Case Study

CherryRoad Media Ramps Up Legals with Column

By Emmie Atwood, Content Manager · May 31, 2022

“It became clear that with our rapid expansion, Column was critical for us to streamline our operations and relieve staff of the manual time they’d been spending on legals previously.”
Kathy Malm, Vice President Sales at CherryRoad Media

Kathy Malm and her husband live out on a ranch in Central Kansas. “Some folks might not know this,” she says, “but having effective water districts is a big deal out in the country. Anytime the county is planning on doing something that will affect us — and the land we live on and the animals we care for — we need to know.”

The legal notices in her local newspaper are an important part of Kathy’s daily routine — she reads them to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in her community. “Wind turbines are another example,” she says. “I have strong opinions about them, and seeing notices in the paper allows me to get educated about what our local government is planning. The notices tell us when to attend meetings so we can speak up about what we want as the residents of the area.”

Kathy’s also the Vice President of Sales at CherryRoad Media, one of the largest, fastest-growing media enterprise companies in the country. Every day, she makes decisions about how best to manage the public notice process for papers. Across the country, proposed legislation threatens the ongoing publication of legals by local media, and Kathy is one of many adamant that newspapers remain the primary distributors of this important public information — as opposed to the government websites trying to replace them. “I don’t have time to go to the government website and dig around to find out what’s on their agenda,” Kathy says, “but I do read my newspaper every day and I find the information there.”

The problem has always been that the process of publishing public notices is cumbersome and inefficient. “A lot of times several people have to be involved to process a legal,” says Kathy. “Not to mention the affidavit process, which has always been the biggest headache. I used to call it the arts and crafts project because you had to get out scissors and cut out each notice and glue the notice onto the paper. Every newspaper I walked into had file cabinet after file cabinet to keep track of everything.” The highly manual public notice process not only bogged down her staff, it also put at risk the continued existence of legals in newspapers by frustrating the governments, law firms, and citizens required to file them. Furthermore, Kathy wanted to standardize across the board to support CherryRoad’s continued expansion, and public notice was slowing them down. Kathy knew things had to change. "We needed a system that would bring public notice into this century, keep pace with our growth, and make the lives of our many legals teams easier."

At the beginning of this year, Kathy found her solution in Column. CEO Jake Seaton founded Column to fortify the future of public notice, and today it’s still the only software company exclusively dedicated to improving the legals process. As a mission-driven public benefit company, Column offers all its technology tools to publishers for free.

Of course, there was reason for Kathy to be skeptical of any new digital platform, especially one claiming to provide software for free. “For newspapers, it’s a scary thought to give away a piece of your business to a vendor,” Kathy reflects now. “When newspapers have done that in the past, it has not been a smart move. We got cut out.” But after hearing Jake’s reasoning behind why he started Column, Kathy says her original resistance dissipated. Jake was a fellow Kansas resident and the fifth-generation of a newspaper family. Like Kathy, he’d watched the internet disrupt the news and media industry; he’d witnessed his family’s newspaper profit margins plummet amidst the pressure of an increasingly digital world.

“I knew that Column’s tool was something we needed to pursue at CherryRoad to create a good structure for legals moving forward,” said Kathy. Once she made it her mission to introduce Column, the onboarding process was fast and easy. “Column was working at a speed we don’t typically see from vendors,” she says. “We were expanding fast, and they were able to respond to what I know was a frantic pace. It was unheard of — doing the amount of papers we were doing in that period of time — but they kept up and pulled it off.”

Will Lamb was the Account Manager on the Column team assigned to CherryRoad’s implementation process. Kathy describes him as her “go-to guy.” Will calls Kathy “our internal champion at CherryRoad” and “a great partner to me.” He highlights her strong leadership, and admires how she knows how to prioritize which papers to go live first and who at those papers must be contacted to help with the transition. “When something is important, she’s good at getting the necessary people involved to get it done and get it done quickly.”

Will also works with CherryRoad’s legals reps. He says that some legals reps were wary at first about how Column would work. “They were used to the manual processes of assigning notice order numbers, typing that into the booking system, and keeping track of things in their own way. They sometimes asked, ‘how are you going to do all this?’ It was new to them. But once we launched the integration and got it running smoothly, the team was appreciative of the time-saving aspects, how Column handles all the invoicing, and the fact that they now have less things to keep in their heads.”

Once CherryRoad started using Column, efficiency became the name of the game. Kathy explains how the Column tool has a bulk affidavit processing tool that organizes the entire affidavit process, “which our staff particularly love.” The software also provides customers with notice templates so they can skip over the thorny legalese and auto-generate their notice text. Column customizes the platform according to each individual paper’s needs, helps publishers maintain compliance with changing regulations, and offers keyword search for the easy sorting and finding of notices.

Importantly for CherryRoad, Column also has the ability to integrate with existing systems. “That was essential for us,” says Kathy. “At the time we implemented Column, we were also setting up a new frontend integration system with SCS, and we needed a tool that would work effectively with that system.”

Justin Matteos, a software engineer at Column, led the integration between Column and SCS. “SCS has a really nice system, which made the integration fast and easy,” he says. “I can speak to a lot of integrations that Column has done, and tell you that our team will always put in the hard work. We’ve gone through and designed for all unique edge cases. But SCS has been excellent to work with, and it’s easy to keep our two systems in sync.”

Justin appreciates how CherryRoad makes decisions to reduce specializations across their expanding portfolio of papers. “Because we’re not building customized features into each implementation,” Justin says, “we’re able to roll out quickly. Things run really smoothly with CherryRoad — we can usually just flick on the switch for each new paper and onboard them right away.”

“Of course, there were challenges,” Kathy says, when reflecting on CherryRoad’s whole journey with Column. “It was a lot of change to happen for our staff in a short period of time. But we made sure to be very clear: with Column, we’re not downsizing staff. The new tool simply gives us the ability to free up staff so they can focus on their other priorities. Once we clarify this, the team is usually quick to love the benefits — especially that bulk affidavit feature. It just makes people’s lives easier.”

Kathy and the whole Column team agree — maintaining open information streams, holding governments accountable to transparency, and having access to important public information allows citizens to be better decision-makers and more effectively engage in their communities. “Legals are such an important part of what we do,” Kathy says, “and we need to take every opportunity to make sure that newspapers continue to be where legals are placed. Column helps us make a strong case for why we should remain the distributors of public notice. I see Column as a key piece in ensuring that future."

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