It’s not news that mobile has become a strategic imperative for publishers.

Smartphone ownership has now crossed the 50-percent mark in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, while mobile users are reporting significantly higher content consumption levels across the board.

But optimizing content for mobile is a challenge. And it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Mobile optimization is often intertwined with browser changes and CMS overhauls, which means editorial staffs need to be trained on the new systems and years of legacy content have to be ported over, usually in a labor-intensive project. Moving to mobile can be a massive undertaking.

Publishers can make choices about their product lines and priorities that affect the transition, though.

“The key question for me, a publisher, isn’t whether you should be doing things in the mobile space,” says Tim Hartman, president of Atlantic Media’s Government Executive Media Group. “It’s how important the mobile strategy is to your business and your audience. There’s a mixture of building a technology platform that is extensible, but also having a content strategy that supports the incremental effort it takes to build really useful products in each of those places.”

One Size Fits All
For Hartman’s b-to-b audience, mobile is integral.

Government Executive redesigned its website, launched a mobile site and debuted an app last year as part of a growing commitment to the platform. A new brand, Defense One, will do the same when it’s unveiled this summer.

From news to alerts to embedded tools, each product serves a different purpose, so Hartman believes they have to have a strong presence on each.

The range of products makes production complex, though.

“We figured out very early on in our digital process that we needed to streamline things,” says Krystle Kopacz, general manager of digital for the Government Executive Media Group. “One of the key pillars of [mobile integration] is trying to figure out how we can support more products across more devices with the same team, both from a technical and editorial perspective.”

Originally scattered across three separate CMSs, Kopacz’ team built a proprietary Django platform to accommodate production across each of their digital products. They now have a single workflow. A few clicks tell the CMS if the content should be posted on the site, the app or even in a push notification or email alert—everything else is the same.

That simplicity helps in getting newcomers up to speed and in freeing up her team to move from maintenance to product development.

There’s a limit to the expansion though, both Kopacz and Hartman acknowledge, or at least the rate of it.

“There’s a danger of building too many one-off projects that don’t add value over the long term,” Hartman says. “You may see an opportunity that is a short-term mobile revenue source, but publishers have to plan for a long-term mobile strategy. If you start responding to quick revenue wins, you’re probably going to build a very complex, technical architecture that is not scalable and will not serve you well in the future.”

A Parade of Changes
Parade has undertaken a number of digital initiatives recently, including a new responsive mobile site and an app, but its changes come as part a larger strategic content shift.

The 72-year-old Sunday weekly is pursuing a more vertical content approach online, increasing production volume with a contributor network and organizing its stories into more specialty subsections. It has more content, by more writers, spread across more areas.

As those silos and streams populate, it becomes important for that content to be managed from a single source, though. There’s a need to expand and consolidate at the same time.

“In order to do that, we needed to build the business and technological infrastructure,” says Steve McNally, vice president and general manager of digital at Parade. “I knew that we needed to tear down the walls between those silos and have one canonical place where everything is going to happen. This is where all the creation, packaging and promotion of this content is going to happen, and it’s going to be in one place and be available across platforms at the same time.”

McNally turned to a WordPress-based CMS that would accommodate content creation previously scattered across separate CMSs for the Web, mobile-only sites and platform-specific apps.

Moving to a popular system like WordPress also made the transition easier for editorial staff, while allowing McNally to dip into a wider talent pool for his new digital development team and giving him access to existing features already in the marketplace. Parade was able to focus on the user experience and save resources that would have been spent customizing a proprietary system prelaunch.

Migrating more than nine years of legacy content to the new site has been a challenge, McNally admits. Rather than tackle it as part of the launch, however, he’s been doing it incrementally. Certain sections of the Parade domain retain the old design elements.

“That was a very purposeful move,” he says. “Tying a migration effort into a completely new build-out effort, which itself was tied into a completely new business model, is not something you want to tangle with all at once.”

Step By Step
The strategy behind the migration effort is indicative of a larger philosophy McNally is bringing to the overhaul: Iteration.

It’s not important to deliver a completely finished product at the beginning, he says. He’ll be able to ensure a smoother transition if each element is treated as a living project.

Parade’s new digital properties only recently graduated from beta status after almost six months of testing. McNally’s team has rolled out more than a dozen different releases since then. Some have been immediately noticeable, others have been more subtle, but they’re constantly tweaking.

“I wouldn’t call it eternal beta,” he says, “but we’re constantly in a mode of listening to the conversation and looking at user engagement. We didn’t want to be beholden to launching a fully-formed platform or product that could take into account every conceivable interest.”