WORKFLOWS SPECIAL - CONTENT CREATION 

Key trends

Welcome to our latest workflows special, this time looking at all aspects of content creation. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers to the publishing sector and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Key trends
Photograph: iStock.

Our ‘content creation’ special feature consists of five separate sections:

Key trends

Key performance areas

How can the quality and quantity of a publisher’s output be improved?

In a nutshell

Suppliers spotlight

In this section:

Editorial organisation

Workflows

The content publishers are producing

Contributors to this special feature

EDITORIAL ORGANISATION

Trends

Move to hybrid working

“How to embrace hybrid working is by far the biggest issue,” says Martin Cloake, managing editor, Global Relay: “Editorial work arguably lends itself more easily to remote working, so the challenge is retaining the sense of teamwork and the ability to hothouse ideas, rather than to establish ways of working. Many of us, me included, have learned we can do things we previously said weren’t possible when teams were atomised and remote – I never thought a subs / production desk would work well on a remote basis, for instance. But we had to make it work and we did. Base your approach on what works rather than attempting to impose preset ideas about working patterns and presenteeism. In the UK, we tend to take an unnecessarily proscriptive approach to the way people work.”

Cesare Navarotto, chief digital officer, Atex, notes that the hybrid approach now used in most newsrooms, “certainly brings several benefits (flexibility, better work / life balance, overall productivity increase, savings on office space and equipment) but it also adds a number of challenges (less social interaction leading to less knowledge sharing and loss of creativity, more management complexity, need for new skills, IT security challenges, potential challenges on mental health).”

New thinking is needed says Paul Driscoll, director, Media Systems: “With the growing trend of working from home and more use of contributors, the ‘office’ culture of the past is gone to at least some degree for all publishers. Shouting out over the desk doesn’t work so well anymore, and this necessitates a rethink of how best to organise things so that everyone still feels they’re an inclusive part of a team.”

Fewer resources / greater demand

Esther Newman, editor, Women's Running

“Things have changed so much since the late 90s when I started work in publishing!”, says Esther Newman, editor, Women's Running: “Back then, teams were huge and everyone had a deputy. Now, teams are tiny and work cross-media and brand.”

As a result, Esther continues, “the whole team has been upskilled digitally so that we are can comfortably create, design, publish and amend content to better engage our audiences.”

For Luke Nicholls, content director, edie, a key word is ‘flexibility’: “For our brand, the past few years have been about making the most of limited resources. The impacts of covid meant that we had to reduce our editorial team from four to three, but if anything, the content demands have gone up in that time.”

Improved tech capabilities play a big part in meeting this increased demand, says Rob Corbidge, head of content intelligence, Glide Publishing Platform: “We see smaller editorial teams with the ability to react more quickly hitting above their weight in terms of the impact they can have, where technology is a force magnifier.”

Another inevitable consequence of the squeeze on resources is, says Rob van Dorp, owner, AdFactory International, the use of “more and more freelancers and less fixed editors, so as to cut personnel costs.”

Another is an increased use of outsourcing, especially in areas where specialist skills are required, as is the case with video production. Pete Fergusson, founder & CEO, Nemorin: “Publishers will want to keep editorial video in-house, while having the option to in-house, outsource or hybrid commercial video for branded campaigns. Commercial projects are so varied it may be hard to have one in-house team do every possible format and genre. Publishers may want to keep in-house producers / project managers etc, then outsource production itself including creative, logistics, post and even live project client handling.”

Working cross-brand and cross-platform

Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare, is “seeing more publishers moving towards specialist topic and functional teams rather than title based or geographic teams and sharing content globally through common systems.”

edie’s Luke Nicholls says that his team is now working “more format-agnostically”; “rather than allocating reports and guides to one journalist, and features to another, we are now all able to contribute to different formats throughout the year. This allows us to work more dynamically, training and upskilling the team members in the process.”

Old barriers between print and digital are also coming down, notes Tom Pijsel, lead product manager, WoodWing: “We have noticed a trend that publishers are starting to join up their digital and print teams, to be more productive and generate a greater output when creating content.”

