Publishing Executive Hall of Fame: John Blanchard—Not Afraid of the 'What-Ifs’'
From computer-to-plate to conceiving ad portals to workflow automation and beyond, he has the smarts, the charm and the energy to do whatever it takes," says Alan Snyder, prepress operations manager at Fry Communications Inc., of 2009 Publishing Executive Hall of Fame inductee John Blanchard. "He has no fears of what-ifs, and can easily asses a value in a process—or opportunity."
Blanchard is the vice president of operations at international business-to-business publisher Reed Business Information (RBI), and is no stranger to maximizing efficiency and automating everything that can be automated. In fact, he learned to think "efficiency" early on in his career.
"I spent 20-plus years in the consumer packaging industry—everything from graphic design and creating artwork to overseeing engraving and printing of consumer packaging products throughout North America," says Blanchard. "A lot of the work that I did … was [with a] heavy emphasis on efficiency, automation—basic manufacturing principles that we were very comfortable with in the manufacturing arena. Bringing that to the development and production of magazines helped in terms of improving the sophistication in how we [ran] that business.
"Once I got involved in [publishing], I really developed a love and a passion for it," he says.
Blanchard's association with RBI began 11 years ago, as a consultant in the prepress area in the company's Chicago office. He worked his way up through management positions, starting as operations manager of the Chicago division and eventually expanding his purview to include the offices of Variety and other entertainment properties on the West Coast. His team now handles central production, prepress, creative services, distribution, procurement and fulfillment services for Reed's many business units nationwide.
"That has now grown to include electronic business, as we support all of the advertising activity for our Web sites and newsletters, and various other online properties," he says.
Blanchard's 11-year tenure at RBI encapsulates the momentous changes that have occurred in magazine production over the last decade. "When I started, we were generating pages on QuarkXPress, making film and cross-checking film to laser printouts …," he recalls. "Now we are fully digital. We have very sophisticated content management systems and workflow governance systems that regulate all of our interdepartmental activity in order to produce high-quality products."
Innovations shepherded by Blanchard while at RBI include the transition to an all-digital workflow, the use of ad portals for materials collection, highly efficient page deliveries, deployment of a collaborative editorial workflow system and the automation of processes in collaboration with print vendors. "Managing the vendor chain and seeing the whole process from end to end was very key," he notes.
It is his focus on quality and efficiency, both in the realm of big-picture strategy and individual projects, that most impresses Blanchard's peers.
"I have worked with [and] for John for the past eight to nine years here at Reed. He is an innovative, smart, dynamic manager who gets things done," says Paula Gordon, RBI's director of operations. "Many of the advancements that we have been able to make in regards to technology [and] easing the production process have been under John's leadership. He is constantly looking at new, better ways to get the job done in a more profitable and efficient way. But the key here is that he not only looks at new technologies, but works with the day-to-day people to see how these technologies fit into the workflow and then applies the right technologies to get the job done. This quality is what makes him a strong innovator and leader."
Blanchard is proud of his efforts to improve customer interface by creating a single point of contact for sales and contracts, but he is perhaps most satisfied with efficiency improvements, including working with print vendors to achieve a mutually beneficial, streamlined process.
Snyder says Blanchard's efforts to streamline advertising, editorial and print production workflows are a model for the industry, and notes that Reed's ad-submission portal, ads4reed, garnered Blanchard an Innovator of the Year award from BtoB Magazine.
"… We have taken on very large-scale projects together and have shared in their success," says Snyder.
Blanchard also chaired for two years American Business Media's production and manufacturing technology committee, which addresses topics of print manufacturing, co-mailing, distribution and postal issues, publication workflow systems, content management and Web operations.
As for current challenges, Blanchard says his job is to continuously refine and retool operations within the recessionary environment, preparing the company for growth when the economy revives. "Automate where we can automate, consolidate where we can continue to consolidate, and outsource," he says.
No one project or initiative stands out to Blanchard as the definitive achievement of his career at RBI, thus far. Instead, he says, it is rising to "the continued challenge of rightsizing this business in line with the cyclical nature of b-to-b advertising to ensure that everybody gets what they need," he says. "That we provide high-quality products for our customers and services without interruption as we've managed through the peaks and valleys … of the advertising business. I think that's what stands out the most."
Michael Cohen, director of manufacturing and distribution purchasing at Reed Business Information, calls Blanchard a "visionary leader."
"Hall of Fame inductees should have made a significant impact to their business and the industry," says Cohen. "John has managed a business through good times and, most recently, in very challenging times. He has 'reinvented our wheel'—and continues to do so—treats employees with respect and encourages people to learn new skills.
"John is a strong leader who has a clear vision of the operations role and processes that need to be in place to contribute to the company's success," he adds, "and he has made a significant impact on the structure and cost basis of our operations. I can't think of anyone more deserving of being inducted into the Hall of Fame."
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