Broad perspective at America East p.9

By: Lucia Moses and Jim Rosenberg

In its venue, program, and trade show, this past week’s America East conference reflected a broader, more unified approach to the newspaper business. The annual event in Hershey, Pa., enters the next century leaving no aspect of industry operations unexamined, from editorial and advertising to human relations and health and safety to high-tech applications for print and online products.
The convention hall is larger, with all exhibitors on the same floor. The conference, with a program bigger and more diverse than ever, drew more than 1,130 registrants, down from 1,218 last year, and 152 exhibitors, up 20 from last year.
One session alone exemplified the evolution of a conference that for years concentrated on production; it may also herald a change at newspapers themselves. Three Knight Ridder executives, all Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. veterans with production-management experience, exhorted peers to see their roles in a broader context and put their capabilities at the service of other departments, particularly in marketing their papers and serving readers. It is a message corporate production director Mike Mayo says should become a part of all future conferences on production.
Pat McHugh, publisher of The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and for five years Philadelphia’s production chief, says a wider focus transformed a traditional manufacturing operation into a nimble marketing team that even helped sell a reluctant Nordstrom’s. Production is often now the retailer’s first call for questions or problems.
“We partnered with sales reps on sales calls” and contacted lapsed subscribers, learning why some customers turn away from newspapers, says McHugh.
He says production exploited every free and cheap way to improve customer relations. Among them: taking control of plant tours, especially for children; opening meeting rooms to civic and business groups; encouraging community involvement by staffers and contributing to causes and events; sponsoring a race car and crew that also led to employee incentives, new subscriptions, news coverage, and “a hell of a lot of fun”; launching a profitable commercial printing venture; even opening an art gallery. “The team was willing to accept the notion that if we’re not an extension of marketing, we’re not really bringing value to the people who employ us,” McHugh concludes.
Among strictly technical sessions was an examination of shaftless presses, the many potential benefits to operations and the printed products, the new, more sophisticated knowledge needed by service technicians, and factors to be considered in choosing a shaftless press. KBA technology vice president Jan Lindstrom says the many possible benefits include fewer obstructions, easier operation, better performance during speed changes, improved registration, easier press extension, better folder control, elimination of oil leaks, lower energy consumption, and simpler failure recovery.
Factors to be considered in choosing couple shaftless, level/unit shaftless, or motor-per-tower shaftless drive systems include operational security, web stretch compensation, elimination of vertical shafts, tower register compensation, independent plating, elimination of register assemblies and, for flexo, gain adjustment. Another choice, one that directly impacts mean time to failure, according to Lindstrom, is the manner of motor-to-cylinder/ roller connection: belt, indirect, or direct.
Executives from Indramat drives integrator and OEM supplier J.L. Souser & Associates detailed the complexities of the drive systems and control-communication networks, calling the thin fiber-optic bundle “really the key to the success of shaftless.” They went on to elaborate on relatively simple and modular repairs and the ruggedness of the enclosed servo motors, while cautioning that servicing has moved from Ohmeters to oscilliscopes.
The session concluded with a description of Goss Graphic Systems’ installation of shaftless four-color towers in existing mechanical-shaft press lines and the integration of the different press controls at the two print sites of the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger.
To promote the idea of improved service to “shared customers,” says John Shimkonis, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. commercial printing manager, “we stole this idea from the Boston Globe”: bring together at the newspaper’s plant all its outside suppliers of special-products ? from TV booklets to freestanding inserts ? and representatives of the trucking companies that transport the products. PNI shared its perspective on where advertising is headed and how advertisers can be helped. The result, he says, is “good, strong relationships with our [outside] printers.”
Advertising, production, and preprint handling managers shared their concerns with suppliers in the hope of improving products and services for advertisers by avoiding packaging and delivery problems, as well as poorly designed materials that cause inserting failures. The first “Printer’s Day” event allowed the paper to show its partners real problems in everything from skids to bills. A “wall of shame” strategically erected next to the coffee and snacks exhibited every kind of bad skid received over the course of several years.
Many outside printers used the company’s second Printers Day “as a training ground for their people,” says Shimkonis, noting that Treasure Chest advertising alone sent two vanloads of personnel. The same was true for PNI, whose staffers were brought in to help boost the quality of in-house work. PNI is set for a third Printers Day, which it hopes will include agency media buyers, “who need to know what works and what doesn’t work” before creating, buying, and shipping products to newspapers, says Shimkonis.
It’s no small matter. PNI handled about a billion inserts in 1997, about 1.1 billion last year, and already is 28 million ahead of last year’s volume at this time. Because “there’s no sign of it stopping,” Shimkonis urged his counterparts to do whatever possible to improve relations with outside print suppliers in order to satisfy each other and their shared customers.
Advertising concerns, however, were hardly limited to ink on paper. Making money online was a recurring theme throughout 12 new media conference sessions, as newspapers shared and sought advice on improving their young Internet ventures. Session speaker Kevin McCourt, director of real estate advertising and online classifieds at the Newspaper Association of America, suggested that newspapers capitalize on readers’ comfort level with their print versions and use logos to tie their online classifieds with the print version. On the display side, Hugh McGoran, online advertising manager for PNI’s Philadelphia Online, told ad managers that keeping banner ads fresh and interactive can help avoid “banner burn” ? when viewers fail to click through banner ads.
Online ventures: should they be integrated or separate-but-equal? Some newspapers argue that integrating the online venture with existing departments makes it easier to work with advertisers; others advocate a separate online department to allow for better flexibility. Consultant Kathleen Criner told a session audience that most newspapers choose a middle ground, but keynote speaker Mark Walsh, whose company, VerticalNet, operates online trade sites, preached spin-offs run by non-newspaper people and operating free from profit concerns.
On the human resource side, Philadelphia employment lawyer Bruce Kasten told executives how they should react to significant Supreme Court rulings of the past year. Having a sexual harassment policy isn’t enough. Employers need to make sure their policies cover all protected categories and to thoroughly train employees. Be on the safe side and go beyond the law’s requirements, he said.

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