Independent Publishers Thinking Deeply About Staffing in the 21st Century

More than 80 independent publishers attending this week’s MPA-IMAG Leadership Conference for Independent Publishers in New York City were thinking deeply about staffing and the challenges they face in “getting the right people on the bus.”

For publishers who embrace multi-platform, media-agnostic publishing, staffing takes on a whole new meaning. New media job descriptions are much more robust than traditional roles and often present a challenge for people who still “think in print.”

From panel to panel and speaker to speaker, the underlying theme at IMAG was clear: in order to run a successful 21st century publishing company, our people must value flexibility and innovation in the workplace.

In a panel titled “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” Tom Winsor, President, Belvoir Equine Group said, “We are information providers, not magazine publishers.” Winsor talked about the challenge publishers sometimes face when deciding whether they should “go cheap” and hire the $40,000 newbie or dig deeper in their pockets and spend the $80,000 required to get the right skills for the job.

In another panel titled “The Independent Publisher’s Relationship With Editors,” Bryan Welch, Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, Inc., talked about getting editors to set aside their tendency toward perfection and understand the business needs of the company as a whole.

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“We must work very hard at making our editors enthusiastic,” said Welch. “Editors tend to polish things until they’re perfect, but in this business, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.”

It appears the larger consumer publishers are also facing similar staffing challenges.

Kristin van Ogtrop, Managing Editor of Real Simple, speaking on a panel titled “Editorial Leadership for a Multi-channel Brand,” explained how Real Simple employees view their business as a hub-and-spoke model.

The magazine is their hub, while all the other aspects of the business, including books, products, international editions and their new TV program on PBS are seen as the spokes.

“Our staffing is like a Rubik’s Cube,” said van Ogtrop. “We’ll have someone working on the magazine for six to nine months, then we’ll move them into one of the other spokes of the business.”

This way, ideas stay fresh and get circulated throughout the various business units. This helps promote a consistent voice and brand culture across all platforms.

For some publishers, biting the bullet and spending the extra $40,000 to hire a more experienced person is the right move. For others, “hiring young” seems to be the right fit, as younger staff members tend to have a better understanding of new media.

What I’ve learned is that age and/or experience are not the most important factors.

Rather, flexibility, passion, evolution and innovation must be valued and supported by every single employee working in a new media environment.

Learn more about the MPA and IMAG.

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