Media Systems’ Paul Driscoll agrees: “It’s also apparent that many of the publishers who still persist in having almost separate teams for print and digital content are rethinking and moving towards the now more common ‘hub’ approach of a single team of content creators.”

Diversification / multi-channel

David Coveney, director, interconnect, sees that “publishers are diversifying their offerings – segmenting their product range, running special editions, or creating content for different publications. That all makes content management more complex and you move away from using content management platforms as a way to run a website to ones that act as a central store which allow content to be distributed and redistributed in different directions.”

“There’s also a lot more sophisticated thinking about different monetisation strategies, and more openness to try new content types and channels, such as video, audio and social-only content,” adds Glide Publishing Platform’s Rob Corbidge: “Being able to slice content for fragmented audiences has become more widely understood as good business, rather than just a box-ticking exercise or throwing mud against a wall.”

For Women’s Running’s Esther Newman, “it’s about thinking smartly about every piece of content: about who it’s for, how many times it can be used, where it will be most effective. The thought process beforehand can mean that you’re effectively populating several channels at once, even if the content itself changes to fit the medium and the audience.”

Editorial roles under constant review

Gavin Thompson, regional editor, Newsquest (Wales), says that “it’s important the people know their role in the team. People have different roles, maybe as a patch reporter, a breaking news reporter, community content editor and so on. Over time, roles can become blurred or responsibilities confused because things move so fast in our industry.

“So, it’s important to take a step back and review roles within the team. Are people doing the right things, have we got everything covered, have our priorities changed? And most importantly, do they actually know what their role is and what we need from them now (as opposed to what we needed twelve months ago). That’s a process I’m going through as we speak with my team at the South Wales Argus.

“Ideally, I think having people who specialise in a role is the best way forward. For example, we used to rotate our early shift, which is focused on breaking news, around the whole team, but recently decided to make it more specialist. Now we have two reporters who do it for alternating weeks. Breaking news in the morning is a key time for traffic and sets the day up well, so you need your best suited people in that role.

“But that’s harder to do the smaller your team is, because then everyone needs to cover everything, especially around the clock. So, often people will have more than one role, and that’s where making sure they are clear on your organisation’s priorities is key.”

Automation & specialist tools

Phil Arnold, managing director UK, censhare

censhare’s Phil Arnold notes that “publishers are looking for efficiencies and standardisation by automating things like layouting and allowing editorial teams to already see a preview of the layouted page from the moment they start writing their copy.”

There is an increasing understanding on the part of publishers that editorial teams needs specialist tools. One thing that interconnect’s David Coveney is increasingly being asked to “provide tools for data journalism and data products to provide added value to subscribers. This is actually a big change for many publishers – although data is often at the core of what you do, it’s often been down to individual journalists to manage their own systems – especially at smaller publishers.”

Diversity

“There’s also evidence that even the media industry is realising that a diverse workforce isn’t just something that is good to have because it is The Right Thing To Do, but because it adds value to what we produce by integrating different experiences and perspectives into what we do and the way we do it,” says Global Relay’s Martin Cloake.

How publishers can improve performance

1. Give the gift of time

“Things are moving fast!”, says Esther Newman: “Publishers need to ensure that they understand that while, yes, it’d be great to have a dynamic, agile team behaving like digital superheroes, time is needed to nurture the new skills and talents required to create and publish in new ways. With more of us WFH, we need to concentrate more than ever on building and nurturing teams – allowing smaller teams to foster their own personalities and passions, alongside driving community on a larger company-wide scale.”

Senior editors and management need more time too, says Newsquest’ Gavin Thompson: “Give your leaders time to step back and think / review from time to time. Solutions or improvements often come with a bit of space to clear your head.”

2. Create a shared sense of purpose

Luke Nicholls says: “The editorial teams I have worked within and managed have always been at their highest performing when there is a clear and collective sense of purpose which everyone is bought into, and when there is enough time and space for journalists to be creative and create compelling content. To put it another way, if journalists are disconnected from a brand’s overarching audience and revenue goals, or constantly feeling in ‘urgent’ mode with every project they’re working on, their performance levels will be naturally limited.”

