by W. ERIC SCHULT
For many chain newspapers, it’s been a central focus for the past half-decade or so to centralize or regionalize operations so that precious resources can be redirected to content generation, audience building, and other key priorities important to a rapidly evolving industry. That effort has driven giants like Gannett and Lee Enterprises, among others, to standardize on Software Consulting Service’s Layout-8000™ to handle the task of dummying their daily and non-daily print products.
Gannett, in particular, is seen as a pioneer in consolidation and centralization, having elected in 2010 to standardize its content management system across the chain, according to Jarod Pollock, who manages publishing and knowledge management solutions for the chain. That decision precipitated a broader effort to standardize on an ad dummying solution, as well.
“The decision to move to a centralized ad dummying system was not initially in scope for this project,” he said, but “we soon realized that managing feeds from multiple layout systems [to the chain’s chosen content management solution, CCI’s NewsGate] would be expensive and very difficult to support. There were a variety of systems used across Gannett for ad dummying and Layout-8000 was not in the majority.”
“They had 13 dailies at the time that were using Layout 8000,” according to Phil Curtolo, SCS’s director of sales. The majority of its papers were using one of two or more other solutions that were not ideally suited for Gannett’s consolidation goals. One, for example, was a desktop application, and another was a module tied to a legacy order entry system. Layout-8000, by contrast, “was the only one that was basically ready, right out of the box, to host all of the papers in a centralized environment,” Curtolo said.
“SCS quickly stood out as a company that was in alignment with the direction we wanted to go,” Pollock acknowledged. “[The vendor’s] willingness to provide a high-quality solution based on Gannett’s requirements as well as a financially competitive bid for licensing, support and services” were key factors in the chain’s decision.
Pollock described the shift as a “group effort by many at Gannett,” including: Stacey Martin, director of publishing and knowledge management solutions; Wayne Peragallo, vice president of information technology; Alan Bruce, director of information technology, midwest region; Jim Dundas, Lora Hamlin, Denise Harris and Claire Harris, technical analysts at various Gannett papers (Asbury Park, Rochester, Port Huron and Nashville, respectively); as well as Pollock, himself, among others.
Pollock explained how the implementation of centralized ad dummying was accomplished at Gannett. “The … centralized layout environment mimics our design structure,” with five regional Design Studios across the country – in Asbury Park, Des Moines, Louisville, Nashville, and Phoenix – and “five unique Layout-8000 systems hosting each Design Studio’s publications.”
“We have nearly 100 properties using the centralized layout system,” Pollock said, which would be 100% if not for the recent purchase of the Journal Media Group. Gannett now has 14 more markets it plans to add to the system beginning in July, with completion slated for the end of the year.
“We started the conversions conservatively and built momentum once we had a few completed,” Pollock said. “There were times when we had five different properties at different stages of the conversion simultaneously.” All of that was being done concurrently with Gannett’s rollout of NewsGate as its content management system.
“We’ve added about 20-25 new pubs onto the environment since they went live with the initial 82 dailies,” Curtolo said. “We’ve done it without batting an eye. They do it themselves, for the most part. It’s been great!”
Gannett, Pollock said, provides “first-level support” for Layout-8000 issues to all its properties, but he acknowledged that the company still occasionally leans on SCS for “tougher issues and bug reports.”
“When we do contact SCS for help, [the vendor is] always very responsive and professional. The issues are tracked in an incident management system and we are automatically notified quickly of any status change or a suggestive course of action. This is impressive, since the issues on which we have sought SCS’s help are usually fairly complex.”
The partnership with Gannett has helped SCS make Layout-8000 that much better a product, according to Curtolo. “Along the way, we improved [Layout-8000] an awful lot with input from Gannett,” he said. For example: “There was always a limitation on the number of paper, edition and group codes that could be used. You could have up to 99 of each.” While that would be sufficient for almost any other customer, Gannett had considerably different needs. “What we ended up doing with Gannett is we started implementing non-numeric codes for papers and editions. It’s at a point now where we can have 9,981 unique newspapers set up inside a single instance of Layout-8000. That was huge for Gannett. It lets them not only accommodate what they had at the time – which was 83 dailies – but also allowed them to grow as they acquired new pubs, which they’ve done quite a bit over the last two years or so.”
Pollock acknowledged the “mutual respect between Gannett and SCS,” noting: “[SCS takes] note of functionality requests we make, and these are often incorporated into future releases.”
There were, according to Pollock, “many things we learned and many things that we did right” that may be instructive to other chains that have similar consolidation goals.
“We embraced the need for standards and we found out early on that getting users to buy-in to these standards was easier than getting them to change their legacy system workflow,” he said. “Fortunately, Layout-8000 offered enough flexibility to standardize the integration to the production and pagination system even if the data coming from the ad billing system was non-standard. Early on, we ran into issues with users not being used to sharing a system with so many properties. Users would make changes for their site and not realize that it also had an impact on other sites. We have had our bumps, but all things considered, it went as smoothly as we could have hoped.”
Pollock discussed the importance of forming a “core team at the beginning … to help develop standards,” and having the team revisit those standards often. The chain even wrote a terminology guide so its different properties, using various terms to describe the same thing, could learn to speak a common language. Communicating with the user community, he said, is also key – keeping the users informed about new functionality, bug fixes, and best practices, and interacting with the community with tools like Yammer, email, SharePoint, OneNote and live demos. The company also found it valuable to form an admin team “that is a mixture of power users, support analysts, infrastructure and technical analysts” and have them meet to discuss issues and other topics on a regular basis.
“Obviously, there were some drawbacks to moving to a consolidated ad dummying system,” Pollock said. “Local sites were set in their ways and we knew that getting buy-in from the user community would be key to a successful project.” It was a tall order to train users on the new content management system and layout system in the same 8-week launch cycle, he acknowledged, but “our hands-on training program and extensive documentation library gave our users the tools necessary to be successful.”
Even as the chain on-boards the former JMG papers into the centralized system, progress continues to expand the level of centralization beyond systems architecture, standardized software, and common SOP’s across the chain. “We have begun to centralize the ad layout for our properties,” Pollock said. “Asbury Park is furthest along with all the properties in New Jersey, New York and various others being completed out of the same location.” The dummying of papers, then, becomes a service that the regional Design Centers perform for the individual papers across the chain.
Richard Cichelli, co-owner of SCS, said in a recent Editor & Publisher (Sept. 2015) article that helping chains with centralization goals has been a key focus of SCS in recent years. “We wanted to make this kind of work environment easier, because we were getting business from Tribune, Gannett, Lee, Sandusky … and so forth, that were consolidating these sites,” he said. “We scale to the high end with these design centers and it’s because of that that we have so much traction in this area.