PUBLISHING WORKFLOWS SPECIAL 

Content editing & approval

Welcome to our first publishing workflows special, an extended feature taking an in-depth look at all aspects of the content creation process. All of the insights and opinions come from leading suppliers of publishing software and from senior editors at UK publishing companies.

By James Evelegh

Content editing & approval

This Publishing Workflows Special consists of nine separate sections:

Content: the broad trends

Content commissioning & creation

Content input

Content design / layout

Content editing & approval

Content publishing & distribution

Company / departmental structure

Editorial skill sets

Suppliers Spotlight

TRENDS

Staffing & time pressures

“The trend of outsourcing content creation means editing and approval of content are being done by fewer internal staff. These individuals are often now responsible for multiple brands, topics and channels,” says Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing.

Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future, agrees that there are, “less senior staff to edit” which accentuates “the need for copy to be best in class”, so as to avoid the need for heavy editing. However, quality of copy is being negatively impacted by “increased workloads and time pressures”.

According to William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK, “the approval and revision process, like all other aspects of publishing, is now subject to tighter and tighter turnarounds and deadlines. This requires remote approval intrinsically linked into the workflow process, allowing sign off and release in real-time.”

To add to the stress, says Rob van Dorp, director, AdFactory International, editors have less time to do their checking and sign off “because, with the ease of communication, the time for content approval is getting closer to the deadline than ever before”.

Blurred lines

Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief, Ultima Media.

Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief, Ultima Media, says: “The pace of digital production is fast and does not necessarily benefit from a highly centralised editing and approval process that might be more common for print. On the other hand, there is plenty of room for collaboration, co-editing and post-publication optimisation.”

“The bleeding of lines between teams – writing, editing, website management, multimedia production / editing – also means that approvals do need some level of flexibility, even whilst ensuring quality control and accuracy.”

“As content teams work across not only multiple channels but often multiple publications, brands, as well as bespoke / sponsor client work in many cases, so content creators need to get to grips with different tone and requirements, as well as potentially manage several different layers of approval.”

Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express, points out that, “content editors are increasingly also having to be SEO and social media experts, brand strategists and data scientists.”

Cloud collaboration

Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive, says that “cloud collaboration” is taking over from email: “Editorial feedback, sub / copy editing and production should happen in the same place and not over email where version control can become a nightmare.”

Phil Arnold, managing director, censhare (UK), agrees: “A single platform, where all workflows are managed and all communication is captured and audited allows for far more efficient editing, collaboration and approval.”

Streamlining the approval process

Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing, says that “content sign-off has been a bugbear for many organisations producing content for multiple output channels. It is rife with duplicated effort, often as simple as content being checked for both print and digital publications, without the content changing. For news publishers, I am seeing a shift in mentality to sign off and authorise content once, at source.”

For Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited, “the most noticeable trend is towards ‘hubbing’, a centralised team of specialists acting on behalf of multiple brands instead of operating within individual brand silos.”

“Editors today are increasingly writing content-first,” says Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon: “This means that at the time of writing, it is not yet clear for which channel the article will ultimately have to be prepared. It must be possible to decide as flexibly as possible whether the article is to appear first online and then in print, for example.”

Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows, adds: “We are on a cycle of centralising then decentralising the editorial processes. The required flexible working paired with remote working has driven the need for adaptable workflow solutions that clearly define and monitor every aspect of the publishing process.”

COMMON AREAS OF INEFFICIENCY

“Time is the one resource we desperately need more of, constantly. Every editor in our team is brilliant when they have adequate time,” says the Daily Express’ Geoff Marsh.

Too many cooks

“Content is often going through multiple approval cycles both from a text adaption and legal or compliance check,” says censhare’s Phil Arnold.

Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock.

Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock, adds that it’s important to “ensure there aren’t too many people reviewing the same content and making changes. This can lead to a merry-go-round of content being removed then readded by different people.”

According to PCS Publishing’s Rich Mansell, “duplicating effort is inevitably the most common area of inefficiency. This alongside the fear of getting it wrong. This tends to fuel the need for multiple people needed to give the final sign off. We all know too many cooks spoil the broth, well it’s the same in publishing, too many people slow the process down.”

In the publisher / printer space, says XChange UK’s William Buckingham, “customer artwork approval and versioning are major bottlenecks for many of the businesses we consult. When a soft proof is delivered by email, this consigns at least several key staff members into back and forth message chains internally. New proofs are then issued once more, and this process can repeat itself many times for a single approval – a huge drain on resources.”