Martin Cloake advises publishers to give “the people who work for them room to make decisions and even mistakes – the person who makes no mistakes has never been ambitious. Give people flexibility and reward them well. And use metrics properly to assess what is being consumed and what isn’t, rather than to impose blunt measurement systems that tell us little about what is working.”

3. Create a digital transformation roadmap

Tom Pijsel, lead product manager, WoodWing

WoodWing’s Tom Pijsel encourages publishers to work on their “upfront planning of multi-channel content production outputs and re-use of content.

“Digital transformation is key to success in the demanding digital publishing landscape. Consider digital transformation / change management supported by reliable editorial workflow systems. To start off, publishers need to think about where they want to be rather than just where they are now, and develop a digital transformation roadmap for the future. A next step would be exploring the technology options available to support their digital transformation journey.”

4. Improve productivity

Positive steps publishers can take include:

  • Review processes: “It’s often the hundred little things that impact overall performance the greatest as they break the creative flow through seemingly innocuous interruptions,” says Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule: “Accepting there’s often no single silver bullet and taking a different perspective can be a great start to improving things.”
  • Play to your strengths: “Don’t let editors carry out layout work, as that is normally not their strong point!”, says AdFactory’s Rob van Dorp.
  • Facilitate remote working: “In a hybrid model, publishers must ensure that editors working from home get easy and efficient access to the same range of professional tools that they are using when in the office,” says Atex’s Cesare Navarotto: “This means embracing browser-based solutions whenever possible and possibly also virtualised clients for those scenarios where a fat client is absolutely necessary.”
  • Create more flexible content: “For a lot of publishers, there is still work to be done on making the content itself more flexible so it can be more easily repurposed across platforms and delivery channels,” says Russell Pierpoint, managing director, Evolved Media.
  • Rob Corbidge adds: “The thing we see that can unlock results easiest for publishers is being able to take any given piece of content and put it in the most places for no additional effort. You create it only once – a benefit in time and cost – but you multiply its chances of creating the impact you want, be that of revenue, or readership response. The leap of progress here has been to avoid having to rewrite or recreate content multiple times for each of those different channels.”

  • Move towards flexible systems: “Technology is helping extend the principle of create-and-reuse into the fundamental building blocks of sites and apps. If you create a new section or component on your site, you want to be able to reuse it again and again and not have to repeat the build phase. This is where your underlying technology will make or break things: spinning up a new page or section for content to meet a new requirement should be trivial, not the work of weeks,” says Rob Corbidge.
  • Use a centralised CMS: “Managing all this diversity of offerings becomes complex quite quickly,” says David Coveney: “I’d consider a content management system for storing content, and then treat all the channels independently. So the CMS is a content origin, and the channels are delivery systems for readers.”
  • Rich Cheary, CEO, Publisher’s Toolbox, adds: “Empowering content producers to contribute, access and amend media assets more effectively within a centralised media archive will eradicate unnecessary loss of media quality, and time to market activities.”

  • Create a comprehensive workflow: “Given the ‘WFH’ and increased use of contributors trend, it’s even more important that a comprehensive workflow is in place, one that keeps the whole team connected irrespective of location. If the workflow enables everyone to see what’s going on and to proactively participate in ensuring timely production of content, then the physical locations of the team become less important,” says Paul Driscoll.

WORKFLOWS

Trends

Shared access

Shared access through universally available services such as Google Drive, Docs, Sheets are commonly used. “On one side, this is great,” says Esther Newman: “we can access everything, create, move, and organise from anywhere, effectively. But that’s on the assumption that everyone works in the same way.”

Using these services puts the onus on the publisher to define and regulate workflows.

“WFH necessitates more frequent team and one-on-one meetings,” continues Esther: “especially with direct reports, to ensure not only that the building blocks of the workflow are in place and effective, but also that they’re understood in the first place. There’s no point setting up a Slack channel that no one uses (*cough*).”

Publisher’s Toolbox’s Rich Cheary addresses the need for standardisation: “Collaborating across an organisation can be a time-consuming and tedious process if there is no centralised media archive or standardised workflow in place to commission, collect or share content – causing operational inefficiencies and unnecessary headaches.

