Time Management: ‘What to Leave In, What to Leave Out’

By Jim Sulecki

Howard Rauch’s finding that online projects have added at least eight days of work per editorial staff member really has struck home – not so much as revelation but as confirmation of what we’ve all been seeing for some time. I’ve worked in b2b media for more than two decades and I’d have to think hard to remember the last time my work focused exclusively on print. It may have been the mid 1990s.

I empathize with all editors these days – the job is more challenging than ever. Try though you might, you can’t do everything, and you can’t keep adding hours to your day until you’re burned to a crisp. This is true in print but even more so in digital media, where cheap and nearly limitless server space and nearly infinite online options are the polar opposites of print’s set folio sizes and start-the-press finality.

I’m no major Bob Seger fan but a lyric of his keeps coming to mind: “Deadlines and commitments / what to leave in, what to leave out.” If you feel like you’re perpetually “against the wind,” take a step back and reconsider your priorities. Here are a few suggestions:

Establish a practical ratio of how much time you should be spending on print, on emedia, and on events. Then stick to it. An example: “On the whole I’m going to devote 70% of my time on the magazine, 20% to emedia/social media, and 10% to events.” Get agreement on this pie chart of time from your lead editor, your publisher, or whoever has ultimate control of your time. There will be peaks and valleys in time spent in various areas, of course, but over a month or two keep tabs on your time and see if you’re sticking to the plan. For instance, under this scenario, in a 40-hour work week an editor would spend about 3.5 days per week on the magazine. If actual time spent keeps peaking past that goal, either the overall ratio is not workable (in which case the editor needs to talk to his or her superiors) or it’s time to start proverbially “working smarter, not harder” on the magazine. And that leads to another tip …

Jettison legacy advertising sections in print that no longer attract advertising. You know those topics that somehow manage to survive from editorial calendar to editorial calendar? If as an editor you feel those topics are no longer worthy of coverage, ask your publisher how many ad pages the section has attracted over the past few years. If the answer is none or very little, consider letting them slip silently into the darkness.

Take a similar approach to editorial surveys. If certain types of coverage score low on the question of “this is valuable to me in running my business” – and by “low” I mean it appeals to less than, say, a quarter or less of your audience – I would consider killing them.

Drop any story that won’t have gainful coverage in both print and online. If it’s a print story in development, break off a piece of it – a handful of great quotes, a stray but salient observation – for quick-hit online coverage. If it’s a late-breaking news story for online, pursue it only if it’s worthy of deeper analysis in print. If it’s not worthy of deeper follow-up coverage, it’s probably not of much interest to your audience anyway.

Are you mining your magazine’s event(s) as a trove of coverage – print and online? If you’re not … why not? You’re leaving on the table hours of exclusive live coverage that your competitor is probably not going to touch. And if you’re short of manpower to both produce and cover the meeting, hire a freelancer to cover some of the sessions for you. Who better to make the final edits than you?

Ditto for video. Why should a story remain just in video and not in print? Take the transcripts of video interviews you’ve conducted and convert them into print and/or web stories. And don’t forget to promote links among them. Different people like consuming information in different ways.

Stop producing video/audio pieces that aren’t generating a respectable number of views. What’s a “respectable amount” of views? Your call. But here’s a suggestion: Would you be disappointed to develop an in-person industry presentation that only 10 or 20 people heard? Of course it would depend on who heard it. But is video really that different? Set a target for number of views of a video for the first month or two it’s posted, and do your best to promote it. At least 50, 75 or 100 views in a month in most b2b markets where video still is being adopted would seem to be a good starting point. If you end up falling short of your goal, analyze and rethink – maybe even jettison – certain video projects, and focus on topics you know are predictable barnburners with your audience. Quality usually is better than quantity.

When in doubt as you conduct editorial planning, hold a project to these criteria:

  1. Is it exclusive to my media brand?
  2. Is it known to have generated concrete audience interest in the past (letters, comments, requests for reprints, more pageviews online, etc.)?
  3. Would the audience be decisively poorer for not having learned this information?
  4. Does it generate demonstrable interest in the advertiser community?

If you don’t have a decisive and honest yes to the any of the above – let the project go.

Don’t be a martyr. I’ve discussed the topic of time management with a lot of editors. Typically a problem with getting it all done arises as much if not more from a desire to do a job well as from lack of prioritization and organization. But don’t be a martyr. Burned-out editors are not good for their employers, their audiences, their friends and families, or themselves.

Jim Sulecki, eMedia Director at Meister Media Worldwide, was named “Innovator in Business Media: Online Executives” by BtoB Media Business magazine in June 2009. Follow Jim’s ruminations on the business, technology and content of emedia on Twitter and his blog, eMedia Encyclopedia.

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