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It’ s been a year since Sonoma Me­dia In­vest­ments fully out­sourced its ad de­sign and pagination op­er­a­tions to the Affin­ity X plat­form. Cal­i­for­ni­abased Sonoma Me­dia was formed in late 2011 to buy the Sonoma In­dex- Tri­bune and Sonoma Mag­a­zine from Hal­i­fax Me­dia Hold­ings, which ac­quired the pub­li­ca­tions through its $143 mil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of The New York Times Re­gional Me­dia Group papers that same year.

When Sonoma Me­dia pur­chased the Press Demo­crat Me­dia Group in Novem­ber 2012, it added the Press Demo­crat in Santa Rosa, the Pe­taluma Ar­gus-Courier and the North Bay Busi­ness Jour­nal to its sta­ble of pub­li­ca­tions. Now the group pub­lishes all five ti­tles.

Hav­ing been through the out­sourc­ing of pagination dur­ing the In­dex-Tri­bune’s ten­ure as a NYT prop­erty, Mark Fla­viani, ad­ver­tis­ing op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor, was tapped to head up Sonoma Me­dia’s tran­si­tion to Affin­ity.

“I have been through it be­fore and knew what it was about,” he told News & Tech. “We went through all of the nuts and bolds of what it would take to do this and work­ing with Affin­ity has been great.”

With 2,200 em­ploy­ees world­wide, Affin­i­tyX has its U.S. head­quar­ters in El­gin, Illi­nois. Its par­ent com­pany is Ayala Cor­po­ra­tion, a con­glom­er­ate in the Philip­pines.

Phased tran­si­tion

The pub­lisher’s move to out­sourc­ing hap­pened in two phases, he said, and in­cluded all pub­li­ca­tions ex­cept Sonoma Mag­a­zine, which is han­dled by an in­de­pen­dent de­signer. Phase one in­cluded trans­fer­ring the de­sign of all print and digital ads over to Affin­ity’s Pune, In­dia, op­er­a­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2017. The pub­lisher builds a lot of spe­cial sec­tions, which also needed to be pag­i­nated.

“Our de­sign­ers were the ones build­ing spe­cial sec­tions, so once we moved to out­sourc­ing we needed to pag­i­nate those, so we moved them to Affin­ity’s Manila (Philip­pines) group,” Fla­viani said.

Phase two in­volved trans­fer­ring the pagination and lay­out of clas­si­fied ads. The pub­lisher re­tained copy­desk pagination and edi­to­rial pagination/copy flow, which are still over­seen by the in-house edi­to­rial

copy­desk staff us­ing the News­cy­cle Con­tent Pub­lisher plat­form.

“We don’t use News­cy­cle for any­thing that doesn’t have tra­di­tional edi­to­rial con­tent, so that’s why Sonoma Mag­a­zine is han­dled through an out­side de­signer — it’s dum­mied dif­fer­ently,” Fla­viani said.

The pub­lisher is also us­ing Affin­i­tyX for obituaries and pub­lic no­tices, which are pro­duced es­sen­tially the same way as dis­play ads. Man­i­fests are sent to the com­pany and the pages are pro­duced.

Same front-end process

From the front-end per­spec­tive, not much has changed for the news­pa­per’s in-house staff other than where the ads are sent once they’re ready for pro­duc­tion. Clas­si­fied ads are still placed through news­pa­per staff, but now page lay­out for the four pub­li­ca­tions hap­pens via the Ama­zon Web Ser­vices cloud plat­form rather than by in-house de­sign­ers.

Fla­viani said that while the tran­si­tion to Affin­i­tyX in­volved a learn­ing curve, the ad build­ing part of it quickly be­came pretty seam­less.

“There weren’t a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues as I’d seen pre­vi­ously when the In­dex-Tri­bune first out­sourced ad pagination,” he said. “This time around it was re­ally a mat­ter of just send­ing ads some­where else — the front-end process was the same, but where we sent the ads wasn’t much dif­fer­ent.”

Out­sourc­ing evo­lu­tion

Sonoma Me­dia’s smooth tran­si­tion is a tes­ta­ment to the evo­lu­tion of out­sourc­ing in the news­pa­per in­dus­try. A shift­ing mind­set wherein pub­lish­ers have be­come more com­fort­able hand­ing off pro­cesses they used to hold close to the vest com­bined with the ad­vance­ments in cloud and hosted en­vi­ron­ments have made out­sourc­ing far more seam­less than it was 10 years ago.

“I’m im­pressed with the way Affin­i­tyX han­dles things and their re­sponse is al­ways prompt,” Fla­viani said. “There was a learn­ing curve but they are very de­pend­able.”

That de­pend­abil­ity and re­spon­sive­ness have given time back to the pub­lisher’s ad sales depart­ment as well, and has re­duced pro­duc­tion time on spe­cial sec­tions.

“We could feed them 100 ads by 7 p. m. and they’re done by 7 a. m.,” Fla­viani said. “We used to have to cut sales off in or­der to ac­count for ad-build­ing time and sell­ing, but now we can ex­tend those dead­lines and let peo­ple sell for up to a week longer, which adds to rev­enue.”

In ad­di­tion to Sonoma Me­dia, Affin­i­tyX has re­cently part­nered with a num­ber of other pub­lish­ers, in­clud­ing Trin­ity Mir­ror, Fair­fax Aus­tralia, Fair­fax New Zealand. The com­pany also has long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships with Hearst Corp. and Digital First Me­dia.

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