“The new remote working reality has forced organisations across industries to really look at how they share and collate content across multiple teams, business units and external stakeholders in a way that is simple and standardised, while protecting the current and future value of incoming media assets.

“To enable this collaboration, organisations are establishing multi-tenant digital media ecosystems – SaaS platforms that create a shared, cloud-based digital infrastructure – accessible from any device by registered users.”

Rob van Dorp, owner, AdFactory International

It is still common, though, for external contributors to submit their copy via email, but, says Rob van Dorp, there is a better way: “When having external correspondents supplying copy via email, editors have to copy and paste articles, determine styles for headers, intros etc, find and assign photographs and do the editing / correction. This can be nearly a day’s work!

“An online editorial portal allows correspondents to directly write into the editorial system, assign styles and add pictures themselves.

“The only thing the editor needs to do is open the article, do the editing and publish it, to print, the website and / or social media.”

Combining roles

“The great subbing debate continues – do there need to be people whose job it is to check output that is created by others? Unfortunately,” says Martin Cloake, “the trend is to reduce headcount and combine roles, so creators become checkers too. When we’re moving to a much more multimedia model of publishing, this is a mistake. We need to recognise there are distinct skillsets around creation and output, and we need to nurture them. Delivery is as vital as creation.”

Digital-first & channel-neutral

Brian Alford, founder & CEO, Bright Sites

Brian Alford, founder & CEO, Bright Sites, sees many publishers “moving to a truly digital-first publishing workflow where all content is created in a digital platform and then sent to a print platform which enables content to be enriched with embeds and supporting media from the get-go.”

At the same time, says Rob Corbidge, “the whole question of being digital first, or print first, is still unanswered for a lot of publishers.

“In places where print has historically been the dominant part of a business, it can be quite a conceptual shift to create content first in the digital CMS, and have that system ‘feed’ the print operation. There can be a number of advantages in doing so however.

“A good digital CMS will of course drive your website and apps, but also social channels like Twitter and Facebook and things like newsletters, voice, and syndication – and also your print CMS. The reverse is not so standard however: print workflows delivering content into a website CMS isn’t as common as people would like, and all the other fragmented channels are usually out of the question. So, print-first means you almost certainly have to duplicate content creation, which takes time and can create multiple sources of truth.

“Going digital-first also means that in a breaking news scenario, if the default is to create stories first in the digital CMS, with SEO-ed headlines and text, you remove a significant potential delay in getting your content into the news agenda and search engine results; as soon as it is clean and approved, you send it. If you have to wait for print to complete, and spend time then transferring that content over and reworking great print headlines and structure into SEO-friendly website copy, you risk being behind the story. In an era when Google says literally seconds can make the difference in where you rank, it’s not something to be dismissed.”

Tom Pijsel encourages publishers to “embrace the concept of channel-neutral content and start to actively create content for multiple channels simultaneously. As a result, publishers can increase productivity, faster time-to-market, and reduce overheads.”

The size of the publishing operation frequently determines the nature of the workflow adopted, says Cesare Navarotto: “Publishers can have very different workflows according to their size: small publishers need everyone to do everything, while big publishers can be more efficient, dedicating specialised teams to various phases of the news production lifecycle (gathering, authoring, disseminating).

“In terms of workflow, there is a definite shift towards content gathering / writing for digital-first and then pushing that content to print. Therefore, integration between these two areas of the business is key and where possible, the content creation tool should be the same for both digital and print channels in order to create a seamless workflow.”

Increased automation

As Paul Driscoll says, “quality of content rather than quantity is increasingly seen as key. Therefore the trend is for implementing highly efficient multi-channel workflows that allow more time to be allocated to creating the best possible content. It is better understood that technology needs to be put in place to make the transitions between formats as simple as possible, keeping the emphasis on the ‘story’ whilst obviating the need to deal with complex manual transformations.”

Phil Arnold agrees: “Publishers are looking for further efficiencies by automating as much as possible, so that the teams can focus on their core skills to create great magazines.”

