Debra C. Robinson, Hearst Magazines

Debra C. Robinson

From Tactical to Strategic

Editors’ Note

Prior to being appointed Chief Technology Officer, Debra Robinson was Vice President, Technology and Production, Digital Media for Hearst Magazines. Robinson was also interim Chief Information Officer of CDS Global. Before coming to Hearst, Robinson held executive positions at Primedia, CVS Pharmacy, CMP Media, Delaware North Companies, and Aramark. During her time at CMP Media, Robinson was the executive sponsor for the release of the Mason server architecture into the open source community in 1997. Mason now powers the Web infrastructure for a wide variety of sites. Robinson is a graduate of The Wharton School, and also has a Master’s of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

What are the key initiatives that have made you such a leader in your area?

We’re very focused on moving from tactical to strategic initiatives. Currently, there are significant projects going on to consolidate all of the infrastructure activity at a corporate versus business unit level, which freed up my time and resources to focus on projects that are strategic for the magazine group.

One of these strategic initiatives is a content platform, which allows us to create content once to publish anywhere. We’re focused on working with Seventeen and our design group – which is made up of House Beautiful, Elle Décor, and Veranda – to streamline their workflows and configure the style sheets to be able to tag content. This will determine how and where it flows, and into what devices and delivery mediums, resulting in channel-agnostic content.

In the past, we have been print-centric, and we have to adapt for whatever channel or device will display our content. This process is decoupling the content from the presentation layer so it can flow to an iPhone app or iPad, and the Web, as well as to print.

What impact will this have?

It’s taking away the manual effort on the back end, so we’re doing the work upstream with design and tagging. We also enhance our content through enrichment engines, which do keyword tagging and metadata, so we’re not doing that downstream.

This allows us to create and produce a lot more content with our existing staff.

Do your people understand the impact and the value of this?

Yes. For instance, we put a workflow in place that allows us to produce 120 digital magazines a month with the addition of just one production person.

How important is it to have metrics to track return in this area?

We are in the process of implementing a digital asset management system that allows us to measure productivity, use of assets, and ROI. It also makes it possible to create new products very quickly, which is the biggest reason for doing this.

What will things look like three to five years out?

As far as content workflow, it will be dramatically different. It’s all about moving the work from downstream to upstream, which is changing the way content is created. It’s a mindset and cultural change.

It’s also about showing our people that this technology will be to their benefit, will produce more content, and will make their brands more profitable.