Q&A With Anna Robertson, Strategic Consultant for Disney/ABC & Former Head of Yahoo Video

In May of 2000 The Washington Post published a feature on two standout seniors soon to graduate from The University of Virginia. Anna Robertson was one of the “Campus Jewels” profiled. Little did she know how prescient her comment from the article would be:

While aspiring to make a mark in TV news, Robertson believes that the dramatic changes in her life are likely the harbingers of other shifts that she can’t foresee. “It’s hard to be sure what will happen,” she says. “I’m looking toward TV, but the Internet is merging into TV, so everything could be different. . . . Actually, I’m kind of disillusioned by the way entertainment is taking over news. But I think there’s a way there of doing the news through strong stories.”

Eighteen years later Anna’s media experience runs deep as a journalist, producer, media executive, and entrepreneur. In past roles, she’s worked as Diane Sawyer’s producer, been an Emmy-award winning producer for ABC News’ Good Morning America, and built Yahoo Studios while acting as VP, head of video. Today Anna acts as a strategic consultant to Disney/ABC TV Group and several startups, and is the founder of recipe swapping platform TasteTrades.

In the following interview Anna Robertson shares some observations on her successes and failures after nearly two decades on the forefront of the media business.

How old were you when you had your first paying job?
When I was sixteen, I was a sleep-away camp counselor at Camp Varsity in Madison, Virginia. In terms of media jobs, my first paying job was with what was then called WashingtonPostNewsweekInteractive (WPNI) as an associate producer when I was in my senior year of college, and then as an overnight desk assistant at ABC News in New York after graduation.

While you were an undergrad at UVA in the mid 1990s, you launched theangle.com, a monthly online magazine that combined news with interactive discussion, photos, animation, and first-person news accounts. That was forward-thinking. Tell me about that.
I had a difficult time my second year of college. I channeled my frustrations into my passion for journalism, but I wanted to create something new instead of working for the Cavalier Daily, the traditional student newspaper. It was truly the beginning of online – we were still plugging cell phones into car chargers back then! I had a vision for an online news magazine that could go deep on issues that mattered in new and different ways, and I was able to attract great talent across the university to build it with me. The Washington Post agreed to help support the project, and ended up hiring some of the students who were a part of it.

What has surprised you about your career path and experiences?
Honestly, everything about my career has surprised me! It has been very non-linear, in a good way! I never could have predicted that I would have the good fortune to be working alongside so many world-class journalists and reporting from some of the biggest global stories of the beginning of the 21st Century. Many people thought I was crazy when I left an incredible job working with Diane Sawyer at ABC News in New York to run social media and digital video at Yahoo News in 2010, but in addition to wanting to live in a new city, I knew that I needed to immerse myself in a digital-first company. Getting my “Digital MBA” at Yahoo turned out to be a great complement to my traditional media training. I always thought I’d be the on-camera talent or the producer behind the story, so I’m surprised that now my career has evolved far beyond storytelling to focus more on strategy, business, and management.

Related story: Behind the Launch of Manhattan Magazine—a Q&A With Modern Luxury Media’s CEO

One often hears that it is important in publishing to stay ahead of what the world thinks. You seem to have been able to accomplish this throughout your career. What do you attribute this to?
Endless curiosity. I am a voracious consumer of content, from email newsletters to magazines, books, and podcasts. Many of these focus on the media industry– favorites include Fast Company, Recode (especially Peter Kafka’s RecodeMedia podcast), Digiday, MediaREDEF, Axios, Stratechery, The Hollywood Reporter, Nieman Lab). I also expose myself to perspectives from other industries to get new thinking into the mix, and I spend a lot of time networking and connecting with people in and out of the industry, whether through events and conferences, phone calls, or in-person meetings.

What questions do you ask most often when launching a new initiative?
What does the consumer want? What insights and research do we have about how to serve their needs, create an excellent product or experience or tell a story we think they want to hear? It may seem obvious, but [I ask] what are the goals and measurements of the initiative? Too often we launch projects without clear objectives and a North Star that can help us stay on track towards success.

A few months ago on Twitter you shared a McKinsey report “Culture for a Digital Age.” The report focused on three digital cultural deficiencies: risk aversion, weak customer focus, and siloe’d mindsets. And these cultural obstacles often correlate with negative economic performance. What about this article caught your attention and why?
I believe organizational innovation is highly underrated. Too often our focus is on creating a breakthrough, innovative product, but without the right foundation in the culture, leadership and mindset, we can’t come up with great ideas or execute on them. In this period of tremendous disruption, traditional media brands are beginning to transform and modernize their organizations towards a customer-first mindset, informed risk-taking, and cross-functional collaboration. And likewise, digital-first companies are learning that they may need more of the rigor, structure, and brand identity that are more common in established companies.

I read somewhere that “Disclosure is a constant fixation of traditional journalism. Where is the content coming from and who is paying for it?” With branded content blurring the lines more than ever before and the term “fake news” part of the national conversation, what is the impact on journalism?
While branded content and fake news are really two separate issues, they both land in consumer trust with a brand. It’s more important than ever for media companies to double down on quality journalism and (re)establishing trust with their consumers. With branded content, this comes through appropriate disclosure and elegant integration of a sponsor’s brand within content, and for fake news, it comes with simply getting the facts right, over and over, and being transparent when you get something wrong. Done well, branded content can be a much more appealing consumer experience than traditional advertising, particularly if it’s relevant and useful to the viewer or reader. Personally, I’d rather get a super relevant native ad in my Instagram feed than watch a generic 30-second pre-roll before a three-minute video. And I’m hopeful that the conversation around “fake news” will make great news brands even more diligent, given the weight of responsibility they have for getting it right.

