How to Think Like a Publisher

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In 1982 I joined Ziff Davis publishing company in a special group that Bill Ziff set up to figure out how to migrate his print publishing empire into electronic publishing. This experience fundamentally changed my thinking and my life path. It taught me how to think like a publisher.

Content marketing thought leaders today are regularly instructing us to think like a publisher. When I ask people to explain what this really means and, more importantly, how they would create content like publishers, they typically respond with blank stares.

Those familiar with the way many websites are supported by content management systems have some familiarity with this concept. But this doesn’t inform the creation process.

How does the CMS analogy help our understanding of creating like publishers? Publishers separate the major tasks involved in producing finished work products. The database is key to this approach.

A content management system is a database that stores source content that populates website templates. This makes it faster and easier to change content on websites by simply changing content in the database. It reduces website maintenance costs by lowering required technical competencies.

Typical stages in the creation process are:

  • Acquire (source information or knowledge)
  • Edit into small modular segments
  • Store source assets in database
  • Design delivery templates (magazine formats, websites)
  • Use editorial process to write timely stories (scripts)
  • Layout and assemble work products
  • Complete physical work product or deliverable (website, doc, video, etc.)

Contrast this with a typical business production process. In most cases, whether we’re producing a letter, presentation, brochure, video, etc. we take what I call a “point production” approach. We create a single work product or for a single purpose.

Usually one individual or group perform the work in each stage, or skip stages that don’t apply to a production process. For simple content environments, such as when content explains specific company or product factors, this works just fine.

Publishers disaggregate these functions. Each stage is a function that can be performed independently. This allows special resources and processes to be applied. It brings speed, economies and higher quality to each stage of the process — not unlike specialization on the manufacturing floor.

But today’s challenges of producing customer relevant content significantly raises complexity. In order to be able to tailor content to make it relevant by roles/personas, business issues, buying stages, industry factors, and competitive factors, we must produce significantly more content, and build it in different ways.

We must also produce content for multiple media or delivery methods: print, audio, video, electronic on web and mobile for example.

Here is a resource for more information about creating content like a publisher and for detailed processes for each of the above stages.