The 5 Myths of Digital Flatplanning, and How To Overcome Resistance

← Back to blogSales

It takes all types to put a publication together, and those who work on the production side are often some of the most project-focused, systematic people around. Ask anyone on staff and all would agree that effective production managers and assistants are underappreciated, overworked, and, perhaps most of all, complete control freaks.

Sometimes, that’s a good thing! That control can be and is appreciated at numerous times throughout the publishing process. But when complete control stands in the way of other team members’ effectiveness and, worse, the long-term health of a publication, then it’s a trade-off that deserves rethinking. And nowhere is that bad-with-the-good more pronounced than with the all-too-common resistance to opening up a publication’s flatplan to other staff members.

The Drawbacks of Pen-and-Paper Mapping

Let’s paint the familiar picture.

It’s time to start mapping the next issue, and the production manager in charge of making the flatplan starts a proprietary process unofficially called My Way.

My Way’s telltale trademarks include a layout being done manually with pen-and-paper; its designs being kept a state secret for as long as possible; and its thought-processes and rationales being a never-revealed and always-sensitive mystery.

Unfortunately, that My Way system regularly becomes a battleground upon which productivity stalls and tensions fester.

Editorial staff needing to know the map basics have to intrude on a production manager’s time and space. (“May I please see the map you keep taped to your computer monitor?”)

Sales reps simply looking out for their advertisers have to speak up at inopportune times. (“Can I make sure Luxury Store X got the premium spot it paid for?”)

And publishers having their eye on The Big Picture have only the absolute last minute to raise red flags. (“We can’t put THAT ad next to THAT story!?!”)

And because My Way can be, as its name indicates, such a personal method, questioning anything about it comes across as an attack on a production manager’s personal sensibilities and professional abilities.

It doesn’t matter whether My Way was an institutional mapping system that was inherited or is one that was personally developed. This system is what they’re used to, they see no need to change it, and they definitely don’t want to relinquish control over it.

The problem is that everybody else in the company pays the price.

Overcoming the 5 Myths of Digital Flatplanning

The resistance that some production managers have in opening up their flatplans to the rest of the company is widespread. And it does easily boil down to an overall resistance to change. I’m not a psychologist who can fix that.

However, after 20-plus years in publishing, I do know how to address the rationalizations given for that resistance. These are easily dispelled myths that can be addressed head-on for the better of the publication, the people who make it, and the process overall.

Myth #1: Making it digital creates more work.

Fact: A digital flatplan eases the workload for everyone

The problem with pen-and-paper systems is that no one else in the company can see that one holy grail. In order for a sales rep to confirm an ad placement, for instance, they would have to interrupt and derail whatever the production manager is doing, every single time. Hopefully whatever is scribbled is understood correctly, though any further sharing of that gleaned information means more chances for second-hand mistakes to be made.

Part of the fear from a production standpoint is a technical one regarding who can make changes and edits to the flatplan. What’s stopping that sales rep from moving their ad to an open spot at the front of the magazine in a more premium position? Well, the software itself stops that.

Magazine production software like Mirabel’s Digital Studio ensures that even if everyone can see the flatplan, only designated people are able to edit the flatplan. When an ad is placed or moved, it keeps an Audit Trail documenting where, when, and by whom, all in real time. Nothing is happening that a production manager doesn’t approve or do themselves.

Flat Plan Hover

Myth #2: Making it digital means unnecessary input from others

Fact: A digital flatplan ensures that input is only constructive

Although most sales reps’ questions about ad placement are probably innocent enough, let’s envision a scenario where that questioning is actually a passive-aggressive way of questioning the positioning of that placement. (Regardless of the motive, we can all see what a dangerous timesuck this can be, particularly when it’s close to press time.)

Sales people will forever want things mapped in certain ways. And the reality is that even though it may lead to debates or even friction between sales and production, the process of discussing it can be a positive one, particularly when a flatplan is shared earlier and those concerns and any runsheet errors are caught sooner.

