Villing & Company

Useful Tools for Marketing Professionals (also, they're free)

More than most professions, the marketing industry requires many different files, which often need to be viewed and edited by multiple people. The professional software to edit and view these files can be extremely expensive and often is unnecessarily complex.

Below I've listed some tools that are free to use. These provide some of the basic functionality that nearly every person in marketing needs these days. I should probably mention upfront that some of these tools are only available for Windows users, so those of you using OS X or that one guy using Linux may have to look elsewhere.

Creating and Viewing PDFs
Although originally created by Adobe, PDF has been an open standard since July of 2008, which means that you don't need to purchase Adobe's bloated and expensive Acrobat software to create them anymore. In fact, I've found that the free tools are actually much quicker and more efficient than Adobe's "official" software. Yeah, Adobe Acrobat Reader is free, but it's slow and most people don't even use most of the advanced functionality.

There's a full list of PDF software on Wikipedia, but here are two that I'd recommend:

Foxit Reader - Don't you hate how long it takes for Adobe Acrobat Reader to load. Whenever I accidentally click on a PDF in a web site, my computer acts like I just asked it to render "Toy Story 2." Not only does the file take forever to load, but my entire browser effectively shuts down, so I can't even browse elsewhere or cancel loading the PDF. My advice, unless you are an advanced PDF user, is to uninstall Adobe Acrobat Reader, and use the free version of Foxit Reader instead. The difference in speed is amazing.

PDFCreator - It's surprising how many people can't create their own PDFs. I think people assume that you have to pay for the full version of Adobe Acrobat for this ability. There are several no-cost tools to use, but PDFCreator is free for any use, including commercial.

Image Editing

Pixlr - Everyone in marketing needs to edit or touch-up images from time-to-time. Window's built-in image editing is laughable, but professional image editors can be expensive and overly complex. For quick, simple image editing, you should give Pixlr a try. It's a Flash-based online image editor that doesn't require any installation and can handle most basic touch-up work. (It's also a great example of web-based services slowly replacing desktop applications.) For people who do a lot of image editing or have needs beyond that of Pixlr, try GIMP, a Photoshop clone that can be downloaded and used for free.

Video Playback

Video playback can be annoying. Even after installing both Quicktime and RealPlayer, some files fail to play audio and/or video correctly. The reason is that videos are compressed using different "codecs" and your computer doesn't know how to decompress them. Typically, one of the first things I do on a new computer is to install the most recent "codec" packs, which allow me to play videos in almost any format. Here's a list of the ones I use, depending on the operating system:

In addition, you can download Quicktime Lite, which lets you play Quicktime files without having to use the full version of Quicktime, which can be buggy and annoying on Windows.

These codecs enable Windows Media Player to play every video file, so you don't have to download extra video players.

Firefox and Add-ons

If you're still using Internet Explorer, you really should do yourself a favor and download Firefox. It offers a much better browsing experience, including an in-page search feature you'll actually use (Ctrl-F) and a next-generation address bar that searches your history and bookmarks as you type. It also lets you install add-ons that can really be useful for marketing people, such as:

  • FireShot - This gives you a quick way to take screenshots of full web pages without having to take multiple screenshots and stitch them together. Anyone who does a lot of web-related projects will probably get ample use out of this.
  • FireFTP - This adds a full-featured FTP client to Firefox, enabling you to easily upload and download files from FTP sites.
  • Resizeable Textarea - Ever get annoyed with having to type into tiny text areas online? This add-on lets you drag any text box from the edges to give you more space to write.
  • TinyURL Creator - It can sometimes be irritating to e-mail really long URLs to people. This allows you to quickly create a short version of the URL to use in your e-mail that won't get mangled by the e-mail program at the other end.
  • Table2Clipboard - This extension makes it easier to copy and paste online tables into Excel.

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