"We need a brochure." With these four little words from the boss, you're sent off on an odyssey that can commandeer your Day Timer for weeks, even months. But a brochure needn't be a hassle. As with all good marketing initiatives, marvelous execution is the result of exceptional planning. Making your way through the brochure process, the following guidelines will help you stay on course, on budget and on message:

Pull together a brainstorming session with all key people, including your designer, writer, photographer, project coordinator, and the top dog who will ultimately green light the project. It's important to have decision makers involved right from the get go-it can avoid very costly rewrites and redesigns down the road.

The brainstorming meeting is the most important of all the sessions, as it brings together all the left brains and right brains who will work on the project. Ellen Gray, president of Gray Matters Communications, Inc., a public relations and marketing firm in Miami, Florida, explains how crucial that first meeting is, "[The client] usually has some sort of vision and/or expectations as to what they want. We discuss both content and visuals, and most importantly, what the key messages are that they want to communicate, and who their audience is."

Tom Salvo, creative director and senior partner for HighGround, Inc., a public relations and marketing company for emerging high-tech companies in Wakefield, Massachusetts offers his perspective, "We brainstorm as a group and set a course that usually has writing and design working together with the client to develop a creative strategy for the brochure. All of the work is developed one step at a time with the client involved at every step."

What's the brochure's role in your marketing efforts? Determine the objectives of the brochure-will it be a leave behind for salespeople? A self mailer? Part of a larger fulfillment package? Part of a trade show presence? A point of sale display? How does it mesh with other marketing efforts?

Determine the audience & message. Is it for all customers of the company, or just a segment? What type of people will be reading it? Creatives? Techies? Executives? Tyler Blik, principal of Tyler Blik Design in San Diego, California, says, "Know your audience. Determine the message and the points you want to make, and ask yourself 'does this fit with the overall goals and objectives of the corporation?'"

Take a look at the competition. Linda Costa, APR, president of WORDWISE, Inc., a marketing firm in Winter Park, Florida, advises "You want to make sure [your brochure] represents you well-and that it is every bit as good, or preferably better, than the competition." Costa encourages clients to bring competitors' brochures to the first meeting to help determine the "look and feel" the client is after.

How much can you spend? Find out what the budget is for the project, including printing. If you're being asked to provide the budget yourself, you'll need to meet with the designer, writer, photographer and printer to pull it together. There is no "average" cost for a brochure because of the numerous variables that come into play-fees for creative, type of paper being used, colors, shape and size of brochure.

Create copy and design a mock up. Deciding on whether copy or design comes first can be a real chicken/egg conundrum. Most experts agree that there must be synchronization for the brochure to work. Says Tyler Blik, " Ideally they work together. Many times we are thinking of the words that need to be expressed as we develop the creative behind the message." Adds Tom Salvo, "It's a very collaborative process that usually requires copy and design to be generated simultaneously."

When writing copy, avoid the urge to cram every scintilla of information about your company into the piece. The point of the brochure is to get a prospect interested, not to close the deal. With that in mind, keep the copy simple, and pertinent to your audience. Don't get all caught up in jargon and industry buzzwords. If you use copy that's too trendy, it will quickly be obsolete. Tyler Blik concurs, saying, "Don't try to tell them everything in a brochure. You want to get their interest, create a call to action. Too many times the marketing or sales team wants to clutter a brochure, creating even more competition with each message on the page."

As the piece evolves into a mock up (basically the first draft), the complementary copy will be added, and the designer will make recommendations on size, shape and colors. A good designer is invaluable at this stage-listen to their advice, as they know how color, size and shape considerations will affect the end product, and the budget bottom line. Designers are often up on "best practices" for a particular industry, and can give you an idea of how your brochure will compare and contract to a competitor's.

Color will impact the cost and look of the finished brochure. You can stretch your dollar by being innovative with design and using just two colors. Or you may be using images that really demand the four-color treatment. Tom Salvo advises that "Color is all-important to a successful brochure, but it must be tempered by utility and practicality."

When it comes to color considerations, Tyler Blik says, "It's all about content and expression of the content. A great two-color piece will always outperform an average four-color piece. However, it has been proven that if the content and expression are the same or similar, four-color garners the most attention."

Get the printer involved. Printers, like designers, can be enormously helpful in making recommendations on the layout of your brochure. According to Tyler Blik, the printer should be involved in the process soon after the start, "The printing representative is your ally throughout the whole process. Utilize their expertise the same way you would a marketing director, writer or photographer."

Working with your printer right from the outset can save big bucks and hassles down the road. Linda Costa often involves her printer before she submits a first comp to the client. Costa looks to her printer for advice on the papers to be used, the size of the sheet of papers, and how many brochures can fit on one sheet. "Sometimes, by reducing the size of the piece by as little as half an inch, you can fit two brochures, rather than one, on a sheet-and this can cut paper costs substantially," she says. Costa adds, "We always ask our printers if there's anything they can suggest that would help us reduce costs without compromising design. You'd be amazed at the tips they can offer."

Proof and print. After all design and copy elements have been agreed upon, it's time to proof your brochure. Anyone who has been close to the project should NOT be responsible for the proofing-It's virtually impossible to see your own errors. Hire a proofreader, and pass the brochure around to other people in the company to get the benefit of their "fresh eyes."

Your designer will likely be on-site for a press check, the time right before your brochure is printed. The designer will ensure that colors are correct, and that other details of the printing process are addressed.

Get ready for next time. No matter the wonders of your brochure, it will need to be updated from time to time. Keep a folder of all potential changes and ways to make improvements on the next go 'round.

Avoid common mistakes!

Don't cut corners. It's okay to be smart about saving money-like getting input from your designer and printer on layout tricks. But don't cut too close to the bone, or your end result will reflect it. "The most common error clients make," says Tom Salvo, "is believing that engaging an experienced, reputable professional to do the job correctly is not worth the effort or cost."

Listen to the pros. You've hired a designer, writer, photographer and printer based on their expertise, so make sure you listen to that expertise. "Sometimes clients have too good an idea of what they want when hiring outside professionals, and they're not open to ideas that are potentially more effective," says Ellen Gray.

Think big picture. Your brochure is just one component of your marketing message. Make sure it complements your other collateral pieces, advertising, and overall marketing message. "[Companies] frequently don't view it as part of the total marketing communications program," says Linda Costa.

Beware do-it-yourself options. Design is about more than the Mac you use and the software you run. It can be tempting to cut corners by eradicating a designer from the process and using a desktop publishing program. Use such programs at your own peril, advises Linda Costa, "Easy-to-use software enables nearly anyone to label themselves a 'designer'-so clients often opt for a desktop published piece that ends up looking quite pedestrian and doesn't set their company apart."

Kimberly McCall is the president of McCallMedia & Marketing, Inc (www.MarketingAngel.com). She is the monthly "Game Plan" columnist for Entrepreneur magazine and a frequent inc.com contributor.

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image of Kimberly McCall

Kimberly McCall is director of marketing at Avance Care, a primary care provider offering convenient, cost-effective healthcare services. She is responsible for all marketing strategies to build, preserve, and enhance the Avance brand.

LinkedIn: Kimberly McCall