Nigel Abbott, enterprise sales advisor, FotoWare, observes that “there is also a growing need for systems that receive and distribute news content to be capable of handling vast numbers of assets in an efficient way. Fast ingestion, effective qualification of images, tracking usage of the asset to know where and when it was used, are all important considerations for editors who use assets from the news archives.”

Artificial intelligence can also help in streamlining and automating processes, says David Coveney. “Anyone who’s done work with AI will explain that it’s really good at categorisation problems – eg labelling images. We set up one client so that their site would automatically tag images of celebrities, using an AI tool. If you want to auto-tag your content, it’s brilliant. You can also use AI to create summaries that are remarkably good at reducing articles down.”

How publishers can improve performance

“By implementing highly efficient multi-channel workflows and automating as many of the more mundane tasks as possible. It’s also important to ensure all content sources are fully integrated, including internal archives and external repositories. Re-use and repurposing of content has an important role to play and, allied with smart templating, can foreshorten the time taken in the creation of the content. With the correct workflow in place, attention needs to be given to the organisation and mind-set of the team so that everyone is contributing and collaborating on the creation of the content irrespective of its output channel. Whilst there will remain some distinction between content destined for print and that for digital, it should be the same people creating it and they need to be given the correct tools and knowledge to cater for easy transformations between the different formats,” says Paul Driscoll.

1. Review workflows

Evolved Media’s Russell Pierpoint says: “Sometimes, the process of the workflow is neglected. The end result is the priority, but how content is produced often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The last couple of years forced some publishers to change, but it often was a necessity not a plan. Often, workflows only change when they have to, rather than thinking more strategically about how content is produced.”

The review process needs to be thorough, says David Coveney: “You need to map your processes properly, along with all your content flows – where they start and where they end. Then look to see if the maps that come out of this are a complex mess that can be simplified, or whether you can cut out expensive parts with relatively little in the way of loss for the business.

“Legacy has a habit of building up and you’re often doing things that really don’t need doing, because it was always done that way. Regular reviews of processes are really powerful.”

Tom Pijsel urges publishers to, “identify the bottlenecks, pain points, manual and repetitive processes in their current systems and workflow” and to “induce a new unified workflow structure over teams, titles and countries to facilitate collaboration, maintain consistency over brands, and the easy repurposing of content.

“The approach of unifying workflows and facilitating collaboration also means that there is a need to plan and implement integrated solutions; for example: having a digital asset management system connected with a project management tool and the main editorial workflow system. This way, publishers can be sure to have a successful digital transformation of their processes and workflows, leading to an optimised output, increased efficiency, and reduced costs by having a completely integrated content creation process.”

2. Explore potential of new tools

Esther Newman says: “There are so many brilliant tools at our disposal in terms of communication, idea sharing, analysing performance, HR resources and creative platforms. I think publishers would do well to set aside time to investigate each properly before either investing or jumping in. If the company is big enough, allowing a small pool to use each tool first before rolling out would be wise. Some tools we’ve taken on in the past year or so have been utterly brilliant time-savers (take a bow, Otter), while others have been more time-wasters than anything (mentioning no names).”

3. Train your editors

“Publishers should invest in editors’ training,” says Cesare Navarotto; “every editor needs to know how to search for trending topics, how to verify news spotted on social channels, how to write in a SEO-friendly manner, when and how to publish to social media, what to publish behind a paywall and what is free, etc.”

4. Invest in a proper CMS / publishing platform

Cesare Navarotto says that, “publishers need to invest in technology and adopt editorial systems which can really support their editors in this process.”

According to Cesare, the ideal CMS will:

  • suggest editors what to write about
  • help editors in writing engaging stories, SEO optimised and rich in multimedia and metadata
  • support editors in distributing their content: direct publishing to social, newsletter creation, APIs for syndication
  • provide an easy-to-read analytics dashboard to show which content resonated better with the audience.

Performance can be improved says Bright Sites’ Brian Alford, “by creating content in a digital platform with modern tools that focus on efficient content creation workflows and built-in AI tools to offer recommendations to enhance the content. Speed and ease of content creation is extremely important given the highly competitive nature of SEO and social.”

