Spotlight on Creative & Production: Meet the dynamic team behind our Best Customer Communications

Millions of customers associate Kroger with Best Customer Communications, the longstanding direct-to-customer communication program. From MyMagazine to Loyal Customer Mailer (LCM) and New at Kroger, each vehicle is designed to reach highly loyal Kroger shoppers and deliver personalized offers for the brands and items they love.

What many don’t know is the team that creates these beloved mailers sits within 84.51°. The Creative & Production team consists of nearly 36 associates spanning five roles, each with specialized skillsets. They bring different academic specialties, job experiences and training. Many art directors and pre-media professionals have degrees in graphic design. And the copy team counts three Master’s in English: Professional Writing & Editing.

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Overall, the Creative & Production team brings strategically creative thinking and approaches to building relationships with our most loyal customers. They are also remarkably strong in efficient ways of working, building repeatable processes and creating smart automations. The team includes:

  • Art Directors: This group leads photography, videography and design.

  • Copywriters: This team creates content of every kind, from headlines for ads to short-form email copy, long-form magazine stories, video scripts/outlines – and everything in between.

  • Print Production & Pre-Media: Without this team, we could not publish – they format the files correctly for print and digital, as well as working their Photoshop magic to make our art look its very best. They also liaise with our printers to make sure everything runs smoothly on press.

  • Quality Assurance: This small-but-mighty team of two ensures our work makes sense to the customer and is as correct and error-free as possible. In 2022, thanks to their efforts we had $0 in printer changes!

  • Traffic: Another dynamic duo that ensures we meet each and every milestone without missing a beat.

Overseeing these sub-teams are five Directors: Jessica Bozsan, Dave Richmond, Stephanie Weingartner, Nora Young and Bill Landrum. We sat down with Jessica and Dave to learn a little more about how the team brings these communications to life every day.

How would you describe your role and responsibilities?

Dave: I’m the Creative Director for our in-house 84.51° Creative & Production Team. In close collaboration with other team leaders, I guide the conception, execution and approval of all Best Customer Communications, including MyMagazine, LCM, New at Kroger and dedicated programs for each of the three major Our Brands: Private Selection, Simple Truth and Kroger Brand. I also lead creative in support of Pharmacy and Our Brands via KPM, including paid social and video across digital channels. It’s a bit of an alphabet soup, but here’s a sampling: TOAs, SSEs, OSAs, EMODs, Pandora spots, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and even Push.

Jessica: I’m the Creative Director of Content, and the Editor of the Kroger MyMagazine. I work with our team of in-house copywriters as well as a network of freelance writers and recipe developers to create original content for Best Customer Communications allocated as a thank you to Kroger’s most loyal households. I also have the pleasure of leading Quality Assurance — QA Every Day!

What does the Creative & Production team do?

Jessica: Our team of 26 is a publishing powerhouse in both direct mail and digital. We bring Best Customer Communications to life, from soup to nuts.

It starts with the strategic vision of thanking and rewarding Kroger’s most loyal customers with custom coupons and content delivered in the most relevant ways possible to each household. Many projects kick off with a creative brainstorming process informed by data, insights and Kroger’s over-arching driver of being Fresh for Everyone.

Although the process can vary per project, generally the copy team researches, writes and creates copy documents as the first step. The team has even been working on integrating Artificial Intelligence into their efforts! Outputs can include Word docs for MyMag stories, Excel workbooks with content plans, scripts for videos and radio. The copy team also writes directly into the design files through a program called InCopy.

Next, the design team brings the content to life through a process of sketching and creating preliminary layouts and comprehensive documents called pre-pro (for still photography) and storyboards (for video), which are prepared to help the photographer and videographer know exactly what to shoot and how. Then it’s time for the photo and video shoots. Our talented art directors work with local photographers and food and set stylists to create whimsical shots of flying food, mouthwatering depictions of plated meals and more.

