How an iconic media company works smarter, not harder
TIME Magazine has been a leader in the news industry since its inception back in 1923. Now it’s using Airtable to align teams and strengthen coverage in the 21st century.
A team of 15 producers, editors, and shooters are responsible for creating all of TIME's video assets — from one-minute news clips to feature-length documentaries. TIME publishes digital and print content to an audience of more than 19.5 million readers and 50 million unique monthly visitors.
Jonathan Woods, an Executive Producer at TIME, is at the frontlines of the company’s video operations, spanning breaking news, culture, politics, sports, entertainment, and beyond.
Woods is responsible for planning and executing their content calendar which means more than sourcing and assigning creative ideas: it also means budgeting, invoicing, handling production logistics, inventory tracking, managing freelancers, and organizing film festival and award submissions. Much of Woods’ time is spent increasing transparency and efficiency between his teams.
"A lot of the systems that we'd been using were very manual—lacking the right triggers, reminders or functionalities that would enable us to work smarter, not harder," said Woods.
“Working smarter,” for Woods, meant putting relevant information in front of the people who needed it and automating away laborious manual processes.
Erica Solano works closely with Woods. Her purview as production coordinator involves overseeing budgeting, tracking invoices, and ensuring timely payments to vendors–whether they’re DPs, transcription services, or hair and makeup artists.
“There was a lot of data entry. Because I'm the collection coordinator for TIME, Money, Fortune, and Coinage, I'd have to type in information here and go to another spreadsheet and type in the same information there—it was a time suck."
The invoice submission-to-payment cycle could take up to three months. All the while, vendors wouldn’t know the status of their invoice or when they would receive a payment.
"I would have to email vendors and say, 'Okay, you're going to get paid on June 1,'" Solano said.
With a high volume of invoices from freelancers and vendors at various stages of the cycle, Solano needed a tool that could not only track every step, but also trigger alerts, elucidate how they were pacing against budgets, and offer transparency to stakeholders (such as Woods).
The team went through several iterations of their workflow, from Excel to Sheets to Trello.
"With Airtable, it's all automatic," Solano said. "Now they get an automatic email blast when the status of the invoice changes, what the payment date is, and a copy of their invoice. Things have changed dramatically. I would get emails every month being like, 'Where's my payment? What's going on?' I don't get those anymore."
Airtable's flexible framework allowed the team to gain a bird's-eye view of the invoicing process and adopt views that analyzed the budget through various dimensions: the project, vendor, or timeframe.
"Jonathan would have to wait until I updated the numbers manually to see where we were with the budget," Solano said. "But now, because everything is synced, everything gets updated at the same time. I don't have to check in with him as much or send reports as before. Now he can just click on a tab and know if we're over budget or under budget."
"It definitely allowed us to cancel standing meetings," Woods acknowledged. "In general we have more free time, and I am more aware of things that are happening across other teams."
"It is a significant cost savings. But, most importantly for us, we had what we viewed as fairly complex problems, and the Customer Success team articulated clear technical paths and showed us how to leverage Airtable's full capability."