Against All Odds

On March 1, 2021, The McClatchy Company, a newspaper publisher founded in 1857, accomplished something remarkable. Despite a pandemic, financial restructuring, a sagging economy, and social upheaval, they made a radical transformation in sales and advertising operations. They accomplished this in just 7 months, across 30 markets, launching on time and with no disruption in operations. As a result, McClatchy set the stage to save millions of dollars a year.

This type of project is challenging in the best of times. How did McClatchy accomplish it in the worst of times? What made this a success despite the odds? What lessons can we take from this?

REPLACING A FRAGMENTED INFRASTRUCTURE

Over the course of several years, McClatchy had created a sales and advertising operations infrastructure that required the engagement and coordination of 9 vendors. The company was highly dependent on development resources to create custom solutions to make all these applications work together. Separate order management systems were required to support print and digital. There was no integration with the digital production system Google Ad Manager. All of this contributed to a fragmented infrastructure that was inefficient and expensive.

WHAT LED MCCLATCHY TO CHANGE?

McClatchy was motivated to change out of necessity. First, creating and supporting custom solutions led to an increasing level of complexity and cost that was not sustainable. Second, the challenges of supporting a network of newspapers and preserving professional journalism are well documented and like many companies, McClatchy was in search of solutions that could make an impact. Finally, the fragmented state of applications supporting the advertising and operations business needed to be centralized and vendor solutions existed that would meet this need.

MANAGEMENT’S MANDATE

Once the project received the “green light” McClatchy’s management team helped set the stage for success, making it clear that this project was one of the company’s highest priorities. Launching on March 1 was a necessity, not an option. There were significant financial consequences for NOT hitting the date which helped drive urgency. Management stressed the need to produce a solution that supported the business, while avoiding the complexity and customization that led to the problems in the first place.  They gave full autonomy and authority to the Project Manager, enabling them to make key decisions in real time, avoiding the need for a prolonged process of decision by committee.

This type of management support and messaging is critical to the success of projects that span all business units in a company. Without it, you may have a small group of dedicated individuals driving a project, without a corresponding sense of urgency from the rest of the company. Unless all parties are pulling oars in the same direction, the project will flounder. McClatchy made sure that did NOT happen.

VENDOR SOLUTIONS

The search for vendors to support this transformation began with an exacting RFP process. McClatchy’s business requirements were documented. Vendors were explicitly asked “Do you support this requirement today, or not? If it is not supported today, when do you expect it to be available to the publisher?” McClatchy knew what they were getting as well as any feature gaps that needed to be addressed. As the evaluation process came to a close, references were checked, interviews with other publishers were conducted, providing an added degree of confidence in the selections.

Lineup was selected to support sales and advertising operations. They supplied a platform that enabled McClatchy to consolidate the functions of several applications at launch. This includes CRM (replacing Salesforce), digital order management, print display management, general classified management, accounts receivable and invoicing functions. Soon, additional consolidation will be achieved by supporting pre-print (insert) functionality in Lineup, followed by support for programmatic.

IntegrationX was selected to support pagination layout. One of their key benefits was their existing integration with Lineup and with the downstream print production vendor CUE. With this selection, McClatchy was able to avoid costly and protracted custom integration work. And it allowed them to keep their focus on configuring the 30 publications that relied on these systems. 

In addition to technology, both vendors brought strong teams to the project. The Lineup account team was comprised of individuals who had detailed knowledge of the product, supported by deep and relevant industry experience. They went “above and beyond” as partners. Without this level of support and expertise, the deployment would not have succeeded.

Similarly, the IntegrationX team were subject matter experts in their field of pagination and layout in support of print. Quick to find solutions to problems, they were instrumental in insuring that on launch day, 30 publishers went to press without any interruption in production and distribution to customers.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

DMW MediaWorks ran the vendor review and selection process, vendor onboarding, project management, post-launch support and development. As mentioned, key to success here was management’s decision to place the responsibility for decision making squarely on the shoulders of the project manager. A team of 7 McClatchy stakeholders were designated covering the functions of CRM, ad products, workflow, digital and print integrations, business intelligence and finance. Bi-weekly meetings covered deliverables for the project as well as any risks and mitigation required to make course corrections. As the project reached the “final mile”, daily scrums were held to address issues in real time. The DMW team of two subject matter experts, had a collective 50 years of experience in managing projects focused on sales and advertising operations. Proving that it is not the number of people thrown at a project that determines its success, but whether they are the right people.

THE PEOPLE AT MCCLATCHY

The “X” factor in the success of this project were the people at McClatchy. It is not easy to pivot from being heavily invested in legacy applications (both financially and emotionally) – to embracing a brand-new platform. It is not easy to remain motivated in the face of a pandemic AND remote work AND corporate restructuring, AND social unrest. And yet, the people at McClatchy embraced the change, remained motivated and exhibited the highest degree of professionalism. Absolutely remarkable given the range of challenges. And this is the “X” factor in the project. All the elements mentioned above could have been in place, but without the dedication and contribution of the entire staff at McClatchy, March 1 would have come and gone without achieving McClatchy’s goals.  

SUMMARIZING THE “SECRET SAUCE”

For those readers who prefer a shorthand version as opposed to a narrative, here is a summary of the keys to success for this project

  • The vendors were evaluated based on their ability to support specific business requirements
  • Maximum consolidation was the goal, while at the same time minimizing the number of vendors and custom development
  • A common, centralized catalog of ad products was created, which served all publishers.
  • Corporate management provided clear direction and a mandate that the project was priority #1 and that failure was not an option
  • Accountability and authority to make decisions was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Project Manager, supported by the team of project stakeholders
  • Vendors worked with McClatchy as partners, treating the project as if it were their own business
  • Total commitment and dedication by every employee at McClatchy, without whom this project would have not succeeded

From a personal standpoint, as Project Manager and with more than 20 years of experience in sales and ad operations, this was THE most rewarding project I have ever been involved in. The transformation was massive despite the odds being stacked against the project. The supporting vendors were pro-active partners in the project. Most importantly of all, McClatchy employees demonstrated a level of courage and commitment that was truly inspiring, enabling this project to succeed against all odds.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s