Stalled content

“A common area for inefficiency,” says Clock’s Jason Treloar, “is when content has been created or inputted by an editor, but sits idly, waiting for someone to come in, check it and approve it.”

MSL’s Paul Driscoll agrees: “if a user is responsible for approving a piece of content but is unaware, then time is wasted.” So, he says, “the workflow should be proactive, not overly reactive”.

Lack of ownership

Future’s Catherine Westwood has seen a “lack of ownership in some content creation teams leading to a ‘write it and send it off to the next stage’ mentality in order to keep pace with the deadlines.”

“This stems from the writer who sends their copy to a section head (who is also overwhelmed with work) and who makes only nominal amends before it goes to the editor.”

“The editor then has to decide whether to send this sometimes less-than-perfect copy back down the line via the section head, or for expediency, to correct it themselves and keep the copy moving forwards to meet design deadlines.”

“When so many staff work in hubs and serve so many titles on different platforms, it appears this is the only way they can keep pace.”

“Another inefficiency,” adds Paul Driscoll, “is often the time taken going back and forth between all the interested parties, with no obvious clarity as to who is meant to be doing what at any given time.”

Version muddles

“Much time can be gained by having proper version control of your content, so everyone has access to the latest version at all times, and people don’t need to search for it,” says WoodWing’s Ross Paterson.

Publish Interactive’s Edwin Bailey agrees that “version control muddles” are a major cause of inefficiency.

For AdFactory International’s Rob van Dorp, editing by email is often to blame: “Using email for the proofing, where articles or ads are manually copied and pasted, is a recipe for mistakes and it can take quite some time to find the correct content to be used.”

Lack of clear process

Ultima Media’s Christopher Ludwig points out that “a lack of clear process, style guide, tagging / taxonomy logic and SEO considerations can also lead to problems both in editing / approval and post-production.”

System limitations can be a factor. According to vjoon’s Carsten Althaber, “there are very few editorial systems that offer special clients for approval. Often, approval is only handled classically in the usual client, whereas clients specially designed for reviews and approvals can be more efficient and faster.”

Process problems are a problem that afflict large and small publishers equally, says Creative Workflows’ Sean Briggs: “Human made bottlenecks persist in all sizes of publishers whether they have editorial workflow systems in place or not. Who edits what and who approves what remains a cultural challenge.”

THINGS TO WORK ON

1. Reduce editors’ workload

Catherine Westwood says: “If copy is well written in the first place, editors can spend more time on finessing and less time on rewriting and fact checking.”

This can be achieved by better recruitment, training and the adoption of clear and easily understood guidelines. In certain circumstances, if the guidelines are fully understood and adhered to, then there is no need for editing.

Christopher Ludwig: “Content producers who have clear guidelines on style, tone and uploading can be empowered to publish. But,” he cautions, “if they are not clear on those guidelines, it will only cause more problems.”

“Creating submission pages for external writers to submit work rather than using email,” will ensure that the content is in less need of revision when it ends up on the editor’s desk, adds Edwin Bailey.

2. Resource your editorial teams properly

Properly resourced editorial desks will avoid content bottlenecks and speed up the publishing process.

Geoff Marsh says: “It’s critical to scale editing desks alongside journalistic teams. That sounds obvious, but it can be all-too-tempting in this era of audience-driven targets to scale one without the other, as one has an immediate pay-off and the other doesn’t. But that’s not a sustainable approach.”

3. Making approval and sign-off part of your workflow system

“An aligned editing and approval workflow needs to be implemented across all brands and channels,” says Ross Paterson. Essentially, says Rob van Dorp, this means “integrating a proof workflow into your publishing system”. A sophisticated solution would, says William Buckingham, “automatically move the file into the next logical step, whether that’s ensuring a designer is notified a revision is needed or the file is ready to be moved to the next step of production.”

Key components will be:

  • Full audit trail: “Efficient workflows, easy communication and full audit trail of changes and approvals are key to improving both quantity and quality.” (Phil Arnold)
  • System of alerts: “A system of alerts or notifications to ensure the right people know when they are needed or nudged into approving content in a timely fashion.” (Jason Treloar)
  • Single version of the truth: “Content approval and checking processes need to happen from a single version of the truth, with clear workflows in place once the content is signed off.” (Rich Mansell)
  • Transparency: “The key is collaboration so that everyone involved knows exactly what’s going on, what the status of a piece of work is and what is needed from them.” (Paul Driscoll)
  • Having editors involved in workflow / system design specification: “Oftentimes, the teams or key individuals involved in editing, are not involved in the scoping phase for the CMS. Get the right voices in the room from the start.” (Jason Treloar)

4. Learn and improve

It’s important to continually review and fine-tune your processes.

Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited.

“Take stock of what actually goes on with an issue by looking at activity reports post-production,” advises Paul Driscoll: “By checking how many iterations of editing and approving there were for a piece of content, the timings between them and comparisons with other content, bottlenecks can be identified and dealt with.”

William Buckingham: “Publishing workflows have their own unique set of challenges but there are solutions available to solve even complex issues and help you keep track of where your files are in the workflow, who’s responsible and their approval status.”

WHAT BEST PRACTICE LOOKS LIKE

According to Geoff Marsh, best practice means “fast, forensic editing with a relentless eye on the end goal”.

For Catherine Westwood, it’s worth taking the time to get it right: “A stitch in time saves nine. In other words, get it right at the inception point – create ‘clean’ copy that sails through the line manager and the editor and onto the page.”

Rich Mansell agrees that it’s important to “limit the number of times a piece of content needs intervention. Content should be right after the first check, so once you have signed off, it should not need to be edited again. Best practice would be to reduce the number of touch points in the content as close to zero as possible, once it has been checked.”

This can happen, says Jason Treloar, when “every department has a clearly defined set of tasks and roles within the CMS”.

Edwin Bailey aims for “a single place to work with clear versioning and an archive of content that is the ‘single point of truth’.”

According to Sean Briggs, “best practice comes from those teams that can easily see at what stage any part of the editorial content is at and what their responsibility towards it is.”

“All users should be able to see graphical representations of all of the content and its status within the workflow,” says Paul Driscoll: “This will enable users to spot areas of concern before they become potential delays to deadlines.”

Carsten Althaber says that best practice relies on getting the most out of your CMS: “Know and use the possibilities your system offers. Many do not even know what is possible and, as a result, work manually. In this way, they lose a lot of time and generate costs.”

In print production, says William Buckingham, “approval system best practice eliminates delays in delivering press-ready proofs to customers via secure single use URLs that are automatically generated and managed by the system. Real-time progression of approved and rejected files to the next stage of the automated workflow also offers immense value in terms of eliminating or reducing delays.”

TOP TIPS

  • “Use a publishing system that automatically sends out proof mails including a link to the content, with online appraisal, that keeps track of the status, but is flexible enough to allow old fashioned telephoning!” Rob van Dorp, director, AdFactory International
  • “Beware of over-scoping unnecessary features that end up barely being used at all.” Jason Treloar, commercial director, Clock
  • “Delegated responsibility backed up by clearly defined visibility and accountability will keep the editorial process moving.” Sean Briggs, managing director, Creative Workflows
  • “Only hire editors who can genuinely move the digital dial themselves. People can only lead by example if they’ve been there and done it.” Geoff Marsh, online director, Daily Express
  • “Be responsible for your work. Don’t just write it, hand it over and never look at it again.” Catherine Westwood, group editor-in-chief, Future
  • “Use a scalpel not a sabre.” Adrian Barrick, group editorial director, Incisive Media
  • “Use a hub of specialists for these functions, covering all brands, and a workflow that offers easy collaboration and automated notifications between all those involved.” Paul Driscoll, publishing director, Media Systems Limited
  • “Get it right the first time so less becomes more.” Rich Mansell, solutions manager, PCS Publishing
  • “Have a place where it is easy to see the whole content creation journey from beginning (commissioning) to the middle (submission & feedback) and the end (editing, tagging & publication).” Edwin Bailey, director of marketing & research, Publish Interactive
  • “The editing / approval process doesn’t end anymore with sign off to print, or even publishing online. The scope for optimisation of content remains well beyond publication, whether in SEO, evergreen content or repurposing content.” Christopher Ludwig, editor-in-chief, Ultima Media
  • “Know and use the possibilities of your system.” Carsten Althaber, director of marketing, vjoon
  • “A content-first approach allows for faster editing and approval processes for multiple channels, by a central team of contributors.” Ross Paterson, CEO, WoodWing
  • “From a production perspective, we advise you take assessment of what’s being done manually and explore technologies that can speed up your processes and bring value to your workflow with automation.” William Buckingham, managing director, XChange UK

Interested in finding out more about any of the suppliers quoted in this article? Check out the Supplier Spotlight section.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.