Chapter 16: Relationship management – Academic and Professional Publishing


Relationship management

Caroline Black


This chapter considers the factors that underpin a successful relationship between the publisher of a journal and its editor and editorial board, as well as that between publisher and journal owner. It first looks at the formal aspects of the relationship, explaining how they should be encapsulated in a contract and suggesting how responsibilities should be allocated or shared. The importance of shared strategic planning is emphasised in particular. The chapter advocates an account management approach to publishing relationships, proposes a number of tools to support this approach, and discusses techniques for managing interpersonal communications.

Key words

Relationship management

account management

publishing contract

strategic development




The relationship with a journal editor can range from a warm personal friendship between editor and journal publishing manager to a rather distant connection in which the association is more like that between a contractor (the publisher) and a supplier (the editor). At either of these extremes, the success of the relationship may be over reliant on individual personalities and even luck, whereas a more thoughtful and strategic approach to managing the relationship will bring benefits to both sides and will contribute to the success of the journal.

Similarly, a publishing contract with a society can amount to no more than an agreement between a contractor (in this case the society) and a supplier (the publisher). In a relationship like this, there is a risk that the publisher’s services are merely a commodity where price (or financial return to the society) becomes the only factor when considering contract renewal. A collaborative partnership will be more likely to endure and will again ensure the success of the journal.

This chapter proposes some tools to ensure that publishing relationships become partnerships in which the parties work together to achieve a shared vision, with clarity about objectives, responsibilities and obligations. This clarity is achieved through the mechanism of a good formal contract, a collaborative approach to strategic planning and through adapting some of the approaches used in client relationship management in other industries.

Establishing a formal relationship: contracts, obligations and responsibilities

Why use a formal contract?

While most journals will have a formal contract, there are still, no doubt, a number of well-established journals in long-standing relationships that survive without watertight contracts between publisher or society owner and editor. At the most there may be a letter on file offering the editor the role but with little or no indication of the term of office or clarity about who does what. The majority of these relationships survive through informal commitment, but the risk of misunderstanding remains. For example, it may be difficult in such cases to ask an editor to step down and so his or her term may drag on for longer than may be appropriate. If a problem were to occur, for example with supply of copy for issues or with production times, it may be unclear what either side can demand of the other or what steps should be taken if the relationship were to break down.

Even the best publishing relationships, built on warmth and mutual understanding, can benefit from a formal contract with a clear and unambiguous delineation of the responsibilities and obligations of the parties to the contract, as well as clarification of legal issues such as ownership, warranties and conflict resolution.

Contract with the journal editor

The generally accepted principle of editorial independence should be enshrined in any contract or agreement with an editor. This principle asserts that the editor of a journal has responsibility for and is accountable for the content of that journal, and the journal’s owner or publisher should not interfere with editorial decisions on specific content. However, it is also generally agreed that it is reasonable for the publisher or owner to direct overall strategy or direction or policies.

A useful ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, 2010) advice note summarises the purpose of the editor’s contract as follows:

 to articulate, define and formalise the relationship;

 to clarify ownership of the journal;

 to set out publisher/society obligations;

 to set out editor obligations;

 to protect each party from legal issues; and

 to establish agreement for what happens if things go wrong.

Also worth adding to the list are these points:

 to set a date and agree arrangements for contract termination or renewal; and

 to set out arrangements for remuneration and their basis for review.

Clark’s Publishing Agreements (Owen, 2010) provides a template publisher–editor contract with notes about the rationale behind each clause. Some editors may find the concept of a formal contract unnecessary or even rather daunting. It may be reassuring to explain to them that the contract is based on a standard template used by many journals, and that it is for their protection as much as the publisher’s. The editor should be invited to make comments on the draft, so that he or she does not feel coerced in any way into signing the contract.

It is worth deciding in advance which clauses are essential and which could be subject to negotiation. In fact, it can be useful to demonstrate flexibility in some areas if there is a need to be inflexible in others. For example, an editor may be nervous about the legal terminology of the clauses relating to warranties and indemnities: an alternative would be to ensure that there is a robust agreed mechanism to obtain appropriately worded copyright assignment forms or licences from all contributors to the journal, including from the editor.

Building on the framework outlined above, it is important to cover the following salient points in an editor contract:

 Clarifying ownership. The contract should include a simple statement about who owns the journal, particularly if an editor is closely involved in the concept and development of a new journal, to avoid any possible lack of clarity or even dispute in the future.

 Setting out obligations. This part of the contract should both clarify responsibilities (i.e. make clear who does what where there might be doubt) and spell out obligations (what each party must do to fulfil the terms of the contract) necessary to ensuring the journal functions well. Some examples of areas to cover in the contract are suggested in Figure 16.1, although the allocation of responsibilities will vary from journal to journal.