“Establishing your own tightly integrated cloud-based media ecosystem that simplifies and standardises your media workflow,” will make all the difference says Rich Cheary: “We have seen huge performance gains with solutions integrated around a centralised media archive or content hub, that look to maximise efficiencies and value in the new digital ecosystem.”

5. Double-down on automation

FotoWare’s Nigel Abbott says: “Automating tasks such as the processing of payments for third parties can help to eradicate errors and reduce manual work. When it comes to managing images, the use of automation through metadata-driven workflows will allow this to happen seamlessly in the background while ensuring that your images are up-to-date and available for use.

“These kind of workflows aim to improve performance by streamlining the throughput, with faster sorting and selection of assets. Integrations with editorial systems can help to pull publishing metadata into the history metadata tags. Picture researchers can benefit from integrations between image libraries and stock agencies, in order to find the right picture from multiple sources. It also enables them to stay on top of digital rights management of assets in a productive way.

“Such a set-up may include alerts and indicators to show assets that are unlicensed, nearing renewal, or just simply cannot be used anymore. The use of the auto tagging features using AI will further enhance the useability of these systems, and it is becoming more useful in replacing the manual tagging tasks that are traditional picture desk operations. Automatic tagging of assets on ingestion with accurate information can save time but a word of caution here – it should be used as a guide and not relied upon 100%.”

And, another word of caution with regards automations: “It’s important that the automations are rolled out in a way that makes sure that everyone is aligned and sees the benefits,” says Phil Arnold.

6. Adopt flexible working practices

Luke Nicholls says: “The working-from-home culture which we were forced into through covid actually taught us about the importance of allowing flexible working to deliver the best outcomes. Within my small team, we placed a big emphasis on managing our energy levels as the days, weeks and months went on. Sometimes this meant finishing a bit earlier, starting a bit later, or taking a longer lunch break – but it was important to focus on the long-term health and performance of the team.

“Some journalists are more creative first thing in the morning, others towards the end of the day. Allowing team members to build workflows which suit their individual working style and habits can greatly improve performance. Of course, there will always be deadlines that need to be met, but I’ve found that allowing this flexibility where possible can actually increase productivity.”

THE CONTENT PUBLISHERS ARE PRODUCING

Trends

Quality trumps quantity

“It feels like we’ve come full circle, and in a very swift time,” says Esther Newman: “Not so long ago, the emphasis was on the quality of the content, and the same is true today. We’ve had a brief hiatus in the middle while we all dabbled with quantity, and while that’s still important, it doesn’t supersede the former. Google knows all, it turns out! Churning out the same sort of words you’ll find elsewhere, with no direction, no audience in mind, and no personality is little short of mud-slinging. Knowing your audience, and nurturing them by creating thoughtful content that answers the questions they’re asking, is the way forward here. While we’re working hard to understand them, we’re using our newfound digital skills to ensure that the questions we’re answering aren’t just the ones that they’ve asked before, but are also the ones they’re going to be asking in the future. We’re basically magicians! But our only sleight of hand is understanding our analytics.”

The renewed emphasis on quality is reinforced, says Cesare Navarotto, by the fact that “reader revenue has become the main revenue generator for publishers and therefore the main editorial focus has shifted from producing clickbait content (aimed at increasing pageviews and therefore advertising revenue) to producing original and engaging content (aimed at generating subscriptions).”

Russell Pierpoint adds that “the focus now is on what is the right type of content and where to deliver it based on the type of audience.”

Gavin Thompson, regional editor, Newsquest (Wales)

However, says Gavin Thompson, “the importance of pageviews won’t go away. But we’re increasingly looking to balance that with content that gives more value to readers. At Newsquest, we see it as vital we are number one in our local marketplace. We’ve invested in our communities.

“Pageviews can come from anywhere geographically, via search, for example, to support programmatic advertising and that all helps the bottom line, but our USP is being number one locally, whether for local news or for our marketing solutions for our SME customers.

“From a content perspective, that means producing original, local journalism. Readers want to know you are local, that you are in the community. With the South Wales Argus, we do a lot of Facebook Lives to reinforce that, and we’ve also done more news features on local issues recently. Getting out and talking to people in the community is central to what we need to do.”

