Software Tools To Save Your Butt

One of the first accommodations I requested when I started at Blue Marble was access to the office and my new computer on the weekend before my official start date. Why? Mainly because I’m used to having certain software tools on my machine — tools that have saved my butt on several occasions.

I can get by, like most people, with any standard office suite of applications and a few other office basics. However, doing the media thing requires a certain number of applications that may or may not be “standard” in your office. This week, we’ll talk briefly about a few of these life-saving tools and how they can help you out of a jam.

ICQ: Ring People Anywhere

I first put ICQ on my machine back in ’96. I have never regretted it.

For those of you who haven’t yet experienced ICQ, think of it as a possible lifeline to the outside world when email won’t suffice. The application supports file transfer, chat, messaging and many other functions between ICQ users.

Once, I was faced with having to deliver a large PowerPoint presentation to a co-worker who was pitching a potential client all the way across the country. Unfortunately, the ISP he was dialing into wouldn’t allow him to receive file attachments over 1 meg, and the presentation was a graphic-heavy 2.2 MB. He also had no FTP software installed and was pressed for time, so we transferred the file over ICQ’s network. It took less than 30 seconds, and boy did it get us out of a jam.

Other creative uses for ICQ include its chat system. Ever run out of lines on a conference call? ICQ can handle four-way chats easily. The chat functionality comes in handy when someone on the other end of your phone conversation thinks that co-workers are overhearing sensitive information over the cube wall. Sometimes it’s easier to just conduct the conversation in real-time ICQ chat.

ICQ can also be a godsend when your email server goes down. Trust me.

Shareware Finger Utilities

Finger is a protocol that can be used to request information from a host system about one of its users. You can download any number of shareware finger utilities from shareware.com or any similar site. Depending on the host system, you may be able to use finger to get lots of info, or none at all.

This saved my butt a couple of times when I sent out mass emails to request interviews with potential hires that were still in college. Since some prospects were unreachable by phone, I was forced to send email to their school accounts over the summer and hope that they checked them regularly. Finger was able to tell me when each student last logged into the system Voila — I instantly knew which students were diligent about checking their mail and which were lax.

Finger is also good for those times when you can’t remember the spelling of someone’s email address. Use your utility to try all possible spellings of the address. When you get a response from the server — bingo, you’ve spelled it correctly.

ZIP Utilities

What media planner has never had to ZIP up a bunch of graphic files and ship them off to a media property at the last minute? If you have to send a couple dozen banners to a traffic manager, it’s best to ZIP them up so that none gets lost. For Windows, WinZIP rocks hardcore.

FTP Utilities

Speaking of sending off files to traffic folks, some media properties may not accept large graphic files attached to emails. In this case, the media property will most likely give you a login ID and password for an FTP server, where you can dump your banners for pickup later. WS-FTP is terrific for Windows machines. I kinda like Fetch on Macs, but this is a matter of personal preference.

Logfile Analysis Tools

Sometimes, in the course of dealing with your clients, a question will come up about user behavior on the client’s web site. The question could be about referral traffic from search engines, campaign-driven traffic vs. other traffic, or something else that would require guesswork and speculation without the insight that a good log analysis tool can give you.

It doesn’t hurt to have a copy of WebTrends or HitList lying around that can be used in a pinch. That way, instead of speculating about whether the folks coming in from Excite are buying more than the folks driven by Yahoo, you might be able to offer some hard data. “Sure, I can shed some light on that ZIP up a couple of days’ worth of logfiles and send them over to me.”

Winamp

Sometimes I need to hear Van Halen’s “Mean Street” after a particularly distressing client call, okay?

Have a favorite piece of software that’s bailed you out of a media-related jam? I’d love to hear about it. Send your solution to spos@dtd.org. For the record, the new Quake III demo will likely get you into more jams than it could possibly get you out of (especially in a corporate network environment).

See you next week.

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