Figure. 16.1 Possible allocation of obligations and responsibilities in a contract between publisher and journal editor

 When things go wrong. In case anything were to go wrong in a publishing relationship (for example, if the editor failed to provide material for issues), the contract should state any grounds for early termination of the agreement and also provide for an arbitration process and state which jurisdiction the contract operates under. Of course, this condition can apply to both parties to provide balance in the relationship.

 Length of contract. It is advisable to set a fixed termination date: for example, the contract could be for five years with a potential single extension of a further three years, and any future extension to be mutually agreed. This makes it straightforward to end an association gracefully if the time has come for a fresh approach with a new editor. An automatic roll-over every year unless notice is given can make it uncomfortable for both sides to raise the topic of termination, with concerns that doing so might seem like an accusation of poor performance, rather than a reasonable acknowledgement that the time has come to move on.

 Remuneration. The contract should state whether fees are paid in advance or in arrears, and when payment will be made. It should be clear whether fees can be reviewed during the term of the contract and, if so, the basis for the review (e.g. an inflation index, changes in workload). A clause stating whether expenses will be reimbursed and if so on what basis is also advisable. If a fixed amount is not agreed per year for expenses, it is useful to state maximum amounts for, for example, travel or administrative expenses. If the remuneration includes a royalty element, the contract should state exactly how it is calculated and when. Without appropriate conditions, the remuneration costs could unwittingly mount up.

 Variation. Elements of the contract that might vary during the course of the editor’s term of office should be presented as separate schedules attached to the contract. For example, the contract could allow for the number of pages to be published each year to grow or the size of the editor’s fee to increase (subject to renegotiation): the principle would be expressed in the contract itself and the detailed arrangements for the first year in the attached schedules. This means that the contract itself does not need to be amended every time the arrangement is changed.

 Multiple editors. When a journal has more than one editor, it is good practice to have separate contracts with each editor, in case there are performance problems with one, or one needs to step down early. If there is a second tier of editors (e.g. associate editors, handling editors), it is unlikely to be necessary to issue formal contracts to them provided that the final responsibility for the content of the journal clearly lies with the editor(s) in chief. However, it would be good practice to have some kind of letter of agreement, co-signed by the publisher and associate editor, confirming expectations, any remuneration and the term of office.

Contract with the society

A publishing contract between a publisher and a society covers some of the same ground as an editor’s contract (particularly if the society is responsible for appointing the editor) but should provide full detail about ownership, publishing rights, finances, and termination arrangements. Again, there is a useful ALPSP advice note (ALPSP, 2002) and Owen (2010) provides a comprehensive, annotated template for such a contract.

Important clauses to include are the following:

 Ownership. The contract must specify who owns the content (the copyright), the physical stock, electronic files, title, design and subscription lists. This is particularly important should the society wish to consider transferring to another publisher in the future.

 Publishing rights. The contract must grant publishing rights to the publisher for the duration of the contract. Without this, the publisher does not legally have the right to sublicense the content (e.g. to aggregators) or grant permissions for re-use let alone publish the journal in print and online.

 Editor’s responsibilities. If the society rather than the publisher appoints and contracts the editor, the publisher-society contract should also summarise the editor’s responsibilities and obligations to the journal, and should spell out the society’s responsibility for ensuring that the editor implements these.

 Finances. The section on finance should set out the nature of the business relationship (profit share, royalty to society, commission to publisher, etc.), with a clear, unambiguous explanation of the basis of the financial calculations and timing of payments. It is also good practice to give the society the right to audit the publisher’s accounts in specific circumstances.

 Starting the agreement. The contract may include stipulations about the handover from a previous publisher and ask for warranties from the society about historical data on subscriptions and sales to ensure realistic business planning.

 Warranties. In publishing content, a publisher takes on a number of legal risks including infringement of copyright and other rights, and defamation. The publisher therefore normally requires certain warranties and indemnities from the provider of the content in order to protect itself and comply with insurance requirements. It is generally considered reasonable for the party providing the content - and which therefore knows most about its originality and provenance - to warrant the legality of the content. Warranties are therefore generally given by individual contributors, editors, the society itself and if relevant the publisher, about the nature of the material that each is contributing to the work. If the warranties are backed by an indemnity, the indemnifying party will have to pay the legal costs of the indemnified party in the event of a dispute, and will generally control the claim. Fortunately, litigation continues to be a rare event, in the UK at least.

 Ending the contract. The clauses on renewal and termination arrangements should specify precisely what happens upon termination of the contract. Ideally the contract would reflect the Transfer Code of Practice (UK Serials Group, 2008) but, whether or not it does so, it should spell out what happens to electronic back files and access to them by subscribers, as this is can be an area of confusion and opacity. The termination clause may also give the publisher the right to make a counter offer if the society is considering moving to another publisher.

