PUBLISHING WORKFLOWS SPECIAL 

Content publishing & distribution

Welcome to our first publishing workflows special, an extended feature taking an in-depth look at all aspects of the content creation process. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers of publishing software and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Content publishing & distribution

This Publishing Workflows Special consists of nine separate sections:

Content: the broad trends

Content commissioning & creation

Content input

Content design / layout

Content editing & approval

Content publishing & distribution

Company / departmental structure

Editorial skill sets

Suppliers Spotlight

TRENDS

Multi-channel

“There are already a huge number of different digital communication channels and their number is growing steadily,” says Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon: “Publishers will therefore rely on highly efficient content hubs, where content is centrally managed and which are connected to the various publishing platforms in a highly automated way.”

Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK), observes that “many publishers are grappling with the reality of the changing business and how to drive revenue growth across many different output channels”.

Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock, says that, “one of the biggest trends is the headless CMS where the structured content is decoupled from the end user interface. Ultimately, publishers will want to have integrated systems that allow them to input content in one system and publish to multiple endpoints, be it a website, an app, push notifications, an email newsletter etc.”

Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited, agrees: “The obvious trend is that of ever more output channels and thus the need to have effectively ‘neutral’ content that can be transformed as befits a specific channel whilst obviating the need for excessive rework.”

Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing.

“Publishers are looking to enable all their available content, in as many forms as it takes, to be seamlessly delivered to all platforms available to them,” says Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing: “A key point in conversations related to content distribution is how to adapt to new trends as they happen. The crucial solution to this quandary is to never be afraid to try a new platform. Publishers who monitor and adapt their content flow often, will always have more success in publishing to new and old channels. Practice, gather data and review.”

Blending & bundling

Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief, Ultima Media, says: “We’re publishing through more channels than previously thanks to digital events, livestreams, webinars, podcast and social. I think the broad trends are fairly obvious but one thing we are seeing is more bundling of content across channels to extend reach. Virtual events and livestreams are not just one-off happenings, but part of a programme of content available on demand. When bundled with related news, follow-on interviews, video clips and briefings, the cumulative effect can be very powerful for the overall views, clicks, registrations, and often revenue.”

Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive, also highlights the trend towards blended media: “Within B2B, there is an increasing move to mixed media delivery. Now a flagship market report could be accompanied by a suite of ‘support’ materials to help readers engage. This might take the form of articles, briefs, data, presentations and video / audio media. For example, the consumer could watch a short video of an analyst presenting the key highlights of new research on their mobile and later on that day, read a presentation packed with headline data. The actual report might be accessed through a search when more granular information is required, which could be days later.”

Volatility

Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express, says: “We continue to have a good working relationship with Google and Facebook but those platforms are becoming more volatile for publishers as they respond to their own evolving political and commercial challenges. All publishers need to be very mindful of that. Publishing methods have never been more transient. The only certainty is that tomorrow will be very different from today: So, control your own means of distribution as much as you possibly can.”

The data dimension

Increasingly, the distribution of content is being dictated by reader data.

Andy Kowl, senior vice president – publishing strategy, ePublishing: “Content distribution today is leveraged when integrated with subscriber data. Data manages reader permissions, paywalls, newsletters, group site licenses and more.”

In the print world, subs are also riding high… Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future, notes “a push towards subscriptions and a move away from newsstand dependency, driven by newsstands on the high street being closed during lockdown.”

Personalisation

Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey says, “the other growing trend in B2B is personalisation of content by using technology to suggest related content or allow readers to build reading lists / dashboards to reflect their interest areas. Personalisation will also allow publishers to promote content to subscribers and increase engagement.”

Data is also being used to create “more personalised subsets of content”, says MSL’s Paul Driscoll, which “are distributed to the consumer via channels such as email, newsletters, apps, subscriber-only areas of websites, and social media.”

Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing also notes the trend towards “showing related content and personalised content recommendations online or in-app.”

Availability & discoverability

“In some parts of the world, the trend is to try and do everything in one space behind one paywall. That’s not what users today want,” Steve Chapman, senior vice president, content partnerships, PressReader: “People are looking at wide ranges of content. It's like going to the grocery store and saying you can only buy from one brand. People don't want that.”

