Defining PMC’s Content Production Playbook Across Brands

print cover of Variety magazine

Media powerhouse PMC has gained efficiency and fueled business growth by developing streamlined best practices for every aspect of their digital publishing operations. WordPress VIP’s support, expertise, and scalable platform helped them establish a canonical approach to each new challenge, making it a part of their growing toolset and playbook.

Founded in 2003, PMC is a global digital media company representing 22 brands including VarietyDeadlineHollywood LifeTV LineWWD, and Robb Report. Those brands receive a combined 179 million monthly active users, and 101 million video views. All of their flagship sites are on WordPress VIP.

PMC brought over to WordPress VIP in 2011, their first site to move on to the platform. From the start they appreciated the benefits of WordPress VIP’s expert guidance as part of the site launch process, so much so that it inspired them to develop their own internal code checks for other projects.

VP of Engineering Gabriel Koen, who has led the work with WordPress VIP since it began in 2011, reflected, “I was kind of surprised at the time, but everyone from the CEO on down loved the idea of having those quality checks in place.”

Over the years Koen and the PMC team have turned experiences launching and optimizing sites with WordPress VIP into a wealth of internal code libraries and best practices that are then applied across PMC’s family of brands and to any newly acquired sites. This extends far beyond common themes, plugins, and tools to include shared knowledge and processes as well.

Shared components

Reuse is a fundamental principle at PMC, where development on behalf of one brand is maximized for potential use across all of them. Koen explains, “We try to build each feature as a standalone component. If we need to use a similar feature on another site, then we’ll turn it into an actual plug in, and we do have a shared plugin repository. So our plugins are basically single features that are packaged up, and have reuse across all our sites.”

This library of features includes granular elements like standard curation modules to display popular posts via various filters, and more complex sets of functionality, like PMC’s AMP integration.

Common theme framework

Most recently, the team developed a shared baseline theme that surfaces all possible functionality across the family of sites. The theme also incorporates all of the best practices PMC has gleaned over the years. This becomes the default starter theme for new and acquired brands. Over time all brands including legacy sites will also migrate over to that theme, all still retaining their unique look and feel.

This approach drastically reduces the work involved in maintaining features and rolling out new ones, and also allows the engineering team to easily share all of the innovations developed through work on each brand out to all of them.

Benefits at every level

The approach spread from product and engineering out to editorial and beyond, streamlining everything that goes in to how the work gets done.

The SEO team has their own common tools and practices. They support all of the editorial teams across the company, and they all work the same way. The same goes for the teams that run onboarding for writers and editors, and for the publishing processes within each brand. In establishing a common language and way of working, it knits together the culture of many smaller groups and makes resources more fungible.

“They’re able to work across brands a lot better because there’s a common language there. It’s interesting to see how the things we’re streamlining within product and engineering have this knock on effect across the entire company.”

Gabriel Koen, VP of Engineering, PMC

Defining and maintaining best practices has improved the business in immeasurable ways. It has made product and engineering more efficient, and brought major benefits to the C-suite as well:

  • Product teams can quickly find solutions for other stakeholders they are working with, rather than always needing to come up with answers from scratch. There are features already built, along with training materials and documentation, for any challenge the company has already come across.
  • Training and onboarding is smooth and scalable. It’s easier for knowledge to spread to new people who need it. This results in a strong alignment across product teams and throughout the company.
  • The leadership team uses this shared knowledge to quickly and effectively evaluate possible acquisition targets. They can accurately assess the capabilities of external publishing teams and infrastructure, and approximate the level of investment that would be required to bring them to parity with PMC standards.

“One of the things that I’m consistently impressed with is our executive team, and more specifically with our CEO Jay Penske, the level of really detailed understanding they have of our technology, and our platforms, and our capabilities.”

Gabriel Koen, VP of Engineering, PMC

Working with WordPress VIP

Like any good partnership, the opportunities for learning are bidirectional. PMC benefits from WordPress VIP’s industry-leading infrastructure and extensive experience in supporting enterprise WordPress applications at scale. In turn, PMC’s own drive for continuous improvement pushes WordPress VIP to find new ways to support emerging needs.

“The WordPress VIP platform is not static, it’s not like ‘Okay, this is what you get.’ It’s more collaborative really. They understand what companies are looking for and why it’s important, and they try to look at ways they can address that within the platform, and that’s super encouraging.”

Gabriel Koen, VP of Engineering, PMC

PMC Makes the Switch to Gutenberg Block Editor

Convincing hundreds of editors across dozens of websites to adopt a new, more efficient way to edit and publish breaking news, features, and blogs is headline news in itself.  

In 2018, Penske Media Corporation (PMC), parent company to a star-power media portfolio including Variety, Rolling Stone, Deadline Hollywood, and Billboard, decided the time was right to switch all their brands’ websites to a faster, cleaner WordPress editor—Gutenberg. It was a daring, multi-phased, two-and-a-half-year project that concluded in September 2022. 

Delivering such a large-scale, visionary change while overcoming “general editorial reluctance” was a delicate balancing act. Seeding editorial staffs and other stakeholders with the big idea of a “better block editor” paved the way, even touting as modest an idea as “easier cutting and pasting from Word.”

Hear how they did it from PMC’s Nicola Catton, Vice President of Product Delivery, and Gabriel Koen Vice President, Technology, as they dive into their PMC’s Switch to Gutenberg presentation at BigWP NYC.