As a company, you’re going to be better off dealing with those collisions sooner rather than later in the process. And you’re going to be better off learning to manage those collisions with respectful conversations rather than trying to postpone or avoid the discussions altogether. There are a lot of positive things that can happen from a collaborative standpoint when more people can see and are involved in the process.

Myth #3: Making it digital means others will see it as finalized when it’s not

Fact: A digital flatplan means others can kick into gear before everything is finalized

Because current pen-and-paper flatplans are kept secret for so long, seeing one finally released probably triggers a reaction that everything is final. Hence the panicked reactions.

But that response is a learned one, and once people understand that seeing a digital flatplan earlier than normal just means the flatplan is a work in progress, then the response will likely be a prompt rather than panic.

For instance, the sales team will likely know whether the inside cover has yet sold. However, they may not see what other premium spots are available until seeing the digital flatplan. They may see a story people will love and think of the perfect category of client who would leap for that open page at the end of the spread.

Soon, instead of seeing a flatplan as a sign of the finish line, they’ll see a digital flatplan as a kickstarting notification to think about what closings could help the publication.

Myth #4: Making it digital means more room for error

Fact: A digital flatplan cuts down on mistakes … particularly the big ones

One hopes that a salesperson leaves a runsheet note with considerations that a certain competing ad has to be at least 5 pages away, but mistakes happen. And a head popping into an office with a quick reminder will be forgotten just as instantly.

Digital flatplans allow for more information to be confidently shared than you’d ever get on a runsheet. You’ll see interactive ad notes and layout statistics that keeps everyone on the figurative same page.

Designing on paper with a list on one side and drawn boxes on another doesn’t provide any failsafe checks-and-balances either. In my publishing experience, I found that utilizing a digital flatplan saved not only time and headaches, but money as well. Any year we mapped on pen-and-paper, we’d lose tens of thousands of dollars because an ad was missed or incorrectly placed.

Mirabel’s Digital Studio interface ensures that every ad finds a place and isn’t forgotten. Yet-to-be-placed ads serve as red flags (figuratively if not literally) on the right-hand column alongside other unplaced ads, so there are no cracks for overlooked ads to fall into.

Flat Plan Overlay

Myth #5: But seriously, making it digital will only mean more people coming out of the woodwork with more demands

Fact: A digital flatplan revolutionizes a process that will help distinguish (and extinguish) other issues

The thought of getting interrupted about ad positions all month (as opposed to just during deadline week) is no doubt scary. Like we said before, those on the ads side will forever want more say in that process, whether the flatplan is on a secret map or on a shared digital space.

That has to be carefully delineated within the company, but when someone in sales gets worked up about a story’s layout and where their ad is, sometimes you can only say “Well, go pound sand.”

Deadline time is intended for legitimate mistakes that do unfortunately happen, not chaos created by those who didn’t get what they wanted. Giving everyone the opportunity to check their ads and ensure no problems sooner rather than later means not only a more collaborative environment, but that the deadline time can be devoted to inevitable surprises and seeing the final layout with the clearest of eyes.

With Digital Studio, you have the ability to see the actual image layer of the ad along with the flatplan layer. You can compare overall colors to see how they look next to each other and make sure that the magazine is shaping up visually the way you want it before it’s too late.

Flat Plan Image Layer

Seeing things earlier is particularly helpful in getting senior management involved, like publishers who can see blowups coming and will then have time to act.

Conclusion: Opening Up The Flatplan Opens Up So Much More

Opening up a digital flatplan to the entire team doesn’t just make production easier, it makes everyone else’s job easier in a singular, self-service environment. Issues that regularly besiege a publication will always arise, of course, but a solid system for all will help separate the process issues from what’s actually a management issue.

And with that ironed out, those project-focused, underappreciated folk invested in the system will see all that’s actually possible.


The Magazine Manager is a web-based CRM solution designed to help digital and print publishers manage sales, production, and marketing in a centralized platform.

Request a Demo

Schedule a free demo with an experienced software consultant to help make your publishing efforts successful.