“It's also about discoverability. You need to make sure that your content is being seen in more places and your brand is being represented in more places so that people come to you and understand that you're a trusted source.”

COMMON AREAS OF UNDER-PERFORMANCE

Poor targeting

According to Ultima Media’s Christopher Ludwig, “in the digital space, there’s still more room to be ignored than to be heard. Producing and publishing more content does not mean more will find it, especially if you undermine your distribution and reach through poor SEO or unclear navigation and messaging.”

“In the digital space,” he continues, “audience targeting is critical. If you get that wrong, your reach and distribution won’t bring you much gain – quite the opposite. So, targeting the wrong data – or all data – can hurt branding and engagement.”

Edwin Bailey, talking specifically about B2B, says that, “not knowing what your reader / subscriber is doing with the content and how it feeds in with their work tasks” will inevitably lead to under-performance.

Late to publish

If you’re not delivering your content in a timely fashion, then audience take-up will be negatively impacted. There are lots of reasons for being late to market, many of them system-related.

censhare’s Phil Arnold points to the “extensive manual effort for each supported output type before proving if there is any revenue to be gained”. His solution is “building in automations early in the production processes” so as to facilitate “easier and faster experimentation with new platforms and technologies”.

Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows.

“Connecting disparate systems remains a challenge to all size of publisher,” adds Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows: “There is still too much replication of effort in content publishing and distribution.”

Clock’s Jason Treloar says: “The most common area where we see inefficiencies is when a client has to duplicate content in multiple systems for different end user interfaces, eg. website, mobile app, email newsletter, social media posts, push notifications. And it is not only the publishing of the content from each of those systems, it is maintenance of the content across them all.”

“Another crucial area of concern for content publishing,” says PCS Publishing’s Rich Mansell, “is a disjointed process between publishing a print and digital version of a single story. I have seen numerous examples of articles only coming to completion and sign-off once embedded in a heavily designed page layout. To extract content in this manner is often very time-consuming and inefficient, it requires multiple manual steps and often results in a significant amount of duplicated effort.”

PressReader’s Steve Chapman notes that, “some publishers are still using quite old systems. It's going to be essential for publishers in this decade to make sure they're using those current technologies in order to achieve what they want to achieve.”

Because, says vjoon’s Carsten Althaber, “if content cannot be centrally managed, easily found, and individually prepared, this massively slows down the reaction speed of a publishing house.”

According to ePublishing’s Andy Kowl, “there are a lot of old-school workflows that are accepted as “normal”. Mid-sized and smaller publishers are often afraid it will cost too much, or be too disruptive, to consolidate separate processes into one harmonious workflow.”

Paul Driscoll adds: “As is common to all facets of managing content, without a CMS and workflows, there will be inefficiencies. If users can’t clearly see what’s going on with a publication with regard to statuses for all connected channels, then unnecessary time and effort will be required to publish and distribute an issue, or subsets thereof. If the content can’t be easily transformed for its intended channels, time is lost and potential audience too.”

Delays in print production are often down to communication delays between publisher and printer, caused by problems thrown up at the preflighting stage. “This puts more pressure on prepress to either fix and resolve those issues,” says William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK, “or for the client to have less time for their own designers to fix problems and submit corrected artwork to meet the job deadline.”

An unwillingness to invest usually underpins tech challenges, says WoodWing’s Ross Paterson: “Under-performance can be caused by the missed opportunity to invest in digital tools at an earlier stage to become more efficient.”

