Deciding whether to outsource design services is more than weighing the cost


Design services are vital in the publishing industry. And one of the ways publishers are choosing to get their vital ads built and pages crafted is outsourcing the entire creative process. However it is crucial to evaluate first the advantages and disadvantages before deciding to outsource.

“For so many years, our industry did not prioritize good ad design. Because we had such dominance, we simply positioned ourselves as distribution methods for other's creative work. Inserts and prepress came in already designed, and a good percentage of ads came through agencies,” said Mike Blinder, publisher, Editor & Publisher. “Today, we need to become more focused on the message as we sell marketing services across all media channels. The best way to sell those services is in a consultive sales process, where that is everything,” he continued.

Historically, the publishing industry has relied on pre-designed ads and design collateral. A shift is happening in the industry, showing the importance of messaging and how it differs across media channels. That is where bringing in an expert can help to simplify the process.

“Whether it’s print or digital, outsourcing design services, whether for ads or editorial, cuts production costs significantly and also allows publishers, particularly those in small to medium-sized markets, to access a highly talented pool of creative designers who might not be available to work on their publications ordinarily. I don’t foresee the demise of print; we’re seeing a reimagining of the print product to become more relevant to our times, much as radio had to adapt with the invention of television,” said Howard Barbanel, executive vice president of Design2Pro.

Design2Pro is an off-site design organization that assists E&P with outsourcing design needs. Collaborating with Design2Pro and similar organizations provides the advantage of tapping into the expertise of skilled and imaginative designers who can assist in simplifying the in-house design process. Furthermore, working with an off-site designer removes some overhead costs from the design process.

“In-house, you have full payroll costs plus the added burden of employer taxes, insurance, benefits, procurement, maintenance and upgrading of hardware and software. There are also issues of employee supervision, retention, motivation, reliability, turnover, recruitment and training. All of this disappears when subcontracting design and production services,” Barbanel said.

While outsourcing design services has clear advantages, there are also some challenges. Some common challenges that might arise are the loss of control over certain design aspects, communication challenges and potential issues related to quality control. These can significantly impact the project’s overall outcome and must be addressed proactively. Dealing with challenges is inevitable for any project. Taking the necessary precautions may limit the fallout caused by changes and ensure the success of design campaigns.

Mike Blinder, publisher, Editor & Publisher

“You have to create a concept first with a designer, whether they are in the same room with you or overseas like the ones we work with at E&P. We go through our stocks of clip art services first and suggest the campaign, color and messaging. You cannot just tell a designer, ‘They want to sell this widget; come up with something creative.’ As the media representative, you must be part of that process,” said Blinder.

As with many endeavors, communication is critical. When publications actively engage in the design process, they can maintain authority over the final product to ensure quality control. By communicating regularly with the designers, publications can ensure their vision is accurately translated into the final product. This collaboration helps maintain the integrity of the publication's brand and ensures that the finished product meets the highest standards of quality.

“Staff communication and training are critical to ensuring a successful and smooth transition to subcontracted remote design work, and we can help provide this. A key question publishers should ask is, ‘Can we pick up the phone and speak with our designers whenever we need to?’ And also if their customer service is on U.S. time along with whether the service provider in question will adapt to their systems and schedules,” explained Barbanel.

“There can be staff pushback on changing design methods from systems that may have been in place 30-40 years or more to something remote and cloud-based. Switching to outsourced design requires retraining for editorial and ad salespeople and making them comfortable with working remotely,” Barbanel continued.

Challenges aside, using an off-site designer for design services can be the right financial move for many publications, most notably in the cost-savings department.

“A typical publication will save 50% to 75% of their pre-press production costs by subcontracting this work. With our company, editors and publishers always have the same designers and project managers assigned to them for consistency and continuity as though our designers were working just for them,” Barbanel said.

Outsourcing design services can be a cost-effective solution for many publications. With the use of technology, it is now easier than ever to collaborate with remote designers. This means you can hire a designer from anywhere in the world and still receive high-quality work.

When considering ways to bring costs down, publications may consider outsourcing design to ensure the long-term sustainability of the publication. While it can be a difficult decision to outsource design work, it may be necessary to keep the costs down without sacrificing quality.

“In-house design is a significant net dollar drain that is an inefficient use of precious revenue in this time of newspaper retrenchment and economizing to maintain viability. Publishers are also faced with large price hikes for printing and delivery and need to find ways to bring other cost centers down,” explained Barbanel.       

Ultimately, the decision to outsource or keep design services in-house should be based on the specific needs and goals of the publication. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages thoroughly and establishing open communication with the outsourcing team can lead to a successful and beneficial partnership.

Kirsten Staples is a contributing writer for Editor & Publisher. She can be reached at kstaples0329@gmail.com.


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