This special feature on content production and user experience has five sections:
In this section:
1. Audit your workflows
Publishers “need to conduct an analysis of their workflows to identify bottlenecks and areas where efficiency can be improved,” says Kevin Shelcott, senior operations leader and production director, EKCS.
“It’s about looking for ‘pockets’ of cost,” adds Mark Constance, group head of production, Future, “some of which could have been in place for years just because they were never looked at or thought about. Does the printer really need that high a level of paper wastage? Do we really need to use shrink wrapping? Does that level of surplus really need to be produced for ‘just in case’ scenarios and if so, do we have the data to legitimise that level of surplus? Are we keeping up with new technology and printing methods that could result in a lower cost base? Is each title printed at the best fit printer? Once you start challenging the status quo, it’s surprising just how much can be re-evaluated, and indeed re-costed. Or stopped for good. Production optimisation right now is about uncovering all corners of the supply chain and print process and questioning every facet that has cost attached to it.”
2. Simplify & streamline workflows
“Keep it simple,” advises Benn Linfield, head of design and production, Which?: “if something is obvious and right, then do it. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a solution simple; it should cost less, take less time to implement, should work well and be easier for users to adopt.”
Editorial processes should be optimised, says Cesare Navarotto, chief product officer, Atex, “by implementing efficient workflows for content creation, editing, proofreading, and fact-checking. Identify bottlenecks and areas where delays commonly occur, and streamline these processes to improve overall efficiency.”
This will probably mean, says EKCS’s Kevin Shelcott, “adopting better and more integrated systems that enable publishers to order, track, proof, approve, and effectively manage their projects and creative assets while saving costs.”
Shelcott continues: “The increased use of cloud-based tools appears to help streamline collaboration among different teams and reduce the time spent on manual communication and file sharing.”
3. Improve budgeting & resourcing
Richard Hamshere, group production director, Mark Allen Group, says: “One of the key areas in our business is the budgeting and resourcing of design and production time, especially for special projects. The task of resourcing a high volume and variety of requests can be challenging. Ad-hoc and last-minute work are part of the industry, further complicated at Mark Allen as we cover such a broad range of industries with entirely different needs and practices.
“Innovative ideas are not innovative unless we can deliver on them. The demands, for example, of new brands and events each year means existing work must be populated in advance. Identifying as quickly as possible the requirements and briefs of new projects helps us and enables us to build projects into allocated timeslots and relayed back to project leads and stakeholders.
“To help us make sense of it all, we now populate workflows from historical data into a central booking and diary system viewed by all production managers. This has been key to identifying what is required to be automatically chased. This year, we will be trialling an app to populate project design times which will assist in budgeting, time management and designer allocation. The introduction of data-informed workflows has helped drive cost efficiencies.”
When it comes to assignment, prioritisation and team management, Mike Hoy, managing director, Papermule, advises publishers to make sure their “systems drive this automatically rather than a system that needs a human to categorise and organise things.”
Andy Brown, CEO, Canvasflow, says publishers should “utilise tools to facilitate real-time collaboration among team members. Project management platforms, chat applications, and video conferencing tools allow for seamless communication, task tracking, and progress monitoring. Such tools enhance teamwork and improve overall productivity.”
4. Adopt a culture of continuous improvement
“Publishers can learn from the manufacturing industry and adopt an approach called Kaizen, which has been popularised by companies like Toyota,” says David Coveney, director, interconnect: “Kaizen is a system that encourages continuous improvement by inviting insights and suggestions from staff at every level of the organisation.
“For example, if someone in the publishing workflow notices that a specific tool or method could save time or resources, they should be encouraged to document this in a structured manner and submit it to their team leader. The suggestions can then be assessed and, if implemented, can lead to more efficient processes and cost savings. This system also rewards employees who contribute to successful improvements, fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration.
“By embracing the Kaizen approach, publishers can optimise their production workflows, reduce costs, and promote a growth mindset within their teams.”
When it comes to reviewing performance, output and errors, metrics are everything, says Papermule’s Mike Hoy, “so make sure systems you have in place automatically capture stats and allow easy reporting. No one should have to do anything ‘extra’ to make this possible, it should simply be a by-product of their tasks.
“Good stats and analysis often highlight the strangest workflow anomalies and our perceptions of obvious road blockers often mean we overlook the less visible ones.”
“Documenting your production processes is crucial for consistency and scalability,” adds Canvasflow’s Andy Brown: “Create clear guidelines, checklists, and standard operating procedures to ensure that everyone involved understands and follows the established workflow. This documentation helps in onboarding new team members, reducing errors, and maintaining quality.”
