The Production ‘Traffic Cop’
Last year, we moved our ad closing seven days closer to our printing date, a move much appreciated by our advertising department. When we made this move, I communicated how tighter ad-close deadlines limit flexibility, and we established clear guidelines for contingencies. We have a firm closing date for ad sales, and we paginate our magazine the next day. If warranted, we establish “contingency plans” for replacing one to two edit pages with ads, or vice versa. This frees our editors and designers to start “finishing” the issue. If we’re waiting on any late materials, we also schedule a later date to finalize pagination of full-page ads. As we get closer to our printing date, we eliminate and/or revise contingencies. I don’t hide the fact that we can make changes very late in the process, but I also honestly communicate the increased risk to quality and the potential cost involved.
For example: If we change this page by Tuesday, we’ll take it through our normal processes, and it will cost us only the expense of an extra proof. If we change this page on Wednesday, we’ll have to approve an online proof and so-and-so won’t get to see it because they’re on vacation. If we change this page on Thursday, we’ll have to pay for new plates to be made. If we change this page on Friday, we’ll have to track down all the trucks, buy some more paper, and print the whole thing again—but yes, it can be done.
As technology advances, we may be able to shave more days from the production schedule. But should we? Probably not. Haste makes waste, and your sales staff won’t be able to sell a mistake-prone publication—no matter how much “extra” time they have.
I agree very much with Eric’s points—especially about communicating honestly about capabilities and risks at given points in the process. I often equate magazine-production management with being a medical doctor. We can, and often do, quietly pull off miracles in which ads, not lives, are saved, but any intervention involving a “stressed” ad introduces risks, not the least of which is human error.