Publishing strategies today can no longer be based on content alone. Good journalism is no longer enough to be successful without strong platforms to produce and drive content. More and more, we are seeing that it’s impossible to sustain content revenue without smart investments in technology to create and distribute content. But technology and journalism alone do not make a publisher complete. The secret sauce is effective process and workflows.

As content types and channels become more diverse and targeted, processes can become diluted and break down. The challenge is that the buildup of sub-processes, workarounds, and just-in-time workflow “cells” creates hidden costs and fractured collaboration within publishing operations.

Some may argue that lack of clarified process is simply the cost of doing business today, but smart publishing executives view process as key to maintaining a solid bottom line. Discounting the need for effective process can be the oversight that dooms a strategy to failure, purely because workflows were not assigned enough value to help balance the scales.

Given this increasing shift, two recent articles that explore the issue caught my interest.

A recent story by Digiday, “How 6 Big Publishers Think About Their Technology Staffs,” explains how modern publishing is not just about the story, but also about attaining maximum distribution.

Focused on the shifting ratios of tech staff versus journalism staff, the article indicates a trend where technologists now serve as a larger percentage of content teams.

Here are some of the stats cited:

Time Inc.: 1,000 technologists in a global staff of more than 7,000

Hearst: 800 technologists in a workforce of 20,000 worldwide

The Washington Post: 14% of staff are technologists (most embedded in the newsroom)

The Guardian: 8% of staff are technologists (employed in cross-functional teams)

The Huffington Post: 100 engineers, about 12% of staff (editorial and tech work closely together)

Business Insider: 40 technologists in a staff of 340 (33 dedicated to UI and design)

I was also impressed by the depth of a recent report from Folio titled “The Revolution in Magazine Process,” which captures some key emerging challenges and realities in the publishing industry. Authors Tony Silber and Bill Mickey argue that the media company of 2005—or even 2010—is long gone, noting that the “scope and pace of change in processes through which companies engage their customers” is in a state of revolution.

I’d add that the need to rapidly implement new technologies has accentuated the need for new process.

In the article, the authors quote Source Media’s Doug Manoni: “What’s changed is that technology is transforming every single phase of business. It’s impacting the business at a wholesale level.”

ALM’s group president of legal media, Lenny Izzo, adds that publishing today is “a new world of VUCA,” an acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

He explains:

Uncertainty? It comes from new competitors and shifts in advertising models (programmatic).

Complexity? Tying together new, expensive technologies across business and content systems (because common platforms are necessary now to survive).

Ambiguity? Lack of expertise to evaluate new technologies and understand new KPI trends.

Volatility? Not knowing whether a new million-dollar system will be relevant in 18 months.

From the perspective of the article’s authors, “radical changes in process” are being driven by a number of factors, but primarily by:

  • Emerging technologies that enable new methods of serving markets.
  • A quest within companies for efficiency, driven by economic necessity.

“Media companies…are under enormous pressure to find new revenue opportunities, while maintaining the same or a better, higher class of service,” offers Todd Krizelman, CEO of MediaRadar. “It has meant a lot of forced change in processes.”

Mark McCormick, CEO of Gulfstream Media, adds, “One characteristic of efficiency comes from the top of the organization, when you have someone that is fascinated by it. Very rarely are senior executives people who get down into the nuances and processes of their companies. They usually try to hire it out and delegate it. And then they’re at the mercy of the people they hire.”

I would argue here, from TFP’s own experience, that if consultants are not in tune with the business objectives and requirements of a company at a personal level, they won’t and can’t be effective. It’s essential that team members establish a close connection to executive vision as well as the daily challenges and cultures of an organization before they can be of any assistance.

Many of TFP’s clients have determined that a lack of effective systems to drive a managed workflow process translates into dramatically lower levels of quality and quantity of content available to be published. In fact, Folio conducted a survey in June to capture the biggest process changes publishers are dealing with and workflow management topped the list at 43%.

With respect to content creation itself, the authors note, “Process change has been evolutionary, and it began a decade or more ago. But one thing’s true now: If your editors are print focused, or even text focused, they’re behind the times. And if they’re not fully conversant in content management systems, social media and data-driven content, then they’re missing huge opportunities for engagement with their audiences and monetizing that engagement.”

Rodale’s strategy, driven by President Scott Shulman, is focusing on efficiencies across brands. “Structurally, how do we knit the brands together?” he says. “We think we can make content offerings better and more extendable across the brands. Instead of doing things separately, we can do them together because we don’t repeat and overlap.”

According to Brent Reilly, president and CEO of Randall-Reilly, emerging data management and analytics programs and practices for content are allowing publishers to identify unknown visitors and behavioral patterns, in real time. “When you start putting all that data together and have real intelligence and marry that with behavioral data, you start to uncover not just the right person, but the right time,” he says.

Overall, the report contains a broad spectrum of interesting data gathered from various interviews with industry leaders. If you haven’t read it, you should.

My addition? Publishers are really re-thinking and rebuilding their operations from the ground up, and if they’re not, they are missing the mark. While in the past publishers could be successful running siloed operations, today economies of scale alone dictate the need to build common platforms, leverage forward-thinking technology investments, and maximize process to brace for the revolution.

Disagree? Agree? Have another perspective? Let me know…comment below.

P.S. Don’t miss my Book Picks this month, highlighting great biographies from leaders and visionaries!

CEO Margot Knorr Mancini’s monthly blog on content strategy shares valuable insights and observations from her experiences in the publishing industry. 

Check out her other articles in our Content Strategy section. Also sign up for TFP’s newsletter briefings, including Media Metrics and This Week in Publishing, which highlights our weekly industry news picks and tips to help you stay informed. Have a suggestion for a topic you’d like to know more about? Drop us a note!

Posted by: Margot Knorr Mancini

A thought leader in the publishing industry, Margot Knorr Mancini has helped numerous publishers redefine their missions to become nimble content generators with the ability to repurpose content easily and efficiently. As Founder & CEO of Technology for Publishing, her analytical mind allows her to remain a step ahead of the industry, recognizing early trends and developing pivotal best practices.