5. Increase automation
“Increased use of automation can help reduce errors, speed up production times, and improve quality,” says Kevin Shelcott.
“We like the 90/10 rule! (A variation of the 80/20 or Pareto Principle!),” says Mike Hoy: “Streamline, Integrate, Automate, Report, Review, Improve. There’ll always be edge cases where a creative flair and bespoke approach is needed – say an elaborate and one off multi-part, multi-page, multi-size ad sequence needs incorporating – that’s the less than 10% and needs that special go-to person who’s worth their weight in gold. The 90%... well, that should ‘just flow’ with checks, measures and as little human intervention as is possibly required. If a team member has to do something repetitively then ask if it can be automated, removed or improved. Automation might mean AI checks and measures to filter out the 90%; removal could mean pushing tasks back up the supply chain; improvements could mean system reviews and changes.”
Repetitive tasks, he continues, ripe for automation include:
- Saving, moving or renaming files: this is something no one should be doing.
- Cut/paste or moving data by email: again, this is so user intensive.
- Data entry: if it’s duplication from another platform or ‘form’ then it should be automated – say no to duplicated effort!
- Manually updated workflows: users having to ‘update’ parallel tracking systems – find ways to automate these! Doing it manually is flawed, expensive and often soul destroying!
To that list, Atex’s Cesare Navarotto would add content formatting, file conversions, metadata tagging and content distribution.
And, one more from Andy Brown: image resizing.
“Implementing workflow automation frees up resources, minimises manual intervention, and accelerates production timelines,” says Brown.
6. Go digital-first
“Adopting a digital-first approach enables publishers to optimise their production workflows. This means designing content with digital platforms in mind and creating content that can easily be repurposed for different formats,” says Kevin Shelcott.
Dani Leyhue, product manager, WoodWing, adds: “Creating a content hub that can organise your stories and send them everywhere they need to go is much faster than working in silos or trying to re-write stories on different platforms.”
Adopting a good content management system (CMS) is vital, says Cesare Navarotto, “because it allows publishers to centralise management of all their content, enabling the implementation of multi-channel editorial workflows, and facilitating content reuse across different channels and formats. A CMS should also provide tools to manage job scheduling and assignments and facilitate collaboration among editors. Artificial intelligence tools and techniques already play a crucial role in enabling or improving many of these strategies and publishers should look for solutions which can be easily enhanced with AI powered tools and functionalities.”
7. Work more closely with production partners
Gareth Roberts, managing director, Bishops Printers, says: “It may be considered ‘old school’ but we would recommend visiting production partners in person. See their premises, understand how they operate and how your publication will be treated. Reassure yourself that your order won’t be subcontracted, so you can be confident of the consistent quality you’ll receive. If you can, keep the number of suppliers you use to a minimum. It should reduce your costs and turnaround times and has the potential for more supportive working relationships to develop.”
8. Invest in training
Cesare Navarotto encourages publishers to, “provide ongoing training and skill development opportunities to employees involved in content production. Ensuring that team members are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge helps them work more efficiently and effectively within the production workflow.”
9. Don’t forget the user
“Access to content is often the last thing on the list or it is completely missing from publisher lifecycles and production workflows,” cautions Adam Snook, technical consultant, OpenAthens: “Include user access to your content in your production lifecycle and at the beginning, not the end. Onboarding new subscribers to your product is an important part of the workflow. Think about how your team can onboard new customers to your product quickly and easily.”
10. Don’t lose the human touch
“These days,” says Bishops Printers’ Gareth Roberts, “technology is often assumed to be the answer, whatever the question. It certainly helps with deadlines, workloads, and a sense of control if you’re able to upload your artwork at any time of the day or night, but traditional client service still has an important role to play. An over reliance on chat bots, remote working and email correspondence can leave those on a deadline desperate to speak to a human being who cares about the outcome. It’s why we still aim to pick up the phone within three rings. Technology can create efficient workflows, but it needs a lightness of touch.”
11. And finally, a word on cost cutting…
“In the current climate, cost controls are the single most important thing,” says Future’s Mark Constance: “The usual ways of cutting production costs (paper changes, trim changes, printing less pages etc) have a place, but any print production ‘downgrade’ can ultimately result in a diminished user experience and loss of perceived value for money. If it looks cheap then it’s easily perceived to be probably not worth the money, no matter the quality of the content inside.”
Which?’s Benn Linfield says that it’s worth challenging any cost model: “Cheap isn’t always best; hold out for the right solution, don’t just accept the least expensive option as it seems popular to budget holders.”
“It is crucial to establish clear communication channels and develop standardised workflows for collaborating with external partners,” advises Cesare Navarotto.