You have successfully forged numerous partnerships with media and brands. I am curious to learn your thoughts are about what Ev Williams, founder of Medium, said during an interview, “In almost every case, the best media is supported by those who consume it.” (Medium accepts no advertising, not even native which they did at one time, so he is referring to some type of subscription model.)
It’s exciting to see a shift towards consumers paying for quality content, which validates the creation of good storytelling. Whether it be The Information or Patreon or the New York Times, subscription is opening up new opportunities and viability for content creators and companies that may not be able to survive on advertising alone. However, there are many people that can’t afford to pay those subscriptions, and I don’t believe that they should be shut out from consuming quality content because they can’t afford it. I don’t think subscription is the only answer.

What are the criteria you follow when creating impactful partnerships?
Two things: Partnerships where both parties bring something to the table. And second, it’s all in the execution.

In terms of branded content, the critical piece is staying authentic to your brand and creating an asset that is valuable for your audience and for your sponsor.

In terms of strategic partnerships, I always look for places where adjacent partnerships can enhance the relevancy of each individual brand. When I was at GMA 10 years ago, we created a partnership with YouTube before they were bought by Google – our “YouTube Video of the Week” segment brought new, fresh content onto a traditional television morning show and helped YouTube get exposure with a national audience before they were a big deal (if you can believe it!).

If failing is learning, what have you “learned?”
Fail fast and fail forward. Digital cultures are more comfortable with failing as long as the investment is not so severe. More established brands are trying to get in the habit of doing that. It’s such a rapidly evolving time for media– what may have worked in the past may not work now. It used to be that you could create great content and your audience could find it. But now, if you don’t have the right strategy around that content, it could fail even though it’s great. You must align your resources to succeed.

How to Ramp Up a New Content Vertical, According to Founder of “Viral” Blog, Millennial Money

Grant Sabatier,Founder Millennialmoney.com

Grant Sabatier,Founder

According to Grant Sabatier, founder of Millennialmoney.com, more millennials are striving to reach financial independence at a young age. Having that same mission two and a half years ago, Sabatier a digital strategist [and full disclosure, my son] decided to share his own financial journey online. With no financial investment, no staff, and writing just a few hours a week a brand was born. What he did have was a sound business strategy, passion for the subject, and an authentic lens for his content.

Publishers planning to launch a new online brand or expand into a new vertical can learn a great deal from Millennial Money’s rapid success. Sabatier encourages publishers to have a robust digital strategy, search for “white space” that their brand can fill, publish quality writing, and partner with other brands to attract new audiences and gain credibility at launch.

Following is a brief interview with Sabatier about how Millennial Money got off the ground, thanks to a strong SEO strategy and mobile-optimized design, and how he plans to diversify the website’s revenue as the brand continues to grow.

Why did you launch Millennial Money?

Millennial Money was launched in February of 2015. I have worked on over 300 websites for other people and I have never had my own site. This site began as my personal blog to share my saving, investing, and money making strategies and will always continue with that component. It has just grown beyond me now. It’s now known as a personal finance/entrepreneurship investing community.

I am still the architect, but I also feature guest posts and other voices. I have a vibrant Facebook group. It’s a conversation facilitator. And now I am developing a full scale platform to provide even more resources like tools, courses, and recommendations for readers interested in reaching financial independence.

Who is the audience for Millennial Money?

Interestingly, about 70% of my audience are millenials with an average age of 27 and average income of $72,000. A lot of people start thinking about money and how to optimize it after they get that first good job. Those making $50k and under are paying student loans and living paycheck to paycheck, but also read the blog. It’s a pretty broad mix and it’s been growing so quickly that I am just trying to keep up.

But I have been surprised by the number of young millenials in college who read it. And I get a lot of older readers as well. I got an email from a 67-year- old woman in the U.K. recently.

50% of the site traffic comes from Google organic searches, 25% from social media, and the other 25% from referrals and media.

How did you achieve that traffic percentage?

I think about my strategy like I’m building a fire. Because my background is in digital marketing and this is the first site I have built for myself, I was very intentional about putting the pieces together to maximize the traffic potential of the site over time. The pieces include design, coding, page speed, metadata and taxonomy [category structure], which built the foundation so that I could write long, relevant, and keyword-rich content.

Can you provide more specifics about the decisions you made on design, coding, etc. that were important to your success?

I created a design with a mobile-first mindset. I knew that a majority of my traffic was likely going to come from mobile devices and Google has shifted to mobile-first indexing, so they prioritize the mobile user experience over the desktop. Since I had an unknown brand, I wanted to ensure that images were featured prominently as the centerpiece of the content and my logo was on every image (something I don’t see on many blogs).

The average viewer judges your website within two seconds of visiting it, so I wanted the images to be cool and convey that immediately and either unconsciously or consciously, that I spend a lot of time and put a lot of care into crafting my content. It worked — I routinely get comments on how awesome people think the blog looks and I think the design was able to make my brand feel bigger than it was when I launched.

Making sure your website loads quickly is also essential for mobile and desktop visitors. People don’t want to wait and Google uses page speed as a ranking factor as well. To ensure the page speed would be fast I chose a good hosting package and limited the number of scripts and moving pieces in the code, minifying the CSS style sheet and other elements. I also compress images anywhere it’s possible. Over time my speed has gotten slower; it’s a constant battle given all of the elements now on the site, but when I launched it loaded in less than 1 second and was essential in creating an optimal user experience, and maximized my search ranking potential.

Every keyword on Millennial Money is used intentionally to maximizing the ranking potential of the website. The keywords were the kindling of the fire — once I started getting media attention and more backlinks, the website started ranking for the keywords I had optimized for and