Fixing Workflow Issues Results in Bigger Profits

by Kevin Slimp, January 2011


Fixing Workflow Issues Results in Bigger Profits
I remember visiting a newspaper several years ago that had multiple workflow issues. This was a weekly newspaper, mind you. I’ll never forget walking into the “scanning room” to meet the full-time scanning person.

As I jotted down some notes in my notebook, she asked, “What are you writing?”

I told her I was going to recommend some changes that would significantly speed up the scanning operation. One of these included replacing the ancient scanner that took what seemed like forever to scan a photo.

Faced with that reality, she said, “No, don’t do that.”

When I asked her why, she pulled a word search puzzle book from her desk drawer and said, “I can get a lot done on my puzzles while I’m waiting on the photos to scan.”

Though it seems unrealistic, that scenario wasn’t all that different from many I face while visiting newspapers in my role as a consultant.

Just last week, over breakfast, I visited a publisher in New York concerning the company’s workflow. A few hours later, after making a recommendation that would save the newspaper several thousand dollars, I commented, “It looks like I just paid for my visit.”

She turned to me and said, “I hadn’t planned on mentioning this, but you way more than paid for yourself at breakfast this morning.”

That’s the way it works. Newspapers, just like other businesses, often keep doing things the same way they’ve done them for years, never considering that a few tweaks here and there could save tens of thousands of dollars each year.

A few days ago, I received calls from two different newspapers within an hour of each other. It was a crazy busy day, but I took them both. The first was a client I had recently visited. She asked if I could take a few minutes to look over a contract she was getting ready to sign for new equipment. On the list were three MacPro computers, totalling over $10,000. I mentioned that this was overkill. By purchasing 27 inch iMacs, the newspaper could save almost $6,000 and see no appreciable drop in output. In 5 minutes, the publisher saved $6,000.

Just minutes later, I received a call from a newspaper in Tennessee. They were getting ready to sign a contract for upgrades to their hardware and software and asked if I could take a minute to look over the list provided by their vendor. Within a couple of minutes, we cut $10,000 in expenses for items that would never have been used.

Here’s the thing. Both newspapers were doing the right thing by upgrading hardware and software. What many publishers don’t anticipate, however, is the money that will be saved in improved efficiency after purchases are made. A lesson they learned is that by taking the proper time to make purchasing decisions, significant savings can be achieved.

A couple of months ago, I visited a group of newspapers in North Carolina. The computers looked like they came right out of the 1990s. Some designers were laying out pages in QuarkXPress. Others were working in InDesign. I met two paginators who were creating pages in Illustrator.

When I asked why there were so many applications being used to achieve the same purpose, I was told, “We just use whatever was on our computers when we got here.”

I made suggestions related to hardware and software that should increase output by 30 percent or more. Eventually, I sent an email to a contact with the group, explaining that what they really needed to consider was changing their entire workflow.

With new production methods, I wouldn’t be surprised if the staff doubled their creative output.

I’ll let you do the math. There were at least a dozen full-time staff persons involved in page and ad design. If they’re spending twice as much time (and I would guess they’re spending considerably more than this) as necessary due to slow equipment, how long do you guess it would take to recoup a few thousand dollars in hardware and software purchases?

What would I suggest if I came to your newspaper? I’d probably look around for equipment that needs to be replaced and production methods that would improve efficiencies. Want the biggest bang for your buck? Don’t keep computers that are more than three or four years old for design, photo editing and production purposes.

I remember reading a column in an Australia-based industry publication a few years back. It was about a publisher who refused to move to computers to design his newspapers. His reasoning? It was too expensive to buy computers and software.

They’d just do it the “old” way.

It wasn’t long before his newspaper was out of business.

When I read that column, I wondered what this publisher was thinking. How could you stay in business using methods from the last millennium? He couldn’t.

The challenges I see at newspapers might not be quite this daunting, but they’re not all that dissimilar.

Keep your hardware and software updated. Constantly look for better, more efficient ways to produce your newspapers. Make training a regular part of your company’s atmosphere.

Like the breakfast meeting in New York, these steps will way more than pay for themselves in no time.