I joke that meeting planners and editors are the only ones who know exactly what weeks they can take vacation. Both professions have drop-dead dates and plan backwards from those dates to implement work along the way. However, I am often dismayed when I find publications that do not have a production schedule or an incomplete production schedule that only includes designer, printer, and distribution deadlines. Creating editorial content and the steps involved prepping it for the designer should also be part of the plan.
You need one piece of information to create a useful production schedule: The targeted delivery date to the member or subscriber. Yes, this is really all that you need begin. Once you have the publication date confirmed, work backwards with:
  • online launch dates
  • mail dates
  • printing dates
  • blueline sign offs
  • uploading files for blueline approval
  • proofing rounds and turnaround time between editorial and design teams
  • delivery dates for all of that issue’s editorial to the designer
  • editorial content finalized and reviewed beforehand
  • finalizing the slate of stories;
  • editorial content due dates and when assignments are handed out
  • brainstorming about the upcoming issue’s content
  • the theme of the issue
When you have completed the draft production schedule, ask everyone involved to review it. Include the following teams: editorial, design and production, sales/business development, printer, mailer (if separate), and your digital provider/web. They all will have valuable feedback about realistic deadlines. Once you have approved the dates and checked that none of them fall on major holidays or weekends, you can press forward with uploading those deadlines into whatever calendar system or project management portal you prefer.
Once this is finalized, share the final production schedule, or a shortened version of it, with your internal stakeholders. While they may have little input on the deadlines, they are the ones providing internal content for you or are on the front lines communicating with your members or subscribers. Arming them with this information now not only helps them do their jobs better, but also it gives your member or subscriber a positive customer service experience.
Publication production deadlines should not be secret among staff who might contribute content to your magazine either. Reminder emails to them about upcoming deadlines help them deliver the content on time.
If you cannot post the production calendar dates to an all-staff calendar, then at least have it handy in a document that you can email to someone when needed.
Creating a production calendar may not be the most challenging publishing work you will do, but it is a necessary tool to help you and your team communicate deadlines and keep your publication on schedule.
Kim Howard, CAE is president of Write Communications LLC.