Timesheet system helps leading media agency to bill with confidence

London based communications planning and media buying agency ZenithOptimedia have been using timesheet system Tempora since 2006. Today, they have a clear view of time spent on all clients, jobs and projects – and that means they can see client profitability at a glance. But it hasn’t always been this way.

According to Hazel Hillary, Group Financial Controller, recording time used to be a much more labour intensive process. At times, this process saw many team members expending hours to gather the data and make sense of it. At one point there was even a staff member who spent most of their weekly time chasing and reconciling timesheets across the business.

“Staff used to write down their hours on a piece of paper. PAs would then enter those hours manually into a spreadsheet before someone in Finance could consolidate everything by department and by client.”

It didn’t stop there. Salaries had to be added in manually too. All 300 (at the time) of them. Each job title, seniority and department had differing rates. To make matters more interesting, our billing rates would vary between clients and calendar years.

We knew Tempora had been designed specifically for our type of business, and we could have it up and running quickly with very little effort our side. Agency life is fast paced and we need a product that can keep up.

Hazel Hillary ZenithOptimedia

“We really needed to analyse our profitability by department and across multiple billing periods. We also wanted to be able to analyse by brand level – not just by client,” says Ms Hillary.

It just so happened that while they were considering replacement systems, the Finance Director at Starcom joined ZenithOptimedia. She’d been using Tempora and suggested bringing it onboard. Starcom had seen a 100% completion rate of timesheets through Tempora and hassle free reporting each billing cycle.

“We knew Tempora had been designed specifically for our type of business,” says Ms Hillary, “and we could have it up and running quickly”.

So ZenithOptimedia started using Tempora.

Custom reports give us options

Now, years later, ZenithOptimedia are using Tempora on daily basis to run reports and provide analysis at various levels: by client, department, brand, campaign or person. With quick snippets pulled up in matter of seconds.

“It allows us to maintain our efficiency as an agency, whilst keeping our brand approach” says Ms Hillary.

“By running custom reports, I can see quickly whether a client is profitable or not. Tempora allows us to compare profitability year-on-year, or by department – which means I know whether the TV department is more efficient than the press department, or whether each department has improved in the following year by client.”

This gives ZenithOptimedia options.

If there are profitability issues on certain clients, they can either look at ways of improving internal efficiencies (possibly by choosing more suitable individuals for a specific type of job), or renegotiate fees with clients.

“We can be totally upfront with clients about how much time we spend on their campaigns, and that builds trust between us.

Hazel Hillary ZenithOptimedia

The threat of lock-out

ZenithOptimedia had started trialing Tempora’s add-on module Prompt – an automated feature that reminds staff to fill out their timesheets. In extreme cases it can also be configured to lock a user out of their computer all together, until the offending timesheet has been completed.

“So far, we’ve only rolled the module out to certain people,” says Ms Hillary, “but it already looks as though the threat of being locked out is enough to speed things up. Even if we don't deploy to all team members, the looming threat is enough.”.

Clients trust our data

When asked what the biggest advantage of a timesheet system like Tempora is, Ms Hillary is quick to answer.

“I think the fact that you can custom-build your own reports is very good – especially because you can drill down to five levels of detail on the fly.”

The bigger picture, however, is one of trust and transparency.

“We can be totally upfront with clients about how much time we spend on their campaigns,” says Ms Hillary, “and that builds trust between us”.

The Group Financial Controller cites the example of one of their clients, who they send time reports to on a monthly basis ahead of any invoices or face to face meetings.

“Because Tempora allows us to provide a detailed breakdown of time,” says Ms Hillary, “we have greater credibility in our fee discussions with clients because they trust the data we send them.

“That wouldn’t be the case if we simply submitted an invoice on its own. For those clients that want it, a quick Tempora report quickly removes any concerns of overcharging.”


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