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One Order to Rule Them All: Inside Gannett’s Massive Workflow Centralization Mission

admonsters_logo  As originally reported by Gavin Dunaway and published on AdMonsters here

If you think standardizing and centralizing sales workflow across a few properties is Sisyphean effort, spend some time in Gannett’s shoes.

The national and regional media powerhouse is in the middle of a massive sales workflow centralization project and has already integrated a single-entry order system for digital products across 92 properties. (You’re allowed to have a Keanu “Whoa” moment.) At the heart of this mission is OrderHub, an entry system built on top of the Mediaspectrum platform that unites the CRM with the various digital fulfillment systems (DFP, email, social) as well as billing.

Centralizing workflow and order management has had most pleasant side benefits, including digital rate card standardization across regions and a shift in sales focus from banner ad sizes to holistically meeting local advertisers’ marketing and audience objectives. While the process has had its challenges, particularly with resource management, it’s highlighted the path to revenue success and tech-enabled sales support.

I sat down with Brooke Zapata, VP of Sales Development, and Rick Baker, VP of Commerce Solutions, to hear about the integration of OrderHub and centralized sales operations. We also discussed the pros and cons of active development – “You’re painting one bridge while building another,” Baker comments – shifting both sales and advertiser expectations; building and maintaining a product portfolio; and how the centralization effort has changed the role and perception of ops.

GAVIN DUNAWAY: Tell me about OrderHub and how it came into being.

RICK BAKER: Our OrderHub solution is built off the Mediaspectrum platform. What intrigued us from a technology perspective about Mediaspectrum is that it’s a technology platform of building blocks that have already been assembled in terms of solutions, but we can still put them together in our own way to meet our solution needs.

The key things are there for order management like rating, forms-building, good workflow and components to easily build integrations to fulfillment pieces. You could use Mediaspectrum outside of ad ops and order management as a service bus technology to tie systems together. That’s a powerful thing to have.

We had a particular challenge in the ad space with order management –if you had a multi-product order, you had to enter that order into many different places: the billing system, the ad tracking system, the various fulfillment systems, even in the CRM system as well. The platform started us on a journey to create a single point of entry from start to finish.

We started small and solved a specific problem at a specific newspaper. In a three-month window, we created an open-sourced, rules-based rating system for saving digital ad proposals and booking, which then sends to the billing system, ad ops and fulfillment. After integrating this at one of our properties, we started rolling it out to all of them. We were able to deliver on all three things based on ad sales and ad operations that fit what Brooke was looking for. Brooke’s challenge was to make this work for 92 properties.

BROOKE ZAPATA: It’ll be 106 soon – we just bought another 14.

GD: What was the goal going in – to increase efficiency or did you know you’d be about to standardize rates across publishers?

BZ: Definitely efficiency. People were screaming about how hard it was to get digital orders in; we could get print in faster than digital, and that was not OK with the executive team. But to get funding for the project, we had to show ROI. First off, gaining efficiency means more time in the field, which should equal more sales. The first update we did for digital display took a 58-minute process down to 8 minutes.

RB: Showing how fast we can go to market with new standard programs has been a huge thing. Instead of taking six months to put something out there and get everyone trained, we can do it in a month. There’s also more finance efficiency in the rating because they’re doing it in one central system on a better platform.

BZ: We’ve gone through what every other print publishing company has: secular declines, less pre-prints from national advertisers, less circulation, the move to digital. Back in the day, our only digital product was our owned and operated websites, and pre-2008, every property acted like its own business unit. Gannett Corporate was just a holding company, if you will.

When our division president and now-CEO Bob Dickey came in to run the domestic publishing division – everything but USA Today and Newsquest – there was a big push toward sales excellence and standardization. A lot of standardization was already happening on the circulation sales, production, marketing and finance sides.

Digital advertising had taken off, but we needed to see how much money we were making. We had 80 different people at each site entering into DoubleClick for Publishers, putting in their own rates. We were not charging what we wanted to charge because customers didn’t understand digital, so to some extent we were giving it away.

GD: Ah, because you had print sales guys going, “Oh yeah, I’ll just toss in a couple million impressions for you.”

B: Yeah – but really more like 10,000 impressions. We didn’t have the data we have now on what a successful digital campaign looks like.

The first thing Gannett did was centralize digital display fulfillment – before we launched our World Class Sales Initiative. “OK, you have 92 people doing the same thing not very effectively, so let’s put them together.” But putting them in one place forced the local markets to create a method to submit to them. There was a form outside of cloud-based technology – a spreadsheet that got attached to an email. We called it a DTO form – digital trafficking order.