 Variation. As with the editor contract, arrangements that may change during the course of the agreement (e.g. procedure for supplying and charging for member subscriptions) can be referred to in the main contract but detailed in an attached schedule.

 Responsibility for decisions. There are a number of areas that would normally be the publisher’s responsibility in a publisher-editor relationship but could either be the society’s or the publisher’s responsibility, or be shared. Examples include decisions on pricing, business policies that might have an impact on the journal, appointment of editorial board members, house style, design and page budget. Even where the final decision-making is clearly the responsibility of either owner or publisher, there should be an agreed mechanism for discussion and collaboration on these issues.

 Authorisation. It is important to identify the legal status of the society before entering the contract. The society may have corporate status as a limited company, or company limited by guarantee, in which case it has a separate legal personality and can enter contracts in accordance with company law. If the society is a charity trust, or an unincorporated association, then it will not have a separate legal personality and will generally only be able to enter into contracts in the names of its individual trustees or management committee members. This can on occasion lead to the requirement for a number of signatures, although charities legislation in the UK includes a provision for delegation of signing responsibilities to two or more members. It is important when entering contracts with trusts or unincorporated associations always to include an express provision that the entity has the capacity to enter the contract and is acting in accordance with its constitution.

Collaborative journal development

A publishing partnership

The formal contract provides a structure for the management of a publishing partnership and there will usually be other mechanisms for interaction such as an annual meeting, agreed reports or a publications committee on which both parties sit. However, these tools will not in themselves guarantee that the parties to the contract will work together to achieve success. A collaborative approach, shared objectives and mutual support are also needed.

Developing a business plan

A journal business plan based simply on the publisher’s overall objectives with minimal or no input from editor or owner will not necessarily fail but may be no more than a set of short-term objectives based on profitability, citation and submission targets with possibly some standard promotion activities planned. For some journals, indeed, this will be entirely appropriate: not all journals are stars or have untapped potential. For these journals, the priority is simply to ensure that their performance is monitored, they play their part in a subject portfolio and they benefit from any relevant company-wide initiatives.

For those journals where there is opportunity to be tapped, it is important that strategic planning is collaborative, with active input from the publisher, the editorial team and the society owner. This is, firstly, to ensure that any tensions between objectives are acknowledged and managed, secondly to ensure that everyone is working to the same goals and finally to provide a framework for prioritising activities.

Recognising and addressing tensions between objectives is vital before any attempt is made to agree long-term aspirations. For example:

 For a publisher and society increasing profitability might be a high priority, but the editor might want to increase the number of articles and start a programme of professionally recorded videocasts.

 A UK-based society might vigorously encourage its members to submit their research to the journal but the editor would rather increase submissions from outside the UK.

Benefits of working together on a strategic business plan

 Commitment of all stakeholders

 Fits in with strategic priorities of all parties

 More chance of commercial and academic success

 Opportunity for publisher to demonstrate expertise and commitment

A formal day of strategic planning can be a good way to elicit any such tensions and it can be beneficial to acknowledge them. The day can also be used to acknowledge in a relatively non-confrontational way any weaknesses of the journal by using a SWOT analysis (strengths and weaknesses, external opportunities and threats) of both the journal itself and its competitors.

Ideally the day would end with a single statement of a shared vision for the journal and a brief, coherent statement of its mission, also agreed by all. Any long- or short-term objectives should be aligned with these statements, and any action plans developed should lead to achievement of the objectives. The incidental benefit of such a strategic plan is that it can be a useful tool to manage unrealistic expectations from either the editor or the society.

The structure of a strategic planning session depends very much on the personalities involved and it is highly advisable to take these into account. Some editors and officers are entirely at home with the concepts of business plans, USPs (unique selling propositions), SWOT and PEST (political, economic, social and technological) analyses, whereas others will find the terminology so off-putting that they will not participate with enthusiasm and will therefore not be committed to the concept or the outcome. For the latter, it is a question of managing the vocabulary used: instead of agreeing a USP, for example, one could initiate discussion about what distinguishes or could distinguish the journal from its competitors. Instead of participating in a SWOT analysis, individuals could simply be invited to say what they think the journal does well and what it could work on.

A successful strategy day can bring additional benefits such as the development of a team spirit and the generation of vigour, energy and commitment to the objectives. However, these benefits will soon be lost if there is no outcome in the form of an agreed strategic business plan or if the actions that were agreed so enthusiastically are not implemented. It is advisable to set a date in the near future (no more than three months away) to review the commitments made and ensure that there has been progress.

