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Publishing in-house: too much to handle?

Publishing in-House: Too Much to Handle?

Short-staffed editors find alternatives.

Is this scenario familiar? The memo from your boss announces a hiring freeze, your assistant resigned a week ago, and you haven't found a writer for the empty slot in your department. Now you can't replace either one and management is pressuring you for "more support from communication." You begin to sweat and envy all those corporate veterans who opted for the "buyout."

Don't feel lonely; you have plenty of company in these turbulent economic times. And, better yet, help awaits the adventurous editor.

Finding alternative means for producing publications has become part of the job description for corporate communicators. And it isn't always related to downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, or any of the other corporate phenomena we see today. It often has to do with cost-effectiveness, quality standards, or flexibility.

Custom Publish It Example: When Pam Fricke, marketing communication administrator at Northern States Power Company, Minneapolis, Minn., decided to "break out of the promotional clutter" with a high-quality, four-color customer magazine, she looked outside of her department for the expertise to get the job done. "We just weren't staffed for this kind of project," she said. Fricke's solution: enlist the services of a custom publisher.

The job fell to the Custom Publications Division of Wells and Miller, a Minneapolis-based public relations, marketing communication and publishing firm. Fricke provides editorial direction while Wells and Miller does all of the writing and oversees the production.

Jeanne Milbrath, a Wells and Miller vice president, sees custom publishing as a growth industry, because "it costs too much to staff up in-house." She said, "To do a magazine well, you need a full team and a quarterly or bimonthly just isn't a fulltime job. We do more, so are able to fully use our staff, which is more cost effective."

Fricke's 60-page, four-color quarterly--PREMIER--is a marketing tool aimed at decision-makers at the energy company's 20,000 largest customers. It features energy conservation success stories and energy news.

Fricke learned about custom publishing from a Federal Express Corporation representative that she met at a seminar. EXPRESS magazine targets top executives with messages and case studies on distribution as a marketing tool. It is produced by Wells and Miller with Quinn Britt, senior marketing specialist at Federal Express headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., overseeing the project.

According to Britt, the use of a custom publisher provides flexibility. "In marketing, projects change very quickly, and you need to change with them," he said. "Using outside resources instead of staffing-up also protects our no-layoff policy."

Wrap Around It Glendale Federal in Glendale, Calif., uses custom publishing with a slightly different twist. Roger Rittner, director of corporate communication, contracts with Financial Publishers Inc., a subsidiary of Merrill Corporation, St. Paul, Minn., for a 52-page, four-color quarterly that is distributed to more than 100,000 high-balance depositors. "One-half to two-thirds of each issue of GLENFED is ours," he said. "The rest is a common section of general interest articles provided by Financial Publishers to their other clients."

Financial Publishers serves banks and savings and loan associations. Merrill Custom Publishers, also a subsidiary of Merrill Corp, is responsible for nonfinancials, including television stations and regional health care providers. Publications consist of a common 16- to 32-page section that is wrapped with 4- to 16-pages of custom editorial, name and cover. Some clients provide their own material for the wraparound, others leave it to Financial Publishers or Merrill to develop.

Rittner meets with the publisher each quarter to work out story ideas that will highlight products and promotions selected by the marketing staff for emphasis. One Glendale staffer devotes 20 percent of his time to coordinating the project.

While pleased with the service he has had, Rittner cautions anyone contemplating a similar approach: "Do your homework--you can't expect an outside group to come to you with story ideas. You have to stay aware of what's going on in your company so that you can be sure that the goals of your magazine and each of your major constituencies are actively served."

Rittner also says that the corporate communicator has to be his own quality control manager. "You can't leave that entirely to the publisher."

Another custom publisher, K.L. Publications, Inc. of Bloomington, Minn., produces company-sponsored magazines for oil, insurance, financial and general-business clients. Using free-lance writers, they provide a complete package or only a portion of the editorial material, depending on individual clients' needs. Karel Laing, president, says her service allows clients to "delegate everything they can." We handle it and channel it back through them for approvals. They save money and get the product they want."

On the Other Hand... Not everyone who has tried going outside was completely satisfied. Angela Collins, manager of internal communication at Honeywell, Minneapolis, Minn., brought design and production of her employee magazine back in-house after a staffer found a way to streamline the process and make it more cost-effective.

"By teaming internal talent with the right external resources we were able to reduce publication costs by 25 percent," she said. But the editorial development and writing continues to be done by the company's public relations agency. "Our agency has writers all over the world who are specialists in our field," she said, "and by using our PR agency we are able to keep the publication close to our communication plan."