Once the photographs are finished, the designers work, sometimes in tandem with our production artists, to add any finishing touches (you might not realize it, but food can’t actually fly — it’s wires, clamps and a lot of Photoshop magic!) and finalize the polished layouts with all headlines, body copy, color and design elements in their proper places. Videos get edited, with “supers” (or captions) added and a music track laid down to set the mood.

Then the team conducts a very thorough review process, including multiple rounds for client approval with our super-organized and efficient traffic team keeping us on track every step of the way. Finally, files are carefully prepared for the printer and for digital publication (both processes are quite different!). For example, PDFs called “printer spreads” are made for the printer — they look like a disordered, jumbled mess but reflect the way larger sheets of paper are printed and then manipulated on the various machinery at the printing press. For digital, tons of individual “slices” must be created to match the required specifications of the digital channel and also be optimized for responsive design (this is why you can look at a site on either your computer or your phone and everything still looks great).

And then… as if by magic… a beautiful magazine or envelope of coupons appears in mailboxes. A colorful email with personalized coupons pops up in an email inbox. A catchy headline with an image of fresh food stops the scroll in someone’s Instagram feed. Wherever they are, whatever their life is like, our customers are inspired and uplifted, if only for the moment. See? Fresh for everyone!

Floating Arugula Salad After
Floating Arugula Before

What does a typical day in your role look like?

Dave: On any given day, I could have a wide variety of tasks. I might be reviewing photo plans and giving feedback on content, design and layout across the spectrum of work pointed out above. I might also be working with other design managers to help form new concepts for work or special asks of our team. Part of this is managing the ad hoc requests we receive and being the decision maker on resource allocation. I’ll lead team meetings, but also help out by taking on jobs when the workload gets heavy for the team. How ever I can help support the team, I try to jump in! I am also the point of contact for CIL teams and Kroger Marketing — so it’s not uncommon for my day to have interactions with either of these groups so we stay in lock step with those part of the business.

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Jessica: Depending on the day, my tasks can be dramatically different. For instance, yesterday I spent time editing MyMagazine stories for the Back-to-School issue, then I tested a recipe for Halloween Snack Mix. I’m writing the cover story for the fall issue of MyMagazine, which is a countdown-style story called 31 Tricks, Treats and Muahaha Moments, and the recipe will be featured within it. I also reviewed a pre-pro document for the summer Simple Truth CRM. Other days, I’ll spend much of my time reviewing work in different stages, from creative preview all the way through last look. Often, I’m leading brainstorms to kickoff new events, or doing SEO and keyword research to stay up with the latest trends and topics customers are looking for help and inspiration with.

What has been the team’s greatest accomplishment during your tenure with the company?

Jessica: Maybe I’m biased, but I’m particularly proud of the MyMagazine. It’s so unique within the industry — one of the biggest circulations of any existing mass magazine at nearly 5 million. That’s huge, especially when compared with giants like Better Homes & Gardens at a circulation of 7.6 million and Real Simple at 6 million. It's also personalized on two levels, which is singular in publishing. The coupons are personalized at a household level, and the content is delivered in two tailored versions designed around strategic targets: Lighten the Load and Holistic Achiever. This year, the magazine also won a Silver Addy award! Next year, MyMagazine will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Dave: I’d agree with Jessica that MyMagazine is a unique offering in the market. And while I am very proud of that, I'd say that I am equally proud of the longevity of Best Customer Communications overall. We recently celebrated BCC’s 18th birthday and it is great to be able to say I have experienced 16 of those years. Our whole team is experienced and knowledgeable about the origins of the program. We have been able to shift the program and optimize it when the business needs have called for it. Building and maintaining a relationship with Kroger’s Best Customers over that time is truly a great accomplishment to be a part of.

How does your team interact with other areas of 84.51°?

84.51˚ Creative & Production is highly collaborative with many other teams within 84.51°, including Our Brands Consulting, CIL, Campaign Managers, and Data & Analytics. We also work closely with Kroger Marketing and even specific Merchandising teams at Kroger, including Deli/Bakery and Murray’s Cheese.

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