Suggested approach to a collaborative strategy meeting

 Involve all stakeholders who are likely to contribute actively (e.g. from the publishing team, society officers, editorial board, editorial office staff)

 Review (ideally through reports circulated in advance) the current position of the journal and its competitors (readership, submissions, citations, downloads, pricing, publication times)

 Review the goals of the society owner, editor and publisher

 SWOT: analyse strengths and weaknesses of the journal (and its competitors), opportunities and threats in the subject field and journal market

 Agree vision, mission and long-term objectives

 Draw up short- to medium-term action plan

 Review at regular agreed intervals

Working together on ethical and legal issues

There are some important areas where collaboration is valuable but which cannot be enshrined in a formal contract. It is worth considering how these will be handled and who will take the lead. Ethical and legal infringements are an example.

Although an editor may be well positioned to judge whether a paper plagiarises another researcher’s work, is an example of duplicate publication or appears to be fabricated, it can be daunting for that editor to take action (although some will be happy to do so). The publisher can support the editor not only by helping with the correspondence and acceleration of actions in particular cases, but also by providing education, tools and action plans [such as the flowcharts from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE, 2012)]. A new editor may be unaware of potential ethical issues that may arise, let alone of best practice in dealing with them. One tool, for example, that is increasingly being adopted is plagiarism detection software: if a publisher encourages an editor to use this, or even provides it, it is important to explain how to handle suspected infringements and to provide some carefully worded template text that will achieve a desirable outcome for all parties, avoiding any unpleasant situations such as the risk of libel.

Similarly, it is good practice to ensure that journal editors understand copyright. Editors have been known to believe that there is no need to obtain copyright assignment or publishing rights for short articles, such as editorials or commentaries, or have given misleading advice about permission to reproduce illustrations or obtaining patient consent for publication.

Many editors will welcome proactive support and even handholding on issues such as these. Even those who are confident in tackling these issues may benefit from guidance and education about best practice. Needs will vary, but this could include an induction pack for new editors with briefing documents on dealing with ethical and legal issues, encouraging or paying for the editor to join COPE, or reviewing the journal’s ethics policies and advising the editor or society of any changes that might be appropriate.

Working together on editorial management

Although the contract will have stated that the editor is responsible for soliciting, assessing and making decisions on the journal’s content, there are numerous ways in which the publisher can contribute to the successful performance of the journal by providing support for the editor in these areas.

For example, providing metrics on article processing times, and on citations and downloads of different article types, and benchmarking these against other similar journals, will help the editor to set targets for improvement. Providing a forum where editors can share ideas and best practice is another way that publishers can add value to their relationships. If a journal’s budget can afford it, it may be worth paying for editors to attend relevant courses or conferences. It could also be helpful to send journal editors and editorial assistants copies of industry surveys and reports about peer review or editorial office management, to increase their understanding of their role and give them ideas for development.

If the publisher and editor together agree that changes to the journal are needed (for example, commissioning more reviews, improving wording of template emails, speeding up decision times) it is advisable to check whether the editor has the time, experience and resources to implement the changes. If it has been agreed that a journal will benefit from specific improvements, it may be in the publisher’s interest to invest its own resources into the plans rather than relying on an overworked editor.

Adopting an account management approach

Rationale and overview of relationship management tools

In many service industries (e.g. management consultants, legal firms, financial services organisations, software providers), account management is the approach used to retain clients and make the most of client relationships. The account manager is the main contact with the client, although there is also a wider team of experts who provide the different elements of the service, and are responsible for identifying needs and ensuring that they are met, so that the client does not move its business elsewhere.

The account manager often uses a number of formal tools to manage the relationship, including contact plans, a strategy to make the most of meetings, networking and ensuring that any promises made are kept. A number of publications on account management can be found in any large bookshop: many claim to offer a unique approach or programme, but broadly they all propose the principles suggested in this section.

The general aim of taking a formal approach to managing important accounts is to identify opportunities for collaboration and business growth, and to ensure that the provider is seen as delivering more than a basic service (which others might be able to provide more cheaply) and is in fact adding value to the relationship.

Relationship audits or health checks

If you were persuading someone to take on the editorship of a journal, do you know what they would learn about you if they spoke to the editors of your highest-profile journals? Would you be happy for any of your society partners to stand as referees in a bid and do you know what they would say about you? When you are going into a publications committee or editorial board meeting do you know exactly what issues might be raised and how the group you are to meet rate the publishing team’s performance? Would you have any worries at all if you heard that your managing director was about to meet one of your contacts?

For all these reasons (and more), it is prudent to review your working relationships regularly. There are a number of benefits to carrying out a periodic formal relationship audit or health check:

 It serves to identify unsolved issues and worries that may otherwise not be raised or communicated, allowing them to be resolved before they become threats to the relationship.

 It provides an opportunity to review the needs, priorities and expectations of both parties.

