CaseShare, which include enhancements to the system usability (such as adding a rich text feature). We also capitalized on existing technology, so that information entered in one location could be transferred to other locations without re-keying.
As a result of our success, other divisions of Sears are now working with CaseShare to apply the technology to other business practices within our company.
John James is associate general counsel, marketing practice, for Sears, Roebuck and Co., and is based in Hoffman Estates, Ill.