“Clear lines in the sand, seamless integration and unambiguous automated reporting all go towards ensuring success,” adds Mike Hoy: “As with most supplier / customer relationships, communication is often the key to a happy one.”
1. Work more closely with partners
Andy Brown says it’s important to “cultivate strong relationships with external production partners based on trust and mutual respect. Publishers should invest in building long-term partnerships.”
interconnect’s David Coveney agrees: “It’s important to work tightly with suppliers in a collaborative way. A relationship where a partner is seen as merely a technical supplier or a customer to be charged results in missed opportunities on both sides.”
Benn Linfield advises: “Meet, talk, listen and understand each other. Often. Spend as much time up front learning about each other’s businesses, and also meet as many people as you can at any supplier. It’s the skilled staff who do the work at a supplier who make the difference. Their skills, equipment, attitude, professionalism, and motivations make the difference. Work can be bought on price, but quality and service make the difference. The best supplier relationships are two-way and take time to develop and nurture.”
2. Improve communications
Mark Constance recommends “sharing data on a real time basis, using ‘one version of the truth’, across a shared platform such as Google. Efficiency comes when both publisher and printer are looking at the same thing online, not an emailed spreadsheet ‘v3’ which then got updated by someone else and emailed to another part of the business in the hope that it will filter through to all who need it. There should only be one online version of the schedule, of the production plan, of the cost etc, safeguarded by appropriate security measures and correct user access.”
Mark Allen Group’s Richard Hamshere would like to see “a status report showing the progress from file sign-off to print, finishing and delivery but,” he concedes, “you’d need to balance that with the printer’s own internal workflows where too much information delivered to the publisher might actually decrease the amount of leeway your printer can give you.”
Communications should be regular so that partners are kept in the loop, says Andy Brown: “Keep external production partners informed about project updates, changes, and any other relevant information. Regularly communicate timelines, revisions, feedback, or any issues that may impact the workflow.”
3. Set expectations & periodically review
Andy Brown says it’s important to “establish clear expectations and deliverables upfront,” and that publishers should “periodically evaluate the performance of external production partners, assessing their adherence to deadlines, quality standards, and communication effectiveness.”
Then, he says, it’s a matter of providing constructive feedback and working together to address any areas for improvement.
4. And finally…
“Don’t rely on email. Sometimes it’s far better to pick up the phone and have a conversation!” advises Mark Constance.
Production knowledge & experience
“Keep or employ experienced staff,” advises Benn Linfield: “They may be more expensive, but often their ability is invaluable to a business. It is easy to replace experience with a cheaper alternative or a freelance resource to reduce cost. Lost experience takes years to replace, and often prevents progress being made to resolve or improve workflow or production problems.
“Invest in training of staff and try to give them time to adapt to new and increasingly complex roles. Give them time to visit suppliers, meet others in similar roles at other publishing companies, and encourage them to challenge and find ways of improving what they do. Good ideas come from everyone; they are not exclusive to senior staff.”
Publishers “don’t need to invest in skillsets as such,” says Gareth Roberts: “It’s more about having a solid understanding about how their magazines are produced. What’s involved, what are the processes, who is actually producing their order, does the paper come from Europe or South East Asia, where are the hidden costs, how are timelines and prices affected by different print finishes? It’s about knowing enough to ask the right questions to hold your suppliers to account.”
Benn Linfield says: “encourage all staff to try and understand the customers their company serves. There may be more direct and sensible ways to get products to market, or promote products, and these ideas can sometimes come from the most unexpected sources.”
The right mindset
According to Mike Hoy, “it’s about the team and the collective strength and understanding the members have for the other roles that’s key. There’s little room in this arena for those resistant to change or who are unwilling to adapt and develop. The further up the corporate tree, the more important that becomes. Evolve, adapt and cultivate an ongoing and consistent development mentality. Invest in those with core skills but who are open minded, flexible, receptive, progressive and adaptable.”
Mark Constance suggests publishers should maintain the knowledge of how to design effectively for print: “There’s a huge distinction between what works well online and what works well on the printed page, not only in terms of colour, but in layout, format, and reader enjoyment. Although we know the print magazine business is a declining market, it is often the first step in the customer journey, that leads them to our online brands and subscription offerings, and it’s massively important that as publishers we realise the delivery of content, through whatever medium, is delivered in the best and most engaging way.”
According to Cesare Navarotto, “proficiency in design thinking methodologies fosters a human-centred approach to problem-solving. Understanding user needs, information architecture, defining user problems, ideating solutions, prototyping, and following an iterative method is valuable for optimising content delivery and user satisfaction.”
