Production departments embrace digital ad proofs as a way to boost efficiency
By Mark J. Miller
Fact: Over the last decade, b-to-b media company production departments have had to do business with fewer people.
Fact: Although production departments have grown smaller, more responsibility has been heaped upon them as digital outlets have proliferated.
In light of these facts, production executives have searched for ways to become more efficient financially while making the best use of their reduced manpower. One way they have boosted efficiency is through the use of digital ad portals in an effort to automate the processing of advertisements.
These portals—which can be developed in-house or produced using off-the-shelf software—enable marketers to upload ad files and other documents for easy access. The portals are designed to automatically inform marketers that the files have been received or to provide notification when the files are incorrect or unusable in some way. And if constructing a portal in-house or buying existing software are not options, b-to-b production departments may use ad portals constructed by their printers.
No matter what kind of portal is in use, Keith Hammerbeck, the corporate director of media operations at Advanstar Communications, warns that publishers should not think of their portal as a purely automatic entity. “In practice it sounds like you can set up your system to preflight and kick back ads that don't meet your specifications,” he said. “But in reality, there are a lot of gray areas. So you need to keep your requirements at a lower level than you may have thought and use human intervention to monitor the things that your system says should be rejected.”
Nick Elsener, VP-production at Hanley Wood and the current chairman of American Business Media's production/manufacturing technology committee, said that Hanley Wood worked with its printer, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., to set up an ad portal. “It was secure, fast, did a pretty nice preflight and notified everyone of each ad's arrival,” he said. “But if the server went down, it was not always everyone's first priority to get it back up.”
So now most of Hanley Wood's titles use SendMyAd from Blanchard Systems. SendMyAd is a software-as-a-service offering that allows publishers to automate the work flow receiving, approving and delivering print, Web and e-reader ad materials.
“The site allows the advertiser to view, adjust and approve placement in our trim size of their particular ad, removing guesswork on our end,” Elsener said. “We seldom have to preflight ad files on our own system. Our advertisers get it to us with less hassle, and it is more dependable than our previous system. I guess we like it.”
Anne Anastasi, the ad and prepress manager at UBM's Design News, which also uses SendMyAd, recommends that publishers limit what they choose to be autocorrected by the site. “If anything untoward slips by and ends up on your side of the portal, unless you catch it, you become responsible for it,” she said.
She also recommends that portals allow for organizing ads in diferent ways, including size, bleed and trim. “Setting up an ad portal can be a little tedious this way,” she said, “but is very worth it in the long run.”
Anastasi also recommends extensive testing of all ad sizes for all publications at all levels of volume and complexity. “This is definitely a case of needing to try and break it before you buy it,” she said.
Before building or adopting a portal, consider your target advertisers, said Robert Brai, senior VP-operations and COO at Superior Media Solutions, which outsources production for media companies. “If you have specific niche markets where advertisers are not technically proficient, an ad portal that has lots of features may be too daunting for them,” he said.
But if you are working with national advertisers and agencies, he said, they are likely to already have a good technical understanding of how portals work and can therefore be offered more options. “The production department's goal with an ad portal is to minimize their resources spent on trafficking, preflighting and processing final PDFs, so adoption by advertisers is the key,” Brai said. “You can have the best ad portal but, if advertisers aren't using it, the benefits are greatly diminished.”