Increasing use of personalisation

Luke Nicholls says that “one key trend we’re actively looking at is personalisation of content. Having just re-built our website, the next step is to create a more personalised experience for logged-in users. This will include a dashboard which allows users to ‘favourite’ content and select which topics are most relevant to them. The thinking is that this will naturally take us a step towards introducing a paywall for some of our more premium content and personalised newsletters.”

Rob Corbidge, head of content intelligence, Glide Publishing Platform

Rob Corbidge agrees that “personalisation is in everyone’s thinking right now: giving readers and audiences better targeted content. But to truly do personalisation well, you need to have very good insight into your reader and what they want and respond to, and who they are. If you don’t have that information, or the systems to manage such data and allow it to be used intelligently, then it’s not truly personalisation: it’s more just an improvement in granular targeting of audience sectors.

“Both are, of course, good places to work towards, if you have very blunt content targeting at present. But true personalisation will need you to have true knowledge of your reader, almost as an individual. If you don’t have that, then you need to think, “OK, what data can I surmise – and how can I respond to it?”. Which means poring over Google Analytics and looking for trends, looking for growth, loyalty in cohorts, demographic trends etc.”

Hiving

“Another more general content development we’ve been implementing,” says Luke Nicholls, “is the hiving of content around key industry topics, to suit both our audience and sponsors. Take a key topic like electric vehicles, for example. In the past, we would produce an electric vehicle business guide, a webinar, a podcast and other exclusive articles, all scattered throughout the year with individual sponsorship and no real connection between them. More recently, we have introduced a “masters” series, which sees our journalists compact all of this content into the space of a month – this can then be marketed to our audience as a package of need-to-know content about electric vehicles, and the entire package can be sponsored at a higher premium. This has helped our content team plan further ahead, and it’s helped our sales team in upselling content sponsorship.”

Adding value

Martin Cloake says: “The notion of added value is growing, particularly in B2B – what practical value can we offer the reader, what can we produce that is useful as well as engaging? Video and audio are being seen as essential parts of the whole rather than nice-to-have add-ons. Gamification is becoming more popular. The packaging of the content we produce is becoming more important and time-consuming as customers demand content how they want it, where they want it and when they want it.”

Value added content is a discernible trend, agrees David Coveney: “Podcasts are one of the biggest growth areas, and it’s never too late to start – you can do restricted content for subscribers and you can do free content that helps draw people into your brand.”

Nemorin’s Pete Fergusson is also “impressed with the way publishers have diversified into audio and podcasting. Podcasts are so much slicker than they have been in the past, they’re as good as content created by mainstream broadcasters. The use of gifs to allure audiences to watch a video, or to engage further with an article is a smart move and long overdue.”

With video content becoming a major way of distributing news content around the world, says Nigel Abbott, “it is essential for your image storage solution to be able to work with larger files and to process them ready for distribution effectively.”

Increased use of UGC

“The power of the smartphone means external community members, like your customers, readers or brand followers can be empowered to become content producers – unearthing citizen UGC (user generated content) reporters and talented brand advocates in the process that can tell unique community-driven stories,” says Rich Cheary.

“It’s easy to get hung up on creating high-quality content but UGC can uncover previously untold stories on a new level. For today’s consumers, authenticity is much more important than looking professional.

“This is equally true for brands outside of traditional publishing, where engagement is maximised when users create content and participate in campaigns.”

How publishers can improve performance

1. Improve your understanding of your readers & give them quality content

Improved editorial performance comes by, “getting under the skin of the audience you already have,” says Esther Newman, “and the one you would like to attract. We need to know these people inside-out in order to create the content that they’re searching for. Create personas for them, become them, create for them: it’s the only way. None of us are stupid – I’m not going to sit around on a site that doesn’t write the stuff I want to read, I’m not going to click on thinly-veiled marketing messages, and I’m not going to go back to a site that over promises through click-bait and hugely under-delivers once you’re there.”

For Tom Pijsel, it’s all about “focusing on good quality content and re-use, instead of volume. To be competitive, publishers need to retain their readers with good quality and interesting content, that will provide value for the readers.”

