Since taking over as director of editorial operations for Hearst Magazines in 2002, Ellen Payne has led her company through a major revamping of the publishing workflow, including the establishment of an in-house prepress operation and the switch from perennial magazine layout program Quark XPress to InDesign (Hearst was one of the first major publishers to do so).
The position of director of editorial operations is a relatively new one at Hearst, created five years ago and first held by Diane Salvatore, now editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal . Under Payne, Hearst’s magazine workflow has taken major steps forward in both efficiency and cost savings in a relatively short time. FOLIO: spoke with Payne about how she took Hearst’s magazines out of their silos, how she’s addressing current workflow issues, what causes her the most concern in the industry and what she anticipates for the future.
Q: Describe your role as director of editorial operations. What does this position entail? What are your responsibilities?
A: I’ve been in this position for three years and I work with all editors-in-chief, managing editors, photo editors and art directors on all 18 magazines. I work with those titles on best practices, budgeting, workflow issues, personnel, and anything that touches technology from a non-creative standpoint;issues that help the magazines produce great content but in a budget-conscious way. It’s sort of like an uber-managing editor, which is my background. I’ll do things like lunches with all the managing editors, all the photo editors, all art directors, to get them together and talking so they’re not working in silos. If someone is doing something really smart, let’s make sure everybody knows about it.
Q: What prompted the creation of this position?
A: There was a realization in the company that every one of its magazines was like an island. Many backroom magazine departments are like islands or silos. We needed to help people do a better job of managing their budgets and their workflows.
Q: How do you feel about the current state of workflow at the company? What are you most pleased with? What areas still need work?
A: The part that’s really working for us is a decision we made three years ago to bring editorial prepress in-house at a magazine level. We converted our magazines from Quark to InDesign, then gave each magazine an imaging specialist. I think we’ve done a good job streamlining the workflows on a magazine-by-magazine basis. We try not to make too many rounds and revisions. By bringing prepress in-house we’ve tried to work with the editors-in-chief and creative directors to have them select images earlier rather than later. In a traditional editorial environment, you would do a lot of position-only, low-res scanning. That meant layouts took a lot longer to get approved because people would take longer to make decisions about the art.We’ve created a high-res environment and we need the editor-in-chief and creative directors to choose the art they want for stories upfront.
Q: Walk us through a typical workflow process at Hearst.
A: Take Marie Claire . They have planning meetings with the editor-in-chief. They start picking photography. Once the art and copy starts coming in, the photo editor, editor-in-chief and creative director pick the art they want, which then goes to the imaging specialist who starts retouching. At the same time, the art department will start designing. If it’s a lay-out-driven story, once the layout is approved it will go to the editor, and they will write their text to fit. It will be edited and put into the system to be fact-checked and copy edited. If it’s a more text-driven story, there will be several rounds of revisions. When it’s finally approved and put into layout, it has to be fit. It’s then copy edited and fact-checked. Marie Claire has a pretty efficient workflow, it all comes together quickly once they have the copy and the art in-house.
Q: Dealing with advertisers can be a wild card. How do they submit materials? What is the biggest challenge?
A: We’re like everybody else;the biggest challenge is that advertisers make decisions later and later. In terms of getting the book makeup done, it means that can take many more rounds and be done at a far later time, which affects editorial because you have to redo layouts or swap pages. We accept ad materials practically to the point it’s due on press. We get ad materials submitted in a multitude of forms but now that we have a PDF workflow we ask that materials be submitted as PDF/X1-a. We’re not the only company asking for this.
Q: What is the advantage of PDF/X1-a?
A: The advantage is the lockdown file and the color information. It’s certified that the fonts are all there and correct, that there’s no low-res images, and that from a production standpoint, it’s in good shape and printable. PDF/X1-a is a much easier, more efficient file format to handle. We just started a weekly magazine that’s mostly editorial with about eight pages of advertising.We’re having advertisers submit ads to us electronically via an online center. The ad will then go through an automated workflow and it will either fail or it will pass. If it fails, it gets kicked back to the advertiser with directions on how to fix it. If it passes, it can be sent on to us as a PDF/X1-a, which we can review and send on to our printer. I think that’s the next evolution of our workflow, to get our advertising materials sent to us so we can do the advertising prepress ourselves.
