International Newspaper Group and E&P to Honor Operations ‘All-Stars’

As part of the 2020 International Newspaper Group (ING) Leadership Networking Summit, ING and E&P have agreed to collaborate on the first annual ING/E&P Operations All Star Excellence Awards, kicking off a powerful partnership. The Summit is scheduled for Sept. 18 to 20 in Chicago.

According to Steve Mattingly, ING program chairman and senior vice president of Southern Lithoplate, the awards will celebrate both current and emerging print centric operational leaders.

When Mattingly and Mark Hall, ING president and regional manufacturing director for Postmedia Network Inc., presented the concept to the ING board of directors, they received unanimous approval. As this project rolls out, ING will work closely with E&P publisher Mike Blinder to firm up details for the award presentation and post award celebration at the upcoming Summit.

E&P is excited to partner with ING to ignite the marketplace with current, highly relevant content centering on best practices, networking, and idea exchange driven from operational excellence,” Blinder said regarding the collaboration. “For over 100 years, E&P has been the primary source for information for this essential and important part of the news publishing business. Now more than ever we believe it is important for us to be the voice for those who focus on operations.”

Blinder has pledged updates and coverage in the magazine throughout the roll-out and into conclusion of the program. Both he and Mattingly will work together to promote the program and gain additional support from sponsors.

Award parameters will be announced this month. This announcement will be followed by initiating the awards search and compiling entries, confirming those entries and then reviewing nominations early in the third quarter of 2020. Winners will be presented their awards at the Summit on Sept. 19, followed by a celebratory wrap-up feature to be published in E&P.

Mark Hall

“ING 2019 was such a success, we know we are on the right track for location, time of year and overall program content and structure,” Hall said. “Our goal is to ensure print leaders have full access to true best in class ideas and networks to ensure their personal and professional contributions are fully optimized. Therein is the momentum.”

As an operations executive, it’s particularly exciting to me as well to see this effort in recognizing the contributions that production and operations have made throughout the years and continue to make to our industry. Many areas of the industry strive to be recognized with awards specific to their area. Newspapers around the country proudly display Pulitzer Prizes for their exceptional journalism. There are awards for breaking news, investigative reporting, photography, editorial cartoons—the list goes on. But the focus this new award puts on the operations area is long overdue and will lead to renewed enthusiasm by many in this critical department of the industry.

While taking nothing away from the many well-deserved accolades bestowed on other departments, this award will recognize the accomplishments of operations individuals who contribute to print profits through their operational excellence, innovation and sustainability of our industry.

Based on my extensive personal experience in production and operations, I decided to put together some thoughts from my own perspective as to the benefits I see with this partnership.

Many years ago, production personnel networked and traded best practices, evolving technology and other print-centric information at the annual NEXPO conference. For years, production leadership and hardworking individuals from every aspect of production/operations shared their experiences and exchanged ideas at these conferences. In their heyday, the shows presented an opportunity to discuss issues with vendors face-to-face and review their latest and greatest offerings.

If something wasn’t going just right in your shop, you were able sit down with your peers or a vendor and come away with a solution, or at least a great idea to take away and try when you returned to your own shop.

Many of the discussions we shared at NEXPO not only contributed to the enhancement of our processes, but they also allowed us to improve quality and find new and innovative ways to save money and contribute to the overall health and profitability of our franchises.

Then the NEXPO conferences simply stopped, and as a result, many of the opportunities to network and develop our trade through collaborative efforts with our peers and vendors stopped as well.

From my perspective, ING has not only done an excellent job of filling the void for production and operations personnel, but it has expanded on past conferences with new and dynamic speakers, enhanced informational forums, expanded vendor participation—once again providing us with the opportunity to network and share experiences with peers and vendors in a comfortable and organized professional conference setting.

Most, if not all, major vendors attend the ING Summit. Now, with this new awards ceremony, there’s just one more reason to attend.

The ING Leadership Networking Summit gathers production and operations leaders from around the country. This year’s show will feature the first annual Operations All Star Excellence Awards. (Photo provided)

As budgets have been trimmed over the years at most of our properties, some leaders have questioned the logic of going to the ING Summit or any conference related to operations. This question came up in an article I wrote on my preview of the 2019 ING Summit. I stick to the statement from that article that if a newspaper operations executive can walk away with just one idea or recommendation they can implement back home, the cost should be viewed as an investment with a credible ROI, rather than an entertainment expense.