 It demonstrates the commitment of the publisher to the relationship.

 It increases the chance that the relationship will be long-lasting and productive.

Sometimes – ironically often when personal one-to-one relationships are good – an editor may be reluctant to raise issues because of the risk of damaging the relationship. However, those issues may become a source of increasing frustration. A formal, scripted meeting to review the relationship can appear a less confrontational way for the editor to raise and review problems.

It is useful to carry out the audit with all those who are stakeholders in the relationship: in other words, not just the journal editor but also the managing editor or publications manager, society officers, society secretariat staff and so on. A possible script for an audit meeting could look at the following areas, with two or three open questions under each heading:

 Whether the publisher demonstrates understanding of the editor and/ or society’s priorities

 The quality of the relationship between specific individuals

 The accessibility and responsiveness of the publishing team

 Specific areas of the publisher’s service in detail (e.g. production, technology, marketing)

 Confidence in the publisher’s strategic expertise.

The interview could end with an invitation to recommend any ways in which the publisher could work differently: this should elicit any issues not raised so far.

Conducting an audit interview

 Before starting, ask the interviewee(s) if they have any specific issues that they want to cover

 Ask open questions (that require more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer)

 Pause from the script after each topic to ask if the interviewee has anything else to add

 Ensure that the interviewee has time to think and respond before moving on

 Thank the interviewee occasionally for their comments

 Do not use the interview to defend actions or give explanations: simply express understanding (e.g. ‘That must have been so embarrassing for you’ or ‘I’m sorry you were disappointed by that outcome’)

Clearly, time and resources will mean that it will not be possible to carry out formal audits with all stakeholders in all relationships. In practice it will be necessary to prioritise the most important journals and contracts. However, the principle of audit can be used in all interactions. For example, if a new development is introduced, assess the impact on the journal, ask for feedback, make changes if necessary and keep checking until stakeholders are happy. A brief meeting or telephone call on any topic is an opportunity to devote five minutes to probing for outstanding issues that need to be resolved.

Issues and promises log

Having a mechanism to keep track of issues noted and promises made by all members of the publishing team is a way of minimising surprises during an audit meeting and also of ensuring that any problems are dealt with efficiently and promptly, and promises are kept (Figures 16.2 and 16.3).

Figure. 16.2 Sample template for issues log

Figure. 16.3 Sample template for promises log

For example:

 A casual offer to review the price being charged for colour to authors might slide down the journal manager’s priority list but it might be something that the editor is really excited about.

 A conference stand manager might receive a number of queries from members about missing issues.

 A society officer might ask a journal manager whether staff are overworked because the accounts were late again.

These issues need to be collated and recorded along with action points that arise from meetings with the journal editor or the society. Action points arising from meetings, even if not formally minuted, should be circulated immediately by email to all participants; within the publishing team, responsibility for each action should be assigned to the appropriate person, along with clear communication of any commitments made.

Communications management

Some relationships are more demanding than others, and, unfortunately, sometimes the less demanding editors or clients do not receive the attention that they are due.

To avoid falling into the trap of a purely reactive approach to communication it is good practice to monitor all interactions with key individuals, whether by email, by telephone or in person, to ensure that no one is forgotten. Although communications or contact management software is available, a simple spreadsheet or page per person in a notebook or card index is all that is needed (Figure 16.4). The point is not to record every interaction but only those communications, meetings and emails that bring some value to the relationship.

Figure. 16.4 Sample template for a communication tracking spreadsheet

These regular significant interactions need not be face-to-face meetings every month (and probably could not, given everyone’s commitments), although meetings should be part of a communications strategy. The ideal is a balance of formal and more casual meetings, telephone calls, emails and letters. Editors enjoy being treated to lunch or dinner occasionally, but meals should be a good use of time and ideally expenditure should be matched to the journal’s budget and the editor’s expectations. Some editors will be shocked rather than flattered by the expense of a Michelin-starred restaurant.

If too much time has passed without contact, it will be necessary to create a reason for a meeting or telephone call. For example, maybe someone in the organisation has written an article on citation tracking: this can be circulated to a contact list with a suggestion about suitable actions to take.

Meetings management

To make good use of everyone’s valuable time, it is good practice to have a valid reason for a meeting, so that all parties benefit from it.

For example, it might be a good use of the society treasurer’s time to go through the annual accounts and to obtain clarification on certain points in order to be able to present them confidently to the council. This would form the main item on the agenda and would be the reason for the meeting. For the publisher, a secondary aim of the meeting might be to persuade the treasurer to support an increase in the membership subscription rate.

Every meeting should have an agenda, whether this is a formal document or two or three bullet points in an email. Before the meeting starts, it is good practice to confirm the agenda and to ask whether there are any additional points for discussion (see Figure 16.5 for a meeting checklist). This is a good relationship audit practice, as it can elicit a disappointment or frustration that would not otherwise be communicated.

