Hate having to input an insertion order? Blame Alexander Bain. Bain , a Scottish mechanic, is credited with inventing “facsimile transmission over wires” in 1843 according to Wikipedia, and it wasn’t too long after that the fax machine was born.
One-hundred sixty-two years later, Bain’s device has become the bane of office managers everywhere, and the blinking symbol of the publishing industry’s slow-footedness in getting ad insertions automated, digitized and online.
“We’re still getting paper,” says Ann Sheridan, VP of production for Time Inc.’s Fortune/Money Group. “We get the paperwork in and sort it, file it. There’s binders and there’s folders and it’s messy.”
Faxing, as antiquated and out-of-touch with the E-Generation as it sounds, has been a part of business transactions for decades, and the usual suspect in the reconciliation of the manual process that goes into the keying and re-keying and re-keying of insertion information among various departments. At the IDEAlliance Spectrum Conference in Tucson, Arizona in late September, production executives talked ad nauseum about strides made in automation throughout the entire insertion and manufacturing process, pointing to such recent initiatives as JDF (“Job Definition Format”), PDF/X for standardized delivery, and AdsML, the so-called universal “Advertising Markup Language” hatched by a consortium that includes IDEAlliance, the Newspaper Association of America and the support of publishers including Time Inc. Yet with all these technological advancements, ad insertions remain hinged on the fax, and the binders and folders that keep them “organized.”
Quotes intended. Most;probably all;publishers experience “leakage,” the unpleasant phenomenon of disputed insertions and unpaid invoices. One way to stop leakage and increase internal process efficiency is to stop relying on the faxed insertion order and the need to key in the same insertion at multiple points: The sales executive, the production person, the accounting person and so on.
Such winding paper trails may be a thing of the past at Time Inc. soon enough, and in the not-too-distant-future, for all publishers. Propelled by Sheridan and Guy Gluysteen, VP of paper and digital development, Time Inc. is one of the first major consumer publishers to press to consolidate the various insertion systems and processes into one;B.O.S.S. or “Back Office Sales System”;designed to streamline workflow across Time Inc.’s 140-plus titles, hundreds of advertisers and thousands of individual insertions, and eventually allow for electronic insertions.
“B.O.S.S. is an advertising planning system tool that will allow for electronic insertion orders but in and of itself is not an electronic-insertion order system,” says Gluysteen. “Think of it as a catcher’s mitt; somebody still has to invent the baseball.”
Gluysteen says he expects Time Inc. to see the first of its electronic insertion orders in the first quarter of 2006.
But it may be even sooner than that. At Spectrum, Erik Cullins, Time Inc.’s associate director of digital development, announced that the company would be working with Mediaplex, an ad management tech provider, and the advertising agency Dailey & Associates, a Los Angeles-based unit of the Interpublic Group, in utilizing AdsML specifications on its digital insertion orders. The announcement was significant in that it is the first time a publisher, advertiser and the various groups scattered along the supply chain have gotten together on the technological specs that go into insertion orders, and a glimpse of making digital insertions an industrywide reality.
It’s still curious, though, that it’s taken this long for the digitization of the insertion order when most of the rest of the process has been automated and/or digitized.
Gluysteen says the legacy systems many publishers’ businesses were built on are one of the culprits. “And that’s a problem that this industry has had for along time,” says Gluysteen. “Up until very recently publishers and members of the supply chain had been invested in mainframe computers for their financial systems. They did not support the electronic exchange of messages. It’s been one of those things that just has not been under a lot of pressure (to change) until very recently.”
One of the other developments to come out of Spectrum was a universal naming approach to facilitate the transition to digital insertions. The Association of National Advertisers, AAAA (American Association of Advertising Agencies) and IDEAlliance combined heads for two naming systems;Ad-ID and UNION;to identify both advertising assets and insertion orders.
Both systems assign a unique identifier code;like a UPC or bar code;to both the ad file and insertion order number. The Ad-ID applies to the actual ad and can be used by an agency to track and reuse the asset. The UNION, or “UNiversal Insertion Order Number,” is assigned to an ad each time it runs. UNION is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2006, according to IDEAlliance CEO David Steinhardt.
Now, it seems, implementation and acceptance among the various players along the supply chain will prove vital to the realization of digital insertion orders. “The automation has been a very large undertaking,” says Gluysteen. “It’s only been very recently that people have been able to look at this and say, ﾑYes, I can do this.'”