Q: What’s the most time-consuming part of the process? Edit? Design? Production? Tell us about the typical intervals here.
A: I think book makeup has become one of the harder pieces for both the ad-production group as well as the editorial group because you find out at the 11th hour what your folios are going to be, if you have to make spreads or singles or swap rights to lefts. There’s a lot of cleanup work when you get your final book make-up. That was an issue when I was at Glamour. It’s universal.
Q: It seems as though you would spend a lot of time playing peacemaker by managing tension between editorial, design, sales and production. Is that something you’re required to do?
A: Conflict between editorial and design has gone away. That’s part of getting rid of the silo mentality and making sure that edit and manufacturing are communicating properly and working together as a team. The workflow used to be like buckets: ﾑI’ve done my part, I’m handing it off to your bucket.’ That’s going away with electronic workflow.
Q: Some publishers think they can implement new technologies, and presto, they have a revamped workflow. How long does it take to upgrade your approach?
A: Many publishers are going from A to Z when there should be multiple steps. We put together a pretty cohesive team;we have somebody from manufacturing, people from IT, people from corporate;that meets on a weekly basis. We really need to talk to the user, whether that’s editorial or art or advertising. At some point, for most of us who’ve gone into corporate, we did do something on a magazine. But over time you lose touch with how the business has changed. Companies might be buying perfectly good technology but they don’t understand how people work anymore, therefore they’re not as successful in their implementation.
Q: How did employees react to your changes? What did you have to do to make them get up to speed?
A: We decided that if you were going to put these imaging specialists in an art department and you have people who were giving color direction to a prepress house, not everybody is on the same playing field. Some people think they know a lot more than they do. If we’re going to put this highly skilled person into an environment where they’re going to be given color direction, you better make sure the people giving the direction have a basic understanding of color theory. We required a color theory management course;every single person in art production goes through it, no exceptions.
Q: What are the three most dramatic changes in workflow over the last few years? How have they paid off at Hearst?
A: InDesign is one. Changing the design tool is a very doable change but it’s a big change for people. The next thing was giving each magazine an imaging specialist to do all their image work. That meant the magazine had to take more responsibility for their workflow. An outside prepress house will work 24/7, but we don’t. We’ve also been pushing digital photography. Digital is faster and we can better manage all our rights and metadata.
Q: What resulted in the biggest cost savings?
A: Bringing prepress in-house has resulted in huge, immediate savings. It was a win for magazines and for the company. The editors-in-chief love it, they have much more control and it’s a faster turnaround. All those rounds of marking up and checking color go away because the imaging specialist knows what you want. The quality of the image work also is better than before.
Q: Rate the state of the industry in terms of workflow. What impresses you? What gives you cause for concern?
A: Some smaller pubs have started doing in-house prepress because of the cost savings. But to be able to do it without running a second shift or a weekend shift really means you have to address the magazine’s workflow. Not every company has the frame of mind to tell an editor-in-chief what to do. You have to push on the workflow.
We have traditionally not used QPS but we are going to start using K4, which is a QPS equivalent for InDesign. We’re also trying to make the naming of statuses consistent across the company. In K4 you can have a full overview of where all the pages are for all of the magazines.
Q: What’s the timeframe for implanting K4?
A: I’ve got it in at two magazines, by end of this year we will have it in at five magazines. Conde Nast and American Express Publishing are already deep into this. My goal is to have our other magazines done by the end of next year. The other advantage of K4 and InDesign is tagging with XML. Editors will be able to put their copy into the K4 system as they use a style guide that tags the text with XML. As editors put their copy in they can tag it as metadata. We all need to be thinking about this now because that’s what we’ll be dealing with in the near future.