Mike Hoy says publishers should invest in journalists (“without the content, we’ve nothing”), designers (“without appealing layouts, graphics, and illustrations, our content just won’t hit the mark”) and UX designers (“bringing the content to life making it accessible, friendly, and enjoyable”).
“In my experience,” says David Coveney, “I’ve been surprised at how younger employees at publishers are not nearly as computer literate as their older management team may realise. If you employed somebody new to the workforce fifteen years ago, they’d grown up with PCs as their primary computing device. Today’s young employees have grown up in an era of super-slick poke and prod apps which are wonderful but not the technical tools that are required in a sophisticated work environment. So training is going to be important.”
“Modern xml-driven workflows are the strategic aim so people and processes that have an understanding of the benefits this can bring are key,” says Richard Hamshere.
“There’s no easy answer. The ‘print is bad, digital is good’ principle is a myth,” says Benn Linfield: “We need to challenge what we do and how we do it across the board and minimise the impact on our environment. Use suppliers who have strong environmental credentials, those who really do make positive change in this respect. Cutting down on waste, minimising print runs, optimising supply chain logistics, buying reliably sourced materials, ensuring suppliers have ethical and legal codes of conduct wherever they are located. These can all help. The balance of all considerations is hard, but the intent to make positive change and starting to act on these intentions is a start as we learn together the best ways to progress.”
Koli Pickersgill, production director, Immediate Media, adds: “Think about what your company policy will be around sustainability and editorial content. Look for synergies within internal processes and procurement to avoid duplication of resource use. Engage your supply chain and your own employees to bring carbon and other sustainability considerations to the forefront. Green energy, zero waste and travel policies should also be considered.”
Collaboration is key says Mike Hoy: “work with others to share and reduce processes or resources that you don’t directly compete in. This will not only reduce direct costs but also benefit your green credentials.”
Print, paper & distribution
“Use sustainable paper and printing using recycled or FCS-certified paper,” advises Mike Hoy: “Adopt eco-friendly printing techniques minimising energy and using vegetable-based inks.”
“Buying paper responsibly is key and a given,” adds Richard Hamshere: “however, I would think most people in the industry working alongside a paper merchant and responsible printer will be doing this.
“The migration from plastic polywrap to enveloping and paper wrap was something we invested in and completed several years ago. In addition, all our magazine printers now have paper wrap in house / onsite and in addition, the mailing company is in very close proximity to the main manufacturing plant thereby reducing our carbon footprint.
“Efficient printing presses and encouraging a partnership alongside our paper merchants to minimise make-readies and paper wastage again drives efficiencies and saves on waste.”
“Adopting recyclable or biodegradable materials for packaging reduces your environmental impact and sits well with your readers, improving your brand image,” adds Mike Hoy.
Gareth Roberts says: “As long as your printer is using FSC certified paper, then by producing a printed magazine, you’re actually encouraging the planting of extra trees as part of managed forestry.”
Furthermore, continues Roberts, “If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your publication, then a practical step you can take is to minimise the distance between your printer and mailing house (if you use one), or by working with local printers. An often-overlooked measure is to cleanse your subscription lists regularly. Don’t waste valuable resources and budgets printing magazines to be sent to people that are no longer there, or to undeliverable addresses. Mailing houses will often perform an audit on your mailing list free of charge, without obligation, and with a clear indication of what you stand to save by cleansing.”
Audit & continuously review
“Media companies are already looking into processes, suppliers, and workforce to improve their sustainability score,” says Cesare Navarotto: “The first step on this journey is knowledge. The second step is reduction. By making processes and services more efficient, publishers can not only reduce their spend but also reduce their emissions.”
Publishers must monitor and review energy efficiencies, says Mike Hoy: “From lightbulbs to server farms, laptops to lorries – what’s the cost in pounds and environmental carbon units? What does an upgrade cost, what’s ROI? Can you foster a company-wide green culture by turning off the lights / displays etc?”
OpenAthens’ Adam Snook adds: “Publishers can sign up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and work towards achieving the ten action points in the SDG Publisher Compact developed by the United Nations and the International Publishers Association (IPA) by 2030. The first step towards this is to conduct an audit or gap analysis of where improvements need to be made. Scenario planning may help your organisation see what organisational changes may look like further into the future. Measuring success and celebrating achievements will help motivate your team to continue working towards these long term goals. Finally, working with organisations that are progressing the SDG framework will help support and guide your own efforts.”
“Regular assessment and reviews measuring sustainability initiatives and their impact and identifying areas for improvement are vital,” says Mike Hoy: “Introducing a workplace culture and ethos of continual measurement, review and improvement will drive this year in, year out.”
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.