2. Be guided by the data

“Remember that it all comes back to data! Whether it’s download data for reports, registration data for webinars or listener data for podcasts – it’s important to always anchor back to this when deciding where to go next,” says Luke Nicholls.

Knowing what is popular and trending can give direction to your editorial: “use analytics, Google Trends and tools built into modern content management platforms that help uncover real-time trends and opportunities to repurpose content,” advises Brian Alford.

Given the value of user data, a word of caution from David Coveney: “There are lots of SaaS products out there that offer wonderful tools. But ask the question – where is my data and how can I get to it? Is it well structured if we pull it out?”

3. Make greater use of AI

Cesare Navarotto says that “the single area which can provide the highest improvements in content production performance is the adoption of AI tools in the newsroom; for example:

  • automatic tagging of articles and images
  • automatic recommendations of related content
  • ‘robot journalism’ (the automatic generation of content from data sets; eg sports results, weather forecasts)
  • text to speech tools to generate the audio version of every article, and speech to text to implement automatic transcriptions of videos and interviews
  • Auto-cropping of images

Russell Pierpoint agrees that “using AI type cloud tools to extract data and intelligence about the content as the volume grows,” will make editorial production more efficient.

In a similar vein, Nigel Abbott says that “the ability to ingest content quickly, and automatically add metadata to assets from AI integrations, can be of great benefit in increasing efficiency.”

4. Free up time by improving processes

If editorial teams spend less time on processing, they can spend more time on creating. Consequently, making your workflows more efficient can lead directly to improved editorial quality.

Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule

Papermule’s Mike Hoy advises publishers to “focus on streamlining and removing human tasks that interrupt the creative flow. Rather than have users enter status updates to a parallel system, adopt a DAM solution that automates that for them. Never should a user have to replicate a record from one platform to another or copy / name a file for another system to progress its journey.

“Find solutions that avoid the need to transfer content via email as dealing with the response is typically manual, time consuming and more often than not restricted to an individual rather than a team. Even something as simple as sending a proof out – adopt an integrated proofing platform where the whole team can collaborate with responses centralised and hopefully integrated to your own production tracking system.”

5. Focus on the right channels, not every channel

Paul Driscoll says that it is “better to put quality content in front of the target audience in their preferred channels rather than struggling to address the specific needs of each new channel that appears. By concentrating on the channels that offer the best return and using efficient tools within the workflow to handle the necessary format transitions, more time can be dedicated to the content itself. Have editing tools that cater for the ‘write once’ approach so you can more easily address the needs of your chosen channels.”

For Rich Cheary, the best channel is very likely to be your own: “Social media is a great way for businesses to be discovered and engage with their communities. And, yes, social channels are an easy way for customers to share their brand experiences, either through reviews, videos or pictures.

“But for the organisation, what protection is there for your media rights? How do you take ownership of all this valuable community-generated media?

“By establishing your own UGC community platform into your own private, branded mobile application or website, you can influence, commission and collect media and ensure usage, co-ownership and exclusivity of incoming content, while maximising the value to your advertisers or sponsors through co-branded community media campaigns or competitions.”

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS SPECIAL FEATURE

(You can find more details about the contributing suppliers in the Suppliers spotlight section.)

Rob van Dorp, owner, AdFactory

Cesare Navarotto, chief digital officer, Atex

Brian Alford, founder & CEO, Bright Sites

Phil Arnold, managing director UK, censhare

Luke Nicholls, content director, edie

Russell Pierpoint, managing director, Evolved Media

Nigel Abbott, enterprise sales advisor, FotoWare

Martin Cloake, managing editor, Global Relay

Rob Corbidge, head of content intelligence, Glide Publishing Platform

David Coveney, director, interconnect

Paul Driscoll, director, Media Systems

Pete Fergusson, founder & CEO, Nemorin

Gavin Thompson, regional editor, Newsquest (Wales)

Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule

Rich Cheary, CEO, Publisher's Toolbox

Esther Newman, editor, Women's Running

Tom Pijsel, lead product manager, WoodWing


This special feature was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.