With Silos Down, a New 'Church and State' Is Starting to Form

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"Publishing is, or should be, a quiet operation, and it was Fleischmann's talent to make it almost inaudible. From the first, he was convinced that the separation of the editorial and the business sides of the magazine had to be complete: no disingenuous management requests for editorial mention of an important advertiser's product, no publisher's protests against an article that might offend a prominent client—no pressures, overt or hidden."

That quote came from a 1969 appreciation in The New Yorker written by Gardner Botsford for Raoul Fleischmann who in 1925 with Harold Ross as his editor published the first issue of The New Yorker. (I think my mother started subscribing around 20 years later and never stopped.)

That would make church and state at least almost 100 years old, and I have a feeling it's much older than that. But, of course, in the words of that Nobel Prize laureate Bob Dylan, "The times they are a-changin'."

Business and editorial must work together today in most situations to max out dollars from various enterprises, be it events, sponsored reports, webinars, podcasts, etc. And yet, most people drenched in editorial responsibilities do still adhere to some type of church-state division. Maggie Miller, content marketing director for a division of Informa called KNect365, told me recently that they prefer to use freelancers to write copy for their sponsored reports to keep their editorial staff pure, so to speak.

Process-improvement expert Kilian Schalk led a recent webcast for the American Society of Business Publication Editors in which he suggested ways to achieve better communication between editorial and business. He conducted 13 off-the-record conversations with publishers and said it led him to three conclusions:

  1. Advertising as a threat to editorial integrity is still a problem;
  2. Church and State may no longer be the best way to handle this problem; and
  3. There are a few alternate ideas out there, as well as a willingness to try new things.

Writes Schalk in an ASBPE post: "A new ethical system could describe, among other things: how branded content should be handled; how financials could be shared; and how to manage sales calls—not to mention how to deal with the moving target of readers' expectations for each new channel, and how that impacts content creation."

At last year's SIPA Annual, Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications, said that he "needs editors doing some different things than they used to." Editors are required to talk to five renewals, five new leads and five cancelled members every month. "We've picked up 3% of cancelled members by doing this," Cuthbert said at the time. "If I can save 5-10 members a month, that's thousands of dollars."

Cuthbert wants sales to give editorial actionable information so "they can sound as intelligent as possible to our customers. I want sales to talk in an open way about what's working and what isn't. What were customers asking for that we couldn't serve?" And it goes the other way as well. He wants editorial telling sales, "Here's what we're hearing—a big trend in xyz."

This sounds like the type of new model that Schalk is pushing for. Similarly, in their report released a year ago, The New York Times wrote that "the newsroom and our product teams should work together more closely... Each group needs a better understanding of what the other does."

Here Comes Data

Schalk finishes his article by talking about data. "Perhaps a joint pilot group could develop, test and implement a new system. In time, the conversation might extend to considering ways to handle data for the mutual benefit of both publishing and editorial—a different means to the same end of safeguarding editorial integrity to cultivate loyal readers."

One SIPA member is way out in front on this. Data has allowed Panacea Healthcare Solutions to break down some of the silos and bring the staff together to make better decisions on their products. "We're the product of a merge," Angela Kornegor, senior VP of publishing and education, said a year ago. "We've got data and information siloed all over the place. So a lot of what we do is manual, but we have a great team that is very analytical and very curious. When you get an analytical and curious staff together, they start to dig, and they start to dig and find."

This leads to a collaborative approach for their different product lines. So for, say, radiology, monthly meetings involve customer care people, technical auditors, sales, editorial, marketing and product development.

Just yesterday I wrote about The American Institute of Architects' reliance on subject matter experts in their new product process. Moving forward it will be fascinating to see publishers manage the balance between the necessity of departments crossing over vs. the importance of keeping that audience trust.  

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…