Rethinking the Production Department’s Role
Specialists are now generalists in an age when the more you know, the more secure your career will be.
With the emergence of digital-first, multichannel media operations, the production team has evolved dramatically from its print-centric days. Print is still in the mix, of course, but now so is digital-edition fulfillment and trafficking, multiplatform marketing design, ad operations and a host of other responsibilities. For the successful publisher, the production department has never been more robust. Here’s how to rethink your department.
“Mix” is the key word. As publishers seek to diversify revenue streams and launch new products on new platforms, production teams have to incorporate those new products and corresponding advertising packages into their workflows.
“For us, it’s a matter of volume—the number of clients and the number of campaigns they’re running,” says Rebecca Pappas, vice president, production, customer service and audience development at BizBash, a B2B media company that covers the event business. “As a media organization, we need to expose our clients to the best marketing mix. Instead of siloing their own advertising dollars, they’re mixing them up and that has helped drive and affirm this part of the business.”
The More You Know, the Better
As a result of this, production pros would do well to become generalists. Subject matter experts are still important, but what’s needed more than ever are broad skillsets.
“The entire team contributes, but we have subject-matter experts for extra support,” says Haitham Barakat, executive director, production, ESP and advertising operations, at the Advertising Specialty Institute. “They also sit on mini committees to look at new products or enhancements we might want to pursue.”
This creates a natural backup system, too, which ends up forming a more horizontal group structure.
“I trained everyone on everything,” says Meghan Milkowski, vice president of production and circulation at Prometheus Global Media, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. “The reporting structure has flattened out. I cross-trained people who now work in pairs. Everyone has an immediate backup.”
Milkowski also phased out the layers of managers, assistant managers and coordinators. “The real structure morphed over time. As they were cross-trained that’s when it started to flatten out.”
The Buddy System
The same goes for Pappas: “Another thing that’s coming up is redundancy, making sure there’s someone who can take over
if staff calls out. When things are siloed, you can’t do that as easily. We make sure everyone here has a holistic view of everything our clients are dealing with.”
Even so, people gravitate to certain functions where they have a particular aptitude, and, similar to Barakat’s subject matter experts, Milkowski let that happen organically.
Email campaign management is another function that has fallen under the production team’s purview. All three of the executives in this report say it’s now part of everything else they do.
According to Milkowski, it’s a natural fit because accountability has always reigned supreme in the production department. “It falls into our sweet spot, which is logistics, accountability and detail that other departments just don’t do as well,” she says. “When I was negotiating an email contract, I realized I needed people to manage lists and the calendar. So I thought, what a unique opportunity. And my team said, ‘Why us?’ And I told them it was a resume builder. They’re adding another 20 years to their careers.”
And as publishers shift to digital, that point is particularly acute in the production group, notes Milkowski.
“I look at it as me trying to protect my staff so they have longevity and they’re not looking for another job in six months—that’s my personal take on it. From a business point of view, we’ve got a unique skill set that should not be limited to print. They’re transferable to other disciplines in publishing—that’s what I preach.”