Let’s move on to new ideas to enhance revenue and implementation of new revenue streams.

Throughout the years many of us have been reminded that production is “a service department.” While I subscribe to that thought to a degree, a few years ago this all seemed to change. I’m not exactly sure when it did, but over the last five years or so, when a franchise is looking for new ideas to increase revenue for core publications, reduce expenses and enhance efficiencies, production and operations have a front row seat at the table. Many of the ideas we present and develop can be shared with our peers at the ING Summit and rolled out to our industry.

Also, our commitment to quality continues to grow over the years. We have always concentrated on delivering the highest possible quality on all our newspaper products; quality is an important part of maintaining our subscriber base and securing the confidence of our advertisers. As margins from our core publications grown thin, many franchises today survive on commercial revenue. In order to maintain and grow our commercial print opportunities, we need a strong focus on quality and cost savings. ING presents a solid base for sharing our ideas and seeking help with any quality challenges we may have. Sharing our strengths and seeking help on our shortfalls in quality is to some a reason alone to attend the ING Summit.

Bringing E&P into the mix and developing an award that recognizes the efforts of production/operations leaders just makes sense. Not only does ING offer benefits to our industry, but the collaboration between ING and E&P on this award is the start of something big.

 

Opportunities for Entry Level Labor in 2020

I’m thankful the holidays are over. Yes, holidays can be fun, but it’s not that much fun on the production side of the industry. The mailroom takes it especially hard. It’s a two-to three-month period in which we’re working 80 hours some weeks and still not catching up with all the preprints flowing in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the revenue, but not much else. Weekends away from family, holiday shopping in the middle of the night, a stale bag of chips for dinner—bah humbug.

For production workers in our industry, it’s a badge of honor to make it out the other end.

But, where would we be without it? I’m betting we all know the answer to that. I’m thankful for each preprint that hits our door. Despite the naysayers, newspapers continue to have a stronghold with advertisers for holiday preprints.

To make it through these challenging times, we need a strong team of players and of course the usual compliment of temporary labor. Trouble is the pool of qualified workers—and even some not so very qualified—continue to challenge mailrooms around the country for multiple reasons. If you have an answer to reversing this trend, you’re one up on me.

Just about any big box store you go into has a sign out front for help wanted. The starting hourly pay for many entry level positions is $13/$14 in most areas and even higher in larger cities and states with a healthier minimum wage.

Throughout my career I’ve functioned in virtually every position from inserter to general manager. I’ve sat at the “big table” and clearly understand what many of our companies are going through. I’ve seen the steady decline in print revenue, and I understand that paying 50 percent more than we do now to our mailroom labor force to stay competitive with the big box stores would sink the ship quickly. With some properties hanging on the edge, it’s just not a wage we can afford and stay in the black.

So, what’s the solution? Is there a solution that works? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that what many newspapers are doing just isn’t working, such as can a higher hourly wage mean a more efficient worker? Most people perform to the degree we are willing to accept and nothing more. Sure, we have the occasional ambitious newbie who goes above and beyond on a daily basis and works their way to the top, but outside of that if we don’t ask for more effort, we’re not going to get it. Most of our laborers are not lazy but are just not performing to their highest level because often we don’t require more of them.

If you see potential in any line employee, take action that may allow them to gain rewards and for you to develop and retain a valuable employee regardless of the competitive wages in your area. While this may seem like an obvious path, to some organizations it may sound like the word “raise,” but it is not. It’s good old fashion staff development and a decent way to build a stable workforce by paying a competitive wage for stellar workmanship.

Put programs into place that encourage the concept of higher hourly wages for more efficient performance. i.e. if you have a worker who is comfortable loading one pocket on your inserter challenge them to load two or three. If you can develop a few of these all-stars soon, you’ll need less people on the line and get more done through these efficiencies. You should reward those individuals appropriately.

But this is just a small example. Stretch the quality people on your staff. Set up a formal goal program that outlines specific expectations and a timeframe for each. Detail beginning and end goals and go over the goals with your potential all-stars (then nominate them for the ING/E&P Operations All-Star Excellence Awards). Set high expectations and you may be surprised at what your folks can accomplish.

Jerry Simpkins has more than 30 years of experience in printing and operations in the newspaper industry. Contact him on LinkedIn.com or at simpkins@tds.net.

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