Figure. 16.5 Sample meeting checklist

To manage expectations, every meeting or significant telephone call, however informal, should be followed with notes. These need not be formal minutes if the nature of the meeting does not require minutes, but a list of the action points agreed and promises made should be circulated to all participants. This not only manages expectations as there is a clear agreed record of the meeting but also is a useful document to provide evidence of commitments made and promises kept.

If a number of members of the publishing team attend a more formal meeting together, they should all have a reason for being there that is clear to the other party attending. For example, a journal manager may take a senior colleague, such as a director, to a meeting to demonstrate the importance of the relationship, but it is still advisable for the director to have a specific role at the meeting, such as to update the publications committee on the company’s online strategy.

Managing expectations

During all interactions with editor or society partner, it is essential to manage expectations. Whether the publisher’s contribution to the relationship has a positive or negative impact depends on a combination of how that contribution is perceived in relation to what was expected. In other words, success is achieved when perception of actions exceeds expectations (see Figure 16.6).

Figure. 16.6 Satisfaction is achieved when perception exceeds expectations. If a journal’s subscriptions decline by 4 per cent, the impact will depend on how the society or editor perceives this and what they expected

There are a number of practical ways to manage expectations:

 Setting expectations

– Do not overpromise

– Ensure that commitments made are expressed clearly and documented

– Have shared objectives and an action plan

 Monitoring expectations

– Understand the editor or society officer’s priorities

– Ask for their regular feedback

 Influence perceptions

– Do not hide any possibly disappointing news: have a ‘no-surprises’ policy

– Present regular reports about the state of the journals market

– Benchmark the journal against other comparable journals

Managing the people in a relationship

Importance of peer-to-peer contact

The success of a publishing relationship is often over reliant on a single individual: a journal publishing manager, for example, who is particularly close to and respected by the journal editor and publications committee. The obvious risk is that if that person moves on the relationship may have to be rebuilt from scratch and important knowledge about the history of the relationship is lost, as the wider team may not be aware of issues. Moreover, no matter how experienced any one individual may be, they may not have the breadth of knowledge, experience or expertise that a broader team could bring or that a successful journal demands.

In managing a contract with a key society, it is good practice to develop peer-to-peer or mirror relationships between individuals with broadly equivalent functions. The benefit of this is that steps in communication are reduced, and the range of expertise and experience in the publishing team is available to both the editor and the society.

Of course, in practice this approach may have to be modified: it might be impractical, for example, for the society treasurer or managing editor to deal directly with the publisher’s accounts department. However, it is worth identifying members of the core team who could work directly with appropriate counterparts at the society. In particular, it shows an appropriate level of respect and commitment if a senior member of the publishing staff, at director level if possible, is involved in any interactions involving senior figures at the society, such as the chief executive or the president.

Within this approach, it remains important to have a single lead contact person (the ‘account manager’) in the publishing team, such as the publishing manager. This individual (and indeed the whole team) must be accessible and responsive. He or she need not feel compelled to be on the end of a telephone at unsociable hours, but should give confidence that any messages will be responded to within 24 hours, either personally or by someone competent to handle the query or request. If it is not possible to respond fully, at the very least the issue raised should be acknowledged, with a commitment to following up by a specific time. This reassures the editor that the matter is being dealt with. It is inadvisable to use pressure of workload as an excuse for a slow response, as that might simply imply either inefficiency or that other relationships have a higher priority.

Finally, it is reassuring for the society or journal editor to know how to escalate any problems: who they would approach at a more senior level if necessary.

Working with the editor

A relationship that feels like a partnership will be more productive than one that seems like a contractor (the publisher) working with a supplier (the editor): this will be achieved by keeping the editor informed and, wherever possible, asking for his or her advice.

Hames (2011) proposes a seven-part approach to a relationship with a journal editor or editorial board, as summarised here:

 Provide support and back-up. Make sure all the support and back-up the editors were promised is provided consistently and reliably.

 Avoid work overload. Monitor the editor’s workload and take steps to acknowledge and resolve any cases of overload (the editor probably wants more than sympathy!).

 Keep editors well informed. Provide regular reports (and periodically check what information they would like to see and how they would like it to be presented).

 Treat editors as individuals. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses so you can take advantage of the former and compensate for the latter. Inspire trust and confidence so that they will let you know about any problems they are having and any mistakes or errors of judgement they may have made.

 Create a feeling of community. Work to achieve a sense of community, both within the editorial board and within the field the journal serves.

 Discuss proposed policy changes. Involve the editors fully in discussions on possible policy changes and take their comments into account.

