The commercial feasibility of advertising-subsidized publishing was first demonstrated by Cyrus and Louisa Knapp Curtis, a husband-and-wife duo who, in the late 19th century, turned the Ladies' Home Journal into the most widely read (and profitable) magazine in America. By shifting the source of publishing revenues from its readers to its advertisers, the Curtis Publishing Company—as it came to be known—planted the seed for the magazine model of the 20th century with an operating method that is still being used by consumer and trade publications today.
In the new economy, defined by dot-com fall-out, agencies and publishers have had to reconsider their marriage based on technology. For instance, a publisher without a definitive plan on digital ad acceptance is faced with the question of how to integrate multiple file formats into a single, cohesive workflow. And as the notion of the prepress shop disappears, the importance of file standards increases. In fact, many publishers admit defeat in soliciting ad formats from agencies that satisfy operational workflows, causing production departments to develop new standards.
At Red Herring, digital ad acceptance is outlined up front, specifying TIFF/IT-P1 as the preferred file format. The publisher also recommends that "all fonts, graphics, color information and traps must be embedded in the supplied digital files." Whereas other publications, such as Advance, a trade magazine for the medical management community, request digital ads be submitted via Adobe Acrobat PDF files and even native application formats—including Quark and PhotoShop—it proves that among many agencies and publishers, there exists no single course of action.
Getting on the same page
Linda Manes Goodwin, president of Manes Goodwin Associates, is a long-time proponent of standardization between publishing and advertising worlds. She warns that publishers should consider the following rules of thumb even before agencies are courted: create digital ad specifications, actively solicit digital ad materials and educate advertisers and agencies.
She also adds that agencies must understand the importance of shaping digital relationships with publishers' regulations in mind. In the interim, regular phone calls, periodic visits and technical communications will initiate dialogue and good digital practices. And while most successful agencies excel in client relationships, they do not always recognize the value of building relationships with publishers. Because this is a high-tech age, it is increasingly important to outline transactional prerogatives among a wider variety of partners, be it agencies, publishers and even those fading prepress houses.
A group effort
Digital Ad Lab (DAL) promotes standardization in cooperation with agencies, including Saatchi and Saatchi and McCann Erikson; publishers Time, The Hearst Corporation, Hachette Filipacchi and Forbes; prepress suppliers NEC, AGT and Image Axis; and printers Quebecor, World Color and Quad. The independent group is responsible for the initial digital ad case studies published as early as 1997. Since then, DAL pursues digital proofing improvement projects, standardizes digital ad workflows and benchmarks PDF-X file formats. At www.digitaladlab.com, free downloads are available for TIFF/IT-PI viewer from Rorke and CreoScitex's Synapse demo, a PDF workflow automation tool that has been widely implemented between publishers and agencies.
Barbara Mathieson, production director at Hammock Publishing, says laying down digital ad rules saves money and time. "The TIFF-ITs that we have received from agencies—though few—have worked perfectly at the printer," she notes. "Our second choice is preflighted native files in Mac format with all the supporting images and fonts. The files we get from major agencies are usually correct."
Even though Hammock has set file standards, compromise is key. Mathieson admits, "We will take any format for an ad, including PC format or film. We have rebuilt ads for some of our trucking industry clients. Ads are coming to us better prepared. Agencies especially are flightchecking their ads to insure that the fonts and images are complete." But Mathieson notes, "We did get a low-res image on an ad for our last issue of MyBusiness, which we had to run. The ad will repeat in the next issue and I've asked the advertiser to supply a new image, as I've seen it run hi-res in other magazines."
Recently, Hammock added a publication, Best of MyBusiness, which will be published next year. She explains that "a later due date [will be given] to advertisers who supply TIFF-ITs."
In defense of the agency
Frank Scott, vice president and director research at GATF agrees that standards pay. "I feel the publisher has to set specifications—what does it want (file formats, resolution, etc.)—and the agency should supply it," says Scott. "It is the publisher who has to make sure its specs are good, reasonable and clear, and needs to verify that the files it receives meet the specs. The agency or prepress supplier needs to supply good SWOP-certified proofs from the digital files and make sure the files also meet the specs, including resolution, color space, trim bleed and live area."
He also champions, "I think accepting accredited standard file formats, such as TIFF-IT and PDF/X helps in several ways. First, standard file formats provide an even playing field. And if they are well implemented, this provides a wide choice of systems and workflows. Second, it allows the seamless transfer of the files from one person or system to another. Third, it improves the efficiencies of workflow. As people start accepting the PDF/X file format, they can create complete workflows for both edit and ads, with the same benefits as TIFF-IT. I think this is also true at the agency, all they have to do is create the digital ad in one file format, instead of the multiple ways they have to today."
Recounting his own experiences, Scott explains, "When I was at Time Inc., we started the Digital Ad program by only accepting TIFF/IT and PostScript files. This made the job of accepting files and processing them much easier."
But the success or failure of any publisher/agency relationship is as contingent on the strength of its cooperation as the depth of its expertise. A good media plan and killer creative can impress a client and create a successful campaign, but how that content is delivered to the publisher reflects the quality of the end product reaching print. Ultimately, it is the cooperative level of service that creates satisfied print for advertisers wanting to promote and publishers needing to please. It was as true for Ladies Home Journal more than a century ago as it is today.
Scott adds, the golden rule in the ad world is simple: "Communicate. Communicate. Communicate."
-Natalie Hope McDonald