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McIlroy--Print Production Managers Must Become Content Managers

June 1999
I'm working on a new seminar series for Insync Media, a Los Angeles-based printing and new media firm, and I thought I'd share some of the insights that are emerging from the process.

Most of my seminars are offered to printers and prepress shops. When I say "you" in my seminars, it's usually the same "you" that I reference in this column. However, this new series is, instead, directed at your customers or, more specifically, at a segment of your customers—namely senior managers of creative/production services at large corporations, ad agencies and design studios.

With all of the upheaval caused by the Internet and the World Wide Web, these creative services managers and print production managers find themselves faced with an uncertain future. Will they still fill a vital role in their organizations in the next century? Or will they find themselves increasingly marginalized in print communication, as the dynamism shifts to the Web and other electronic media? My new seminar series, called "Managing Content: Strategies for the New Millennium," is specifically designed to prepare them to transform their roles and responsibilities into a position called content manager.

The central thesis of the series is that these creative services and print production managers are facing a crisis. For decades, they've employed their unique skills to tame the beast we call "print communications." In the last few years, two simultaneous changes are having a huge impact on their current positions—and on their future prospects.

On the one hand, the print beast has nearly been tamed. Print is moving from unpredictable craft to predictable manufacturing. Advances in digital workflows, color proofing and CTP are making print more science than skill. At the same time, the Internet and the World Wide Web are moving into the mix, broadening the communications channel and throwing a range of unfamiliar challenges into the manager's job.

Many doubted the prospects for the Internet and the Web, and the speed with which it would impact today's communications mix. But the explosion in e-commerce has changed the publishing value equation. With print collateral, you could sometimes ask for the order. On the Web, you can not only ask for the order, but take the order and the payment, calculate shipping, determine a delivery schedule and provide customer service after the fact. When it comes to marketing communications, print is fast proving to be the Web's weak sister.

Too many print managers are eschewing the responsibilities associated with the Internet and the World Wide Web, abandoning the task to MIS departments and to senior marketing staff. This is where the peril lies. It's our belief that if creative services and print production managers fail to seize responsibility for new media, they will find themselves marginalized in the communications hierarchy, particularly as their skills are devalued by automation.

The most important challenge for content managers is gaining control of their organizations' digital assets—electronic files containing text, images and more, developed for communication campaigns and publishing projects.

We've been hearing a lot about asset management. Everyone seems to agree that controlling digital media assets is a good thing, at the same time that they're challenged to explain exactly why. On the one hand, there's the direct cost and replacement cost of these assets. Too often customers order new designs and photo shoots when existing images would have done the job. Then there's the often-fruitless time spent searching on SyQuests, ZIPs and opticals for images. Add to that the countless times they fail to use effective or appropriate graphics because it was too hard to find them, and there wasn't enough time or budget available to create new ones.

But asset management is most valuable when it blossoms to content management, namely technology and processes designed to maintain digital assets in a form where they can be quickly and easily rediscovered and reused. Digital assets have no intrinsic value; they are only as valuable as the times they are used and the purposes for which they're used.

As print media mixes with electronic media on the Web, the opportunities to reuse digital assets has never been greater, nor has the scope and intensity of the demand for them. Thus, the new content manager becomes responsible for the strategies and technologies surrounding the deployment of digital assets into multiple media, maintaining branding while getting the job done on time and on budget.

But, before content management can come into play, creative services and print production managers have to get a handle on their digital workflows. It's my experience that almost everyone in the graphic arts continues to manage by crisis. We work like emergency fire crews in crisis, rushing from one blaze to the next, not quite extinguishing the fire in the high-rise apartment complex before racing to the office tower across the street. There's no time for planning during a crisis.

The reality is that digital workflows can be controlled today. Workflows can be made predictable. Jobs can be submitted via high-speed telecommunications. Digital proofs do work. So does CTP. If print managers don't get a handle on existing workflows, they're never going to find the bandwidth to make the transformation to content managers. And managing dynamic digital content into multiple media is a challenge that's going to make putting ink on paper seem like child's play.

—Thad McIlroy

About the Author
Thad McIlroy is a San Francisco-based electronic publishing consultant and author, and serves as program director of Seybold Seminars. He welcomes comments at

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