 Make things fun. Introduce a lighter note and form good relationships. Make the editorial meetings enjoyable as well as useful and constructive. Help the editors with their travel and accommodation arrangements. Be understanding.

As in any relationship, being open about bad news is good practice, not only because it demonstrates honesty and helps build trust, but also because the editor can be involved in finding a solution rather than being annoyed when it is too late to do anything. For example, if an author is angry about how the production of a paper has been handled, inviting the editor to help pacify the author not only helps create that sense of partnership but also could be a good solution to the issue.

The approach to the editor relationship may need to be adapted depending on needs. For example, it is easy to underestimate how much hand-holding a first-time editor might need, but might be reluctant to ask for. An experienced editor might be willing to act as a mentor and to be available to give advice. If possible, it would be a good investment to pay for the new editor to attend relevant courses and seminars.

In the case of co-editors who do not know each other well, it cannot be assumed that they will take the initiative to build a relationship or to find ways of working together. It may be advisable for the first few months not only to suggest regular telephone catch-ups (depending on paper flow, perhaps every two weeks or so) but also for the publisher to set up these calls and to take part in them, in order to give direction as needed and to monitor how well they work together.

Working with the editorial board

Editorial boards are a valuable asset. Board members may serve a number of journals, and will have a sense of loyalty to some more than others. In order to win this loyalty, the relationship with the journal needs to amount to more than requests to referee papers and the annual invitation to an editorial board meeting. Keeping in touch with the editorial board should be part of the communication plan for a journal: for example, they could be sent emails with news about the journal (a change in impact factor, a successful press release); those members who cannot attend an editorial board meeting should be sent copies of the papers that were handed out; they could also be encouraged to distribute information about the journal in their institution and at seminars they attend.

To keep an editorial board lively and active, it is advisable to have a mechanism for appointing members and refreshing membership. Although most editorial boards comprise a combination of active contributors and figureheads, on some the proportion of active members can decline with time, and even those who were figureheads can be long retired. If members are appointed for a fixed term (e.g. three years plus maybe a single year extension) with overlapping termination dates, it should be possible to refresh a portion of the board every year. When appointed, board members could be sent a letter or information pack explaining how they are expected to contribute (how many papers they are expected to review, whether they are expected to commission reviews, attend board meetings, or write editorials, and so on).

Editorial board meetings are an opportunity to make the most of the board’s expertise and to make individual members feel involved in and committed to the journal. Part of the meeting will almost certainly comprise the presentation of a number of reports, but it can be worthwhile and interesting to devote specific agenda items to topics inviting input from the board. Ideally brief discussion papers should be circulated in advance so that board members arrive ready to contribute. The most interesting and valuable editorial board meetings are those where the reporting is kept to a minimum and the discussion and generation of new ideas is lively.

It can be a challenge to hold a meeting of an international editorial board, particularly if there is no single conference that most of the members attend and if the journal cannot fund travel expenses. One alternative might be for the editor or the publisher to meet smaller groups at two or three conferences, with broadly similar agendas for discussion. Alternatively, rather than formal editorial board meetings, regular short online meetings using webinar technology could be held to present reports in slide format and then discuss progress and debate ideas using the chat facility.


A number of surveys have demonstrated consistently that peer-reviewers value both feedback on their work and recognition of their contribution. Feedback on decisions made not only gives the reviewer guidance about the expectations and standards of the journal but also helps demonstrate that their input was valued and respect for the time that the referee has spent on a paper.

Hames (2007) offers excellent advice on building relationships with reviewers and demonstrating how much they are valued. As well as emphasising the importance of thanking them and giving feedback, she discusses the benefits of training, suggests a number of ways to recompense reviewers, and gives a checklist of ways to develop and maintain reviewer loyalty, as summarised below:

 Treat reviewers well and with courtesy

 Ensure you do not overload reviewers: remember that they are reviewing for other journals as well as their day job

 Respond to queries and solve problems as quickly as possible

 Ensure that manuscripts sent to reviewers are relevant to the journal

 Provide feedback on manuscripts that they have reviewed

 Give them your time in return if they need help or advice.

Valuing referees

 Have a mechanism to let referees know what the final decision was on papers that they reviewed and what any other referees said

 List referees’ names at the end of the year in the journal or on the home page with a thank you note

 Send Christmas cards (or similar)

 Send a certificate or letter once a year stating how many papers they have reviewed

 Consider rewarding referees who have done the most papers with a bottle of wine or an Amazon token

 Add a core list of regular referees to your mailing list for news items and announcements to make them feel part of the club

Winning and retaining publishing contracts

Winning through relationship building

This section is not a comprehensive guide about how to win new business but addresses some good practice in building valuable relationships that may increase the chances of winning a publishing contract.

