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Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. Publishers
  2. Digital Journalism
March 1, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:01am

Management: How publishers can improve efficiency without collateral damage

By Simon Woodcock

Have you ever wondered what proportion of your cost base is seen by the final consumer? You would be surprised at how little this might be.

For publishers, the pre-Covid world was characterised by downward pressures: traditional print circulation declines and more advertising revenue landing in the pockets of the big platforms.

Covid has exacerbated these trends, potentially by a factor of years, and against this backdrop 2021 will inevitably see publishers needing to take cost out of their organisations.

Business leaders across industry will be assessing the long-term impact of the pandemic and developing a recovery plan.

Typically a large proportion of a publisher’s cost base is invested in content creation, therefore it is somewhat inevitable that those costs will end up in the crosshairs of a cost reduction plan along with everything else.

When not approached properly, content cost reduction can lead to collateral damage in the form of lower-quality content. Now more than ever, this needs to be avoided – quality content is critical to safeguard the integrity and longevity of the industry.

Therefore, a balance needs to be struck between creativity on the one hand, and commerciality on the other.

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For every £1 spent within content creation, the target should be to channel as much of that £1 as possible directly into the product seen by the customer.

The key is to ensure that cost reduction within content creation is targeted at “bad cost”, that being the cost of inefficiency in the content creation process. This bad cost can be anything from 15p to 70p of every £1 is spent on content creation.

Content creation teams come in various shapes and sizes, and there are many manifestations of inefficiency in the creative process.

Examples include content being created but not published, multiple teams covering the same topic, paying for content that was available for free elsewhere, double-keying between systems, downtime while waiting for someone else in the process, bureaucratic effort, tasks being repeated, the list could go on…

Before embarking on a creative efficiency drive, an important first step is to take stock of the current position and assess where the key opportunities for improving efficiency lie. Two of the most common culprits causing inefficiency are poor planning and sub-optimal systems.

Effective planning is vital given the proliferation of products across media outlets in recent years and changing consumer behaviour. While yesterday’s daily newsroom worked towards a single, off-stone deadline each day, today’s will be publishing and updating content 24/7.

Portfolio publishers will face additional challenges, often with production roles and even some content roles in hubs supporting multiple brands.

Furthermore, better planning can be about more than efficiency manifested as cost reduction, in a multimedia world it can be about surfacing content in the right place, to the right person, at the right time, maximising its impact.

Like with planning, the proliferation of content platforms in the last decade has raised the importance of having good systems to enable an efficient creative operation. Systems need to:

  • Support effective collaboration
  • Ensure a smooth and integrated workflow
  • Enable content to be created once and published multiple times
  • Allow easy archive access with visibility of rights and licensing
  • Avoid unnecessary manual effort
  • Provide content creators with as much time as possible to focus on creativity.

If anything, increased remote working during and after Covid lockdowns places even more emphasis on the importance of good systems.

Unlocking inefficiency within the creative processes does not have to translate into cost reduction. Imagine an organisation that can release 10-20% efficiency from its content creation operation and reinvest that resource to create more content and/or better content.

The print publishing industry is one that has undergone a revolution in recent years, accelerated by the recent Covid pandemic, however, revolutions present opportunity if we engage in positive solutions.

This is not the moment to lower content quality. If anything, it is the moment to improve it. Good quality content that engages an audience and has both longevity and reach across multi-platforms and audiences, as well as re-usability, is increasingly important.

Efficiency will prove to be key to unlocking cost while safeguarding quality journalism for the industry.

Simon Woodcock is a director and media sector specialist at management consultancy Vendigital. 

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