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Don't go it alone: outsourcing saves news publishers time--and money.

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There's no more humbling moment for a business owner than admitting you just can't do everything by yourself.

In today's tough economic times, this epiphany has been happening more and more frequently at newspapers across the country, especially small town and privately owned operations. By outsourcing key services such as printing, customer service, marketing, ad design, and even content, news outlets can maintain their levels of production while utilizing fewer in-house resources. The benefit is to the bottom line, and that's a benefit you just can't afford to ignore.

Ad Production

Lynn Banta is passionate about keeping jobs in the United States.

The CEO of Outsourcing USA, based in the tiny borough of Dallas, Pa.--with a population of just 2,000 to 3,000--employs between 100 and 200 people to create ads, and business is going so well, the company recently renovated a portion of its building to expand.

The company, founded in the second quarter of 2009, designs advertisements for newspaper publishers, advertising agencies, and commercial printers. They can create print (including 3-D), Web, and mobile ads (in HTML 5). In addition, Outsourcing USA offers editorial-page building and photo-toning.

"We have a lot of support creating jobs," said Banta, a Luzerne County, Pa. native herself. Banta is referring to the partnerships the company has with the local economic development council, as well as seven area universities.

Even though the firm hires a lot of college students, that doesn't mean the expectations are lower. All potential employees take a test during the hiring process, and, if hired, they are required to participate in a rigorous one-month training process.

"There isn't much conversation, and they [the employees] are intent on what they are doing; Banta said. Outsourcing USA keeps a very close watch on its employees' productivity. And they do so in a fascinating facility and with innovative Web tools (including their ad-track interface).

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The building, which was purchased by Banta and her husband in 1997, is a former textile operation and has two smokestacks--on either end of the building--making the offices extremely easy to find in this borough that comprises only 2.4 miles and mostly smaller buildings.

Banta said she launched the firm because she saw an opportunity to work with Gannett when it was regionalizing its operations a few years ago.

When it comes to globalization, Banta believes that it makes more sense for U.S. companies to keep their ad production in the United States for several reasons, most notably use of the English language for communication and timing purposes. Banta said that if a U.S. company sends an ad overseas, there is no time to communicate back and forth, because the overseas staff works when U.S. employees are sleeping, and vice versa.

"The advantage of outsourcing is to control costs," Banta said, citing money saved by not having to manage or train the staff to produce ads, or purchase equipment. "We have to thread the eye of the needle between what the clients want."

For those who don't mind utilizing production services outside the U.S. there's Affinity Express, based in India.

Affinity Express offers print ad production, interactive services (including online ads, rich media, HTML e-mails, webpages and landing pages, video production, and social media), direct mail, and collateral design and editorial support services.

Kelly Glass, vice president of marketing, said, "As advertisers demand more digital services, publishers value the ability to tap into new skills without having to invest in building teams, adding software, and training employees. Plus, they become more efficient through technology and tools supplied by vendors without capital outlay. An outsourcing partnership results in standard processes applied across multiple properties, greater control and reporting, increased productivity, and the application of best practices from the partner (gleaned from multiple clients)."

In addition, Glass cited the benefit of allowing publishers to focus in-house teams on the core business of the newspaper while providing a platform to drive new revenue.

In terms of cost, both Banta and Glass said it depends on the client and the project. Outsourcing USA charges by the ad, while Affinity Express offers transactional rates.

"Our media clients prefer to move from fixed costs for their own internal teams to transactional rates that include all of the advertising and marketing production services, workflow technology, implementation support, process improvements, account management, reporting, and more," Glass said.

Outsourcing Content

One option for publishers who decide to outsource all or a portion of their content is Helium.com.

"We offer an end-to-end editorial solution for strapped newspaper publishers. We start with a one-on-one needs assessment of what the publisher is looking for in terms of subject, tone, and style, said Janice Brand, vice president of editorial solutions.

The content-creation company has writers located across the country, so even local and hyperlocal coverage is feasible for the publisher.

"Through a variety of recent engagements, we have identified writers in every major city in the United States who know their areas and have the insider lead on what's going on in the city" she said.

In addition to writing, Helium.com offers editing based on the publication's style guide and specifications, as well as fact-checking.