Honeywell previously produced a biweekly employee newspaper with an in-house staff. In March 1988, they went to a monthly 32-page two-color magazine and outside editorial and production.

Let PR Do It Speaking of PR agencies, after nearly 50 years as a staff-produced customer magazine, in 1986 Ford Times migrated to public relations giant Hill and Knowlton's newly established publications division. Arnold Hirsch, manager of stockholder relations and publications at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich., explained why: "It was the need to reduce salaried personnel, something that has been going on for a number of years at Ford to reduce overhead."

Was the handling-off of such a well-established institution easy? "There was some trepidation, of course, in turning over something that has been a corporate publication for so long to an outside group," said Hirsch, "but we have worked hard at building and keeping a good relationship with the vendor to give them an appreciation of the history of the publication and what it stands for and the kinds of stories that are appropriate. It's an ongoing exercise." Hirsch reviews story lists, galleys and boards as he follows each issue from start to finish. Ford Times reaches more than a million readers each month.

Broker It If custom publishing is not for you, other approaches can help lighten the load.

Dana Monsohoff of Dana Monsohoff Associates, Inc., San Francisco, explained from her car phone how print brokers can help the harried editor save big money: "We start with your camera-ready material. Then we help you spec the job right. Too often, corporate standards and specs lock a job into inefficiency that costs, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars on a million impression run. Ninety-five percent of the time the art is the problem--holes in the type, wrong specs, improper equipment specified. We can help avoid that."

Russell Grote, managing principal of Grote Deutsch and Company, Madison, Wis., provides editorial and design services but brokers the printing. "Unfortunately journalism training doesn't go into the details of production," he said. "As a result, editors find themselves in difficult situations. That's where we take over the responsibility on the editor's behalf. Publications are often under-budgeted, or components are inappropriately budgeted. A consultant can help relocate the resources for a better, more cost-effective product."

Grote stepped in 10 years ago to help Phil Tschudy get Prime Times off the ground. The quarterly magazine is distributed to 100,000 members of the National Association of Retired Credit Union People. "We didn't have any kind of publication at the time," said Tschudy, now executive director. "In 1978, the board of directors decided that we should offer a quality publication as a membership service, but we didn't have a staff to do it." Tschudy researched the alternatives and concluded that the economics favored going outside. Tschudy meets with Grote "four to six times a year to map out the editorial direction" and checks copy to see that it "is appropriate for our membership." Tschudy advises others who consider this approach to "investigate the firm carefully, and the comparative cost." For him it has worked out "very well" because "Grote has a feel for our market, has done the necessary research and has an excellent network of writers."

Free-lance It While corporate communicators have tapped the services of free-lance writers, photographers and designers for years, Joan Kampe, director of editorial services, McKesson Corp., San Francisco, Calif., has developed the practice into an art form. She switched to desktop publishing a year and a half ago for her four-color, 24-page quarterly that goes to shareholders and employees, and buys everything out. "It's all contractors," she said. "As staff left we kept the jobs on hold and went to contractors for everything."

Her scheme operates something like this: A stable of hand-picked, free-lance writers provides financially oriented copy and employee news, free-lancers supply photos, and an outside design firm creates the pages--without copy--on a Macintosh and sends the disk to Kampe. When the copy comes in, it is laser-printed for distribution and approval. Contractors, or interns, marry cleared copy to the design disk with a Mac and send the disk back to the designer for finishing touches and pasteup.

"It saves a ton of money, but can take a ton of time," said Kampe. "But it is definitely the way to go. It gives you lots of flexibility and control." The flexibility, she explained, comes with last minute changes when all you need to do is punch them up on the Mac, as opposed to going out for type-set and reworking the boards. All editing and approvals are done at the laser-print stage, before going to boards.

Go On-Line Taking Kampe's approach the next logical, technological step is a new electronic editorial service out of Canada called WordsWork. The creation of Calgary, Alberta, communication consultant Ron Shewchuk, WordsWork provides an on-line editorial and design service for people who use personal computers to produce publications and "who need help meeting deadlines." With a modem and an electronic mailbox on a telecommunications network called CONNECT, you can send and receive text and artwork instantaneously. Shewchuk says he is the first to offer the service and promotes it as an inexpensive and faster alternative to facsimilies or messenger services for editors who need copy written, art developed, or a layout for their publications.

There you have it, some alternatives to the downsizing blues. So, if a merger, acquisition, consolidation, or restructuring is making your life "interesting," take heart, help awaits the editor who goes looking for it.

PHOTO : Wells and Miller staff (left to right): Jeanne Milbrath, Bryan Iwamoto, Sandy Rumreich.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Allen, Gray
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1989
Words:1832
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