As Ware (2008) has written:

‘The problem for the society is distinguishing a good short-term deal (say, an attractive financial offer) from the partnership that will actually be in the better long-term interests of the journal… Underlying the performance of the best publisher partners are a good understanding of the needs of societies and their journals; a strong service orientation; and an ability to plan strategically for each journal on the basis of facts and data.’

Most major publishers are able to demonstrate convincingly that they are able to meet these criteria; so the challenge in tendering for business remains to find some differentiating factors – some way of demonstrating a solution that is the best match to the society’s needs and an understanding of and sympathy with their objectives.

To achieve this requires building up relationships with all those who might influence the decision before the request for a proposal (RFP) arrives, bearing in mind that each individual may have a different view of the society’s needs and objectives and how the best deal for the journal might be framed, and also may hold different personal motivations. This, of course, requires the knowledge of when contract renewals are likely to fall due and the application of a relatively formal approach to prospecting (there are a number of books on complex selling or strategic selling which describe tools for managing pipelines of prospects that can easily be adapted to bidding for and winning society contracts).

As the date for an expected RFP approaches, it is well worth reviewing whether any of those likely to be involved in the decision are also involved in other publications: are those publications and relationships running smoothly?

It is also likely that references from similar organisations will be required as part of the bid process. If there is any doubt about what one of the references might say, there is nothing to be lost in having an open discussion with the society in question. However, a programme of regular audits should make this unnecessary.

Examples of personal motivations and their implications

 The journal editor wants to ensure that his or her editorial assistant keeps their job, so a bid that offers editorial office management at the publisher’s office would not appeal.

 Some publications committee members are uncomfortable about pharmaceutical company sponsorship, so would be nervous about a bid describing this at great length.

 The new chief executive of the society does not have a publishing background and so views the journal simply as a source of income to be maximised.

Retaining and renewing a contract

Handling contract renewals ideally involves a similar approach, i.e. one of establishing the priorities and motivations of all those who might have an impact on the decision. As an example, the president of the society might be in office for just a year or two and feel compelled to make an impact during that time. Negotiating a contract with a new publisher might appear to be a way of making such an impact. Working with him or her so that contract renewal can be presented as a significant success might appeal in such a case.

In general, it is wise to avoid relying on relationships with one or two individuals, especially if these are particularly warm and close. This can lead to complacency and a lack of understanding of what and who will have an impact on the final decision. Networking beyond one’s comfort zone is the only way to ensure full understanding of all those with influence.

Other organisations tendering for the contract will no doubt present innovations and new ideas in their bid, which may or may not be realistic. If expectations have been appropriately managed, and a strategic business plan has been agreed and is being implemented, the society is more likely to be able to make a reasonable, well-informed assessment of the offers on the table.


A successful relationship is a partnership, in which all involved have shared goals and interests and in which the collaboration itself contributes to success, clearly generating value for all those involved. In a publishing relationship, the challenge is to create this sense of partnership, rather than a supplier–contractor relationship (publisher–society) or contractor–supplier relationship (publisher–editor). This requires not only working together collaboratively to agree priorities and develop shared objectives but also, on the publisher’s part, taking a proactive approach to managing and building personal relationships. This will result in productive partnerships and successful publishing contracts.


ALPSP. Advice Note 8. The Journal Editor’s Contract. Available from http://www. alpsp. org/Ebusiness/Research/Publications/AdviceNoteGuidelines. aspx, 2010.

ALPSP. Advice Note 9. The Society–Publisher Contract. Available from http://www. alpsp. org/Ebusiness/Research/Publications/AdviceNoteGuidelines. aspx, 2002.

Committee on Publication Ethics. Flowcharts. Available from http://publicationethics. org/resources/flowcharts, 2012.

Hames, I. Editorial boards: realizing their potential. Learned Publishing. 2011; 14:247–256.

Hames, I. ‘Reviewers – a precious resource’, in Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals – Guidelines for Good Practice. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; 2007. [pp. 139–145].

Owen L., ed. Clark’s Publishing Agreements, 8th ed., London: Bloomsbury Professional, 2010.

UK Serials Group. Transfer Code of Practice Version 2. 0. Available from http://www. uksg. org/Transfer/Code, 2008.

Ware, M. Choosing a publishing partner: advice for societies and associations. Learned Publishing. 2008; 21:22–28.

Other useful resources

ALPSP. ALPSP Advice Note 18. When a Society Journal Changes Publisher. Guidelines for Good Practice. Available from http://www. alpsp. org/Ebusiness/Research/Publications/AdviceNoteGuidelines. aspx, 2009.

Ashman, P. What societies want from a publishing partner. Learned Publishing. 2009; 22:209–219.

Bammel, J. The publisher – author relationship. Principles of good practice in scholarly journal publishing. Learned Publishing. 1999; 12:75–78.