Our World Class Sales Initiative was focused on the importance of sales excellence and delivering effective integrated solutions and to get there, we needed standardization of certain systems, approaches, etc. Getting integrated meant getting our reps to sell on a more consultative level – sell with data and insights. In addition, we expanded our digital product portfolio – besides our own display, we started selling audience extension, search, email marketing, SEO and website development.

All of a sudden, we had more products to sell, less people to sell them – which means they have to be savvier – and different fulfillment teams. If I’m a rep selling cross-platform, I’m going to send the display over here, I’m going to get the ad creative built there, and I’m going to send the email and search over there. Oh, and then I’m going to bill it from someplace else.

When Mediaspectrum integrated into SalesForce, it allowed us to say, “OK, reps – you manage your day, your business and your customers within SalesForce. When you want to go to fulfillment, it speaks right into OrderHub, which is going to talk to our billing system and send the order to display ad ops, digital marketing services ad ops, and the creative production team.” (While OrderHub provides an integrated CRM as part of the platform, Gannett had already implemented Salesforce; Mediaspectrum provided a straightforward integration into the popular CRM.)

The benefit we got out of OrderHub wasn’t only single-order entry, but rate integrity. As we launched a new product, pricing wasn’t produced at each market anymore. Before they could pick their own products they wanted to sell at what rates. As we partnered with Yahoo! and launched search and social, we had the same rate card across all markets, with tweaks based on market demands.

RB: That helped the technology group because we couldn’t do analytics well across the 92 sites because they were all coded differently. We didn’t know what success looked like related to our major rate programs without a lot of work. The products were built into the old billing system with these long product imposition codes, which the newspaper rate people entered. We’d suggest doing it in a specific program, but had trouble getting people to all set it up the same way. We couldn’t track them in monthly analysis until the centralization.

Before integrating the CRM, we as a company didn’t deliver technology to advertising sales. We had advertising development groups, implementation groups and IT, but those were all finance-specific. Our order entry application before was a gooey client-server affair. It was form-driven, based on files in the system, and all we cared about was getting the bill out to the customer. Introducing workflow helped advertising with discipline in getting things done efficiently, while the central rating communicated standards across the board.

BZ: We’ve rolled out most of our core digital offerings for all our sites, and four markets have their print product in the single-order entry as well. In those markets we’ve done a pricing analysis and reset their rate card. We have a few markets that are almost fully on single-order entry with all of their products, but we’re still wondering when we’re ever going to be finished. You’ll always want to tweak and iterate, but I wouldn’t want to underestimate the amount of time and energy it’s taking us to negotiate one-offs.

It was easier on the digital side because when we launched a new product, we strategically set rates. However, local markets have always set their own rates for print. We’re moving – slowly, hopefully but surely – toward a standard base, or at least a way to approach the rates. “Here’s the open rate, and you get incentives for buying more frequency within a week, within a quarter, and bigger ad sizes. We want to be easier to buy from and price based on specific ROI.”

We’re trying to get the structure right, even if the open rate is different in a Phoenix than a Muncie, IN – based on circulation, demand, etc. We are still working to find the exact right methodology that is easy to convert but truly demonstrates our value.

GD: Why embrace commoditized services?

RB: There’s loyalty that gets built into delivery of commoditized services because that’s what small and medium businesses want – help getting on the web. Before we didn’t have the mix of products that would attract them and get them to stay with us long term. Meaningful print advertising may be out of reach for some small businesses.

BZ: On the digital marketing services side, we’ve been very specific about minimum entry points and commitment lengths, which has helped us a lot. It’s still our commodity product base – anyone can get email or social from somewhere else.

For us to deliver them, we have to mark it up, so we’re not going to be the cheapest player in town. But our value proposition is delivering all of those services on top of our premium owned-and-operated products. Mastering this integrated sale is where we are spending most of our time now.

The focus is on trying to get away from what it costs and what ad size, and more around, “This is the right product mix against your list of marketing objectives at this length of time.” Then client services figures out if ad sizing and what platform it should run on, constantly optimizing for results.

This system is not only a hard thing to transfer our sellers too – it’s also hard to fulfill. If you want auto intenders, I can get them for you wherever you want, in whatever geographic area… However, it’s all on different ad servers, and though Mediaspectrum has helped us a ton speaking to all those ad servers, I still have to say, “This ad size at 100,000 impressions here, 200,000 here.” I still have different business rules based on the platform.

