Digital Ad Portal Proves Effective for St. Joseph Media

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By Joe Keenan

Looking to improve the efficiency of its production cycles, magazine publisher St. Joseph Media targeted advertising processing—specifically, simplifying the process of how print ads were received into its system. So in August, the publisher ditched a more traditional approach in favor of a digital ad portal managed by industry association Magazines Canada. The SendMyAd digital ad portal, a Blanchard Systems business unit, has produced results. Shorter production cycle times, more efficient employees and opportunities for increased advertising revenues are just some of the benefits the publisher of Toronto Life, FASHION, Weddingbells and others has enjoyed.

St. Joseph Media’s Group Production Director Kim Latreille and Magazines Canada’s Executive Director of Advertising Services Gary Garland spoke exclusively with Publishing Executive on what could be the next big thing in publishing—digital ad portals.

INBOX: How does working with a digital ad portal benefit publishing companies?
GARY GARLAND: There’s no question that it helps save time and money for publishers. Moving to a digital workflow helps improve productivity. There’s less handling of ads, less troubleshooting. Aside from that, there’s increased reliability. When ads come through the portal, they’re ready to print. That means less liability for publishers who have to open up files and make fixes because they were improperly produced.

But I think the biggest advantage is that all of these things together help to reduce cycle time. You can get your production done quicker and the magazine out to consumers faster. That helps in addressing needs of advertising agencies, who want to be able to reach consumers faster than ever.

KIM LATREILLE: We’ve found that having the ad portal, and just the fact that we’re not accepting bad files anymore, reduces our liability. We’d accept a bad file and either fix it ourselves without telling the client or go back and forth with the client to try and convince them. Sometimes when you call and tell them there’s something wrong with their file, they’ll disagree.

There are cases where a previous publisher with whom they’ve run an ad may have fixed their ad and not told them. So then they’ll say, “Oh, it ran fine in such-and-such magazine.” You get into these disputes with your clients. So for us, having the ads come through as good to go means we don’t have to have those conversations anymore. We don’t have to be the bad guy anymore, who’s telling a client that their ad needs some work.

In terms of our relationships with our ad suppliers, it’s been an improvement and an opportunity to move together and do something where we all benefit in the end. There’s an assurance on both sides. When their ads go through the portal, there’s an assurance that the ad is good. And there’s an assurance on our side as well that the ad is good, and if there is something wrong with it, the client knows and they’ll have signed off on it prior to giving it to us.

The other side really has to do with the automation itself. The ad portal provides a lot of opportunities for automation. For example, we use a file naming convention. So for all of our ads, because we have several magazines with multiple regions each, we’re picking up little pieces of the job ticket that the advertiser pulls out—i.e., that they fill in. So those fields are pulled out and put into the naming of the file. So when it lands on our server, it’s already named. There are a lot of shortcuts that it’s provided us in our production department.

In the past, it was taking us about 15 to 20 minutes to process an ad once we were told the ad had been delivered. If that involved pulling it down from our FTP or printing and preflighting it, we were spending 20 minutes an ad. Now we’re spending five minutes or less on an ad.

INBOX: On average, how much time does a digital ad portal system save publishers?
LATREILLE: Prior to using an ad portal, I think everyone was getting some sort of prompt, such as an e-mail, saying that the advertiser is delivering their ad to either your FTP site or e-mailing it. We were accepting ads in all kinds of formats. And in some cases, we’d download an ad from an advertiser’s FTP site. That all can be time consuming.

We had several clients where we would download from an FTP. And depending on the file size, we could be processing the download for 15 minutes. Then you open the ad, preflight it, and there’s something wrong with it. So now you have to call the client, tell them there’s something wrong. Then they fix it and upload it to their FTP again, and you have to download it again.

So if there’s a problem with your file, you could sometimes be spending 40 minutes to an hour per ad. If you’re a publisher that’s doing 1,000 ads, that’s a lot of time per ad. Having the ad portal makes a significant difference because if there’s something wrong with the file, it never gets uploaded in the first place. That 40 to 60 minutes fixing ads has almost disappeared. We do still provide service to our clients that are having problems navigating the ad portal, but it’s nowhere near the amount of time that we would’ve had to spend previously processing.

When you’re looking at the amount of time that you spend, we’re only looking at the good side of that equation. If an ad is good, it only takes five minutes for us to process. At St. Joseph Media, we open up the ad, look at it, make a proof of it, and that’s all we have to do. We just move the file to where it has to go on our server and we’re done.

INBOX: What are the challenges for publishers in setting up digital ad portal systems?
LATREILLE: Once you get around the feeling that, “Oh, maybe we don’t need that,” and really start to grind down and look at what your needs are and how you could be spending your time or using your people a little bit differently, then it starts to become more attractive. For us, it really is that change management. No matter how forward-thinking people say they are, they really don’t like to change things.

It’s a matter of showing people how easy it is, then helping them realize that we’re giving our advertiser lots of tools. We’re not abandoning them and leaving them to their own devices to get an ad here. Once that happens, then it becomes a little easier. But initially it’s just that education.

INBOX: How have advertisers responded to working with digital ad portals?
LATREILLE: We’ve had a varied response. We have some people who think that it’s terrific. We’ve gotten correspondence back that they really love the tools. The Magazines Canada portal allows clients to submit their ads to multiple publications across many different publishers. They can scale their ads, do a number of things to their ads. It gives them this freedom to do one upload and send it to several publications.

We do get the occasional advertiser who thinks that it’s a pain or they don’t quite see their own benefits. For those people, we’ll call them directly. The tools that are on the publisher’s side of the portal allow us to view what our clients are doing on a dashboard. So we can see who’s having a problem and call them. We’ll talk them through it. That’s usually enough to give them the kind of education that they need to navigate the portal, and then the next time they’re fine.

INBOX: How can publishers better take advantage of all the capabilities of digital ad portals going forward?
GARLAND: If there’s a utopia that publishers want to work towards, it’s truly moving to a fully digital flow of information, starting with the insertion order from advertising agencies to place that ad in a digital format to having everything flow in to the publisher in a digital format. It’s a huge opportunity to capitalize on the benefits of what a digital work flow can do, and certainly an ad portal is a huge part of that.

One of the things we believe agencies want is a one-stop shop, rather than having scads of FTP sites or multiple ad portals which they have to keep track of depending on publications. Truly give them a one-stop shop, a place where they can upload one file and have that distributed across multiple titles across multiple publishers. That, too, has got an advantage of ease of use for the magazine medium.

Everybody’s concerned when you change something for advertisers. But I remember when I was presenting our business case, presenting a chart that showed people the number of FTP sites, passwords and URLs that we have active here at St. Joseph Media. We had no less than 30 active FTP addresses for delivery of advertising material. And we’re certainly not the biggest publisher. I can just imagine how many delivery addresses than an agency or any advertiser would have to keep track of. A one-stop shop has to be easier.