"We do also offer an SEO analysis, which can help with keyword identification and increased targeting of content. Our Helium team credentials writers as well: We have checked licenses and verified standing of nearly 200 medical professionals, 75 legal professionals, as well as nearly 300 educators. We vet professional journalists' backgrounds. Currently we have just shy of 500 pro-jos" Brand said.

She elaborated that Helium's niche is being able to find fresh talent knowledge on a variety of topics.

"Calling in an outside team offers a competitive advantage of fresh talent with a different perspective and different capabilities. Many of the publishers Helium works with are launching into new areas for which they don't have the internal knowledge base, Brand said.

As an example, Brand cited Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, who was recently quoted in an op-ed column ("The Ringmaster's Guest Performers, Feb. 6, 2011) written by NYT public editor Arthur Brisbane, "... we don't want to be outsourcing work that is part of The Times' core mission .." The column examines the various agencies that contribute outsourced content to the Times, including Reuters Breakingviews for financial insight; ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity for investigative reporting; and The Bay Citizen, The Texas Tribune, and the Chicago News Cooperative for special regional coverage.

One thing Helium handles that most other content providers won't is paperwork. Brand said her company processes all payments, including 1099 forms, "another service that really seems to resonate with editors juggling assignments, deadlines, and billing."

At Helium, cost varies too, although writing fees usually come in around 50 cents a word, according to Brand. "It's hard to offer a precise figure as requirements from publishers are so varied--some are looking for short Web content, others for a 4,000-word piece, and others still want editing and fact-checking as well as stories with interviews. Mostly, though, writing fees tend to come in around 50 cents a word. Lately, we have found that some publishers want a steady, ongoing commitment of work, and so in some cases we can lower prices as we establish a stable of go-to writers (and the writers get to bank on regular assignments)," she said.

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Printing

One of the most common departments newspapers are outsourcing is their printing and packaging. Recently, family owned Times Publishing Co. announced its decision to move its printing operations to a different facility. The company has its headquarters in Erie, Pa. and publishes The Erie Times-News.

"This was a very difficult decision, but one that we believe is in the best long-term interests of the company and the community," said Rosanne Cheeseman, president and publisher of Times Publishing Co.

"Our major concern is the age of our printing and packaging equipment and the millions of dollars it would take to maintain or replace this equipment. Although we have printed our own newspaper for nearly 90 years, with today's technologies we have decided to purchase printing and packaging services elsewhere. The world of communication is changing, and more than 50 newspapers across the country have closed printing plants just since the beginning of 2009."

John Mead Flanagin, chairman of the board of the privately owned company, emphasized that Times Publishing Co. will still provide quality local content and offer creative marketing ideas for advertisers on all platforms.

Cheeseman said the company is in discussions with several potential third parties to print and package the newspaper, but the transition will likely occur during the third quarter of this year.

"Once the transition occurs, the content of our newspaper will be transmitted electronically to the third-party's facility, where it will be printed, packaged, and transported to Erie for delivery," Cheeseman said.

The rest of the company's operations--editorial, advertising, circulation, finance, information technology, maintenance, human resources, administration, and the GoErie.com website--will remain in downtown Erie.

Cheeseman said the company intends to offer affected employees--about 40 --separation packages that include severance pay, healthcare benefits, and outplacement assistance.

"These are good, hard-working people, and we thank them for their service; she said. "We also appreciate the generations of employees who preceded them."

The company will participate in discussions with labor unions representing affected employees--the CWA/Erie Mailers Union and the Graphics Communications International Union--about the timing of the transition and specifics of the separation packages.

Flanagin stressed the issue newspapers are most concerned with when it comes to outsourcing: "We intend to preserve the editorial and advertising excellence that has earned us first or second place as Pennsylvania Newspaper of the Year from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in four out of the past eight years."

Tim Sohn is a 10-year veteran in the news business, having worked for both national and hyperlocal websites, newspapers, and magazines. In his fulltime capacity he is editor of LH! Media in northern New Jersey, which encompasses a biweekly newspaper, daily website (LHweekly.com), and mobile products. He can be reached at twcsu@aol.com.
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Author:Sohn, Tim
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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