Nirvana longer term would be figuring out what is the middle piece that simplifies the decision-making, and instead we deliver audience without having to talk about the specific line items. This is where selling digital gets overwhelming, for sellers and customers – we get muddied up in all that fulfillment detail which at the end of the day, doesn’t really matter most. We just need to focus on the audience and the results.

GD: You’re talking about selling more along the lines of TV – “I’m going to deliver you a certain GRP.” It’s interesting because you as the publisher become the media planner.

BZ: While we’ve made huge advancements in standardizing single-order entry and even fulfillment, the piece that we haven’t completely standardized that will help with that vision is structure. An account manager in one market may do something completely different than an account manager in another, or maybe their titles are different. We’ve tried to standardize roles, but based on market needs, it’s a big job to get one sales support structure in place across so many properties.

We’ve done a good job standardizing the sales roles within channels: key accounts, territories, automotive, etc. It’s been harder to standardize on the support staff. We know it’s an effort we need to put thought leadership around.

When we started, we were focused on singe-order entry and getting the rates in there – the conversations were about ease of fulfillment. As we were adding products to make it true single-order entry, it quickly became more about sales enablement. Maybe I haven’t sold it yet, but I can put in all my products to get the price and a proposal – not full-deck PowerPoint, but a media plan. I can show the customer the actual schedule, and I can easily tweak it.

The piece we would want to standardize next is helping the reps build better solutions. How do I make it easier for 3,000 reps to take the customers’ audience and marketing objectives – and potentially their budgets – and systematically determine the right product mix? Then we have people and technology on the back-end proving the ROI and helping the reps with reporting.

GD: What kind of challenges have you faced on the technical side?

BZ: On the technical side, requirements change a lot. You build something really cool, but then the salespeople want to see if it can do 10 extra things. Sometimes we overcomplicate things.

RB: We’ve never met a feature or requirement we didn’t like. When you’re dealing with sales, everything has a revenue impact – the next requirement could mean $10 million. Requirements change in the advertising world much more quickly than in any other discipline. That’s both exciting and a challenge.

The technology itself is very flexible – we haven’t really met a problem we haven’t been able to address in the platform. We’ve invested a significant amount of money into the platform. Our biggest issue, then, is how we manage the requirements list and the prioritization. It’s an organizational and a process problem, but also a technology issue. We depend heavily on Mediaspectrum’s professional services group to pivot quickly.

From a software point of view, the ability to roll something out live, soup to nuts, in three months was pretty impressive – it doesn’t happen that often. As we grow, requirements keep pouring in, so we add feature, add feature, add feature. We’re consumed with that in many ways. We have difficulty resourcing more major strategic changes because of the constant feature updates.

B: I wouldn’t say we’ve had any technical hiccoughs at all – it’s more us getting in our own way about who we want to be, and then sticking to it.

As we’ve added so many digital products over the last four or five years, a lot of our local markets have begun positioning themselves as digital agencies, which has made us change our brand perception. But then it’s counterintuitive to say everything is standardized.

For example, my team includes sales development, so we’re supporting the actual sales execution team and providing enablement tools. We’re constantly getting asked for the next thing. We don’t sell Snapchat right now, but when can we?

At the same time, we want to say, “Yes!” to anything a customer inquires about. So we’re struggling not only with standardization of our processes and rates, but who we want to be to the client. Is that different to an automotive client versus a retailer? We have to figure out where we play well and deliver against that like no one else can.

Besides standardizing our process and procedures, I think our next step is culling the product list. Do we need 90 products to sell? Are we good at selling 90 products? We’ve gotta figure out where do we get the most bang for our buck, where are we going to best serve the client.

GD: Has this centralization effort changed the perception of your role and sales ops in general?

BZ: For sure. The local markets can, at times, feel a bit handcuffed versus before, but I think we’re getting over that because outside of our disciplines, a lot of functions have been standardized. The perception of the corporate sales and sales development teams’ role in setting and enforcing the strategy is clear. At times I joke that they probably call us the revenue prevention manager in the local markets because we enforce the business rules. But – and communication is a big thing here – when we say no, we give the whys and tie them to the KPIs and sales standards that the sales execution team has launched for our markets. We make sure our business rules are driving those KPIs.

RB: Pre-Brooke, the corporate advertising team was really a collaborator of ideas and a communicator among the regional decision makers. My perception is that now advertising executives and salespeople are looking to the corporate advertising team for direction: what to sell and how to sell it. That is a different role, very much a revenue strategy one. You have to enforce a discipline to do that.