Other causes:

  • Excessive pricing and poor distribution: In the world of print publishing, “increasing cover price annually when the product has not improved can result in lower sales. Cover prices can be increased, but only when there is a tangible value exchange between the reader and the publisher. Underperformance is also driven by not having parity of distribution with rival titles.” (Catherine Westwood)
  • Unreasonable expectations: “Not all digital channels grow equally, either. We get great feedback from interactive digital editions and yet the views are not always where we would hope. Some livestreams and virtual events also struggle with reach, although a lifecycle view is necessary – ie. not just views on the day, but on-demand, related articles and shares on social media, etc.” (Christopher Ludwig)
  • Stuff outside our control: In an interconnected world, publishers are not always masters of their own destiny. A major cause of underperformance is “algorithm changes over which we have no control or advance warning”. (Geoff Marsh)

THINGS TO WORK ON

“Both quantity and quality can be improved by using the right tools, adjusting to a channel-neutral / content-first workflow, and seeking to automate processes and implement AI technology. This can simultaneously increase the content you can produce whilst reducing the resources you need to do it,” says Ross Paterson.

1. Have a plan

Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media, recommends publishers have a “clear content plan for your brand. With limited resources, everyone on the team needs to know where the editorial focus is – who exactly are we telling our stories for? What topics and information is going to be actionable for them? And how are we going to tell it in a way that is most effective from a reader-perspective?”

Creative Workflows’ Sean Briggs agrees: “Be clear which publishing channels you need to be active in and, more importantly, why.”

In the B2B space, Edwin Bailey sees potential for “focusing on reader roles and responsibilities” and that publishers should “consider packaging content to match customer tasks, rather than by traditional category trees such as market segment or region. For example, content which covers regulatory matters might help a user complete a risk assessment or content that provides market forecasts could be used in a business plan.”

2. Add / maintain value

According to Future’s Catherine Westwood, “one of the ways to create the value exchange and set a higher cover price is to produce frequent bumper issues which offer more paging and content.” Also, she adds, “constant assessment of rival titles’ distribution is essential to ensure competitive edge”.

Steve Chapman says it’s important to, at the very least, maintain value and advises against cutting frequency: “Now is not the time to reduce frequency. I think it's time you want to make sure that the product is front and centre for your users so they maintain their subscriptions long-term. So, even if there’s a short-term loss, long-term, that's going to keep subscriptions going.”

3. Take back control

The Daily Express’ Geoff Marsh says: “Our aim is to steadily increase our direct audience and reduce our dependence on third party platforms. We have to rebuild the pyramid, with our loyal users providing the widest possible base.”

4. Be quicker to market

“Content management and editorial workflows must be optimally integrated and used according to their entire capabilities.” This will ensure, says Carsten Althaber, quicker publishing.

Speed to market is largely dictated by workflow and editorial management, specifically:

  • Save time by using templates: “The more templated the initial content creation process, the easier and faster new output channels can be trialled and experimented with, without the need for lots of manual effort,” says Phil Arnold. Proper standardisation should allow, he adds, “content created for one channel to be repurposed elsewhere, be it for a WebCMS, PDF, Apple News, mobile app, social media, licencing and syndication partners, third party business partnerships etc.”
  • Save time by reducing manual tasks and interventions: “Manual processes are often only still followed due to lack of experience in the ability to automate, rather than the lack of desire to do so,” says Rich Mansell. And automations needn’t be overly complex says Paul Driscoll: “Simple scripts can be used to automate a lot of functions, but need proficient workflows to trigger them at the relevant part of the publishing process.”

XChange UK’s William Buckingham says: “Process improvement can be challenging but the rewards are worth considering. With the right solution provider, artwork verification and communication inefficiencies can be slayed, freeing up more time throughout the entire production cycle.”

Ultimately, publishers should let the CMS take the strain, says Jason Treloar: “A custom built CMS or headless CMS that has been built to distribute content directly from one system and interface to all the end user interfaces, be it an app, a website (or even multiple websites), social media, email newsletters, will give editing teams, particularly small ones, the power to be super publishers, in other words, disseminate more content to more platforms without needing multiple specialists and large teams.”

5. Ask yourselves the right questions

Rich Mansell encourages publishers to ask themselves some key questions: “Removing manual and repetitive tasks will always provide the opportunity to focus on either improving efficiency or quality. Look at the platforms you use and ask yourselves:

  • How well are these integrated? (Do I have to copy and paste?)
  • How many times do I repeat the same process? (Can a computer do it for me?)
  • How often do I have to do something different / intervene? (What do I need to look out for?)

The answers to these questions should start to paint a picture of what areas you need to focus on when looking for automation improvements.”

WHAT BEST PRACTICE LOOKS LIKE

For Incisive Media’s Adrian Barrick, it’s a matter of “figuring out what topics you’re seeking to ‘own’ as a brand – where you’re the first place a user comes on that subject – and at the other end of the scale, what do you not care about? Knowing what to leave out is often harder, of course.”

Catherine Westwood likes to keep a close eye on the market, “maintaining diligence to flex with market trends – understand what is working for other publishers and always be ready to raise your game”.

“Targeting and coordination,” are critical factors for Christopher Ludwig: “The opportunity to bundle content, cross distribute across channels and even across brands can bring rewards – but only if it is done with the right audience in mind, and with a view to how you might expand reach or exposure. It’s worth planning how and why you want to use each channel and making sure each is properly optimised.”

Geoff Marsh focuses on reader analytics: “Our ideal story is one which resonates with our loyal direct readers but for which there is also huge search and social interest. That point of optimal intersection is critical. At school, I hated Venn diagrams because I wanted to be a journalist. Now I study Venn diagrams because I want to be a better digital editor.”

Similarly, Edwin Bailey says: “In the context of business information products, be absolutely clear what the reader is using the content for and ensure the way content is structured and delivered helps with their jobs.”

Andy Kowl, senior vice president – publishing strategy, ePublishing.

“Enter-once, distribute anywhere, are not just buzzwords,” says Andy Kowl: “With content going into print, websites, newsletters and syndication, all you should be doing is writing and editing great articles. Your technology should handle the distribution.”

For Paul Driscoll, “the use of a ‘content neutral’ CMS with workflows that enable automations and tight integrations with the required output channels,” is vital.

This enables, says Rich Mansell, a “hands off” approach to content distribution, “whether this is uploading content onto a web platform or sending final pages to a press site. These tasks fall into repetitive cycles very easily.”

Carsten Althaber says: “Establish a DAM as a central content hub and integrate it optimally with the editorial system. Only in this way can automation and closely coordinated processes take full effect.”

Sean Briggs adds that the “complexity of the publishing workflows should be hidden from the majority of staff. Simple editorial dashboards with relevant information should be the norm.”

TOP TIPS

  • “Have a clear policy addressing the content constraints for print first and for online first” Rob van Dorp, director, AdFactory International
  • “If possible, start from the beginning with media neutral content to allow ease of transformation, capture accurate rights information at the start of the process and drive standardisation of templates. Getting these areas in place, with an efficient workflow, allows for faster and easier content reuse further down the line.” Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK)
  • “It is better to produce good content in two channels than mediocre content in four. Also, it is impossible to compete with the internet on speed, volume or diversity, therefore quality and integrity should be the watch-words.” Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows
  • “When you hit ‘publish’ on a story, your job is only half done. The very best digital journalists and editors then really get to work, ensuring the story is constantly updated, tweeted, shared, linked to etc. It’s a process that, done properly, can last days.” Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express
  • “Be where your competitors are!” Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future
  • “Not so much ‘less is more’, but ‘more on less’.” Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media
  • “Put in place a ‘content neutral’ CMS with workflows that enable automations and tight integrations with the required output channels. Whatever system used, it should be one that can have new emerging channels added without the need for major surgery.” Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited
  • “Ensure you gather the required data, then utilise tools to automate as many largely repetitive tasks as you can.” Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing
  • “Put your readers first, give them what they want; understand what your readers are looking for and put it out there. Also, you need to be everywhere.” Steve Chapman, senior vice president, content partnerships, PressReader
  • “For B2B subscription products, put personalisation at the forefront of your content delivery strategy.” Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive
  • “Focus on your processes and use the full spectrum of your systems.” Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon
  • “Automate content creation and distribution as much as possible, so you can focus on the important content pieces that let your content and messaging stand out the most.” Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing

Interested in finding out more about any of the suppliers quoted in this article? Check out the Supplier Spotlight section.

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