I’ve just had the opportunity of presenting information about film subtitling and how to manage a subtitling project to a client. This client is a translation and interpretation agency that does not deal with the field of multimedia translation. Not yet, at least. They have received some requests to do so by their own clients and they didn’t want to take on tasks they are not familiar with.

So I came in to help. In one hour, I introduced them to the main concepts and tasks involved in translating and subtitling film, described all steps of the process from the original film to the subtitled version and the various choices they can make, and recommended what in my understanding is the best process from the project management perspective. After that I answered several questions from the translation team of project managers who was meeting with me for two hours in total.

I was thrilled to share my expertise as a translator, instructor and small-scale (very small-scale) project manager. But the thought that has been on my mind the most is this: Can you imagine how awesome the translation world would be if every company which is considering a new field to tap into would begin by consulting with an expert in that field?

“I can’t take on projects to manage without knowing the process inside out,” the head of the department told me. It sounds like just plain common sense — so why do I find it so surprising?

I’ve assisted other clients and colleagues who are agency owners before. A Skype message pops up and someone asks, “Hey, I just came across the opportunity to subtitle this entire soap opera. Can you give me an idea of how to budget this and how long it would take?”

Or I receive an e-mail along the lines of “We’ve just received a request to translate this film. You work with subtitling, right? Do I have to send you the film? It’s too heavy to e-mail. Do you record the voices too?”

Okay, maybe I’m adding some color to these — not real, but frighteningly close — inquiries, for illustration purposes. But the fact is that throughout my career I’ve come across several situations where first an AVT opportunity falls on someone’s lap and then they scramble to grab it. Sometimes it all turns out well in the end; sometimes it doesn’t. But even when it does, it’s unlikely that through trial and error and running against time they will develop the most efficient, quality-oriented process. The budget might have been all wrong, quality control probably will be questionable, and so forth. And there’s a good chance that, seeing how it all ended up so well, they feel confident about doing the same thing again next time.

It’s easy to see why this scenario is not good for the industry in general. These practices might be far from the best ones, prices may be too low for specialized professionals, results could be somewhat amateurish but the service providers and their clients might believe they are good enough and not look for better ones. It’s a negative cycle for everyone involved.

This cycle can be easily broken, I believe. It’s a matter of focusing on quality and realizing how much value it can bring. Here are a few of my recommendations for translation agencies which are considering tapping into the audiovisual translation segment, especially in the up and coming corporate and technical segment:

  • Before anything, take some advice from an expert in the field. You will learn a good deal in a couple of hours, including a few aspects of multimedia translation that might have never crossed your mind before. The best practices begin by learning what those practices are supposed to be.
  • Get some specific training in order to really learn what the translator’s job is — face their challenges, see how long it takes, understand how their client can support them. That can be your building block to develop management decisions, including selection and budgeting.
  • Run a test project internally. Maybe bring in a specialist to oversee it. Perform all the tasks involved to come across and solve possible hitches and fine-tune the process before taking on your first real project.
  • Think about your talent pool and consider the selection and/or training tasks required to be able to rely on the professionals you need for everything to run smoothly.

The best practices are not always intuitive. Having good processes in place means that significantly better quality is achieved in an efficient way. When your clients are positively impressed by the results, they can understand why going for cheap options doesn’t pay off. And then your team will be happy, and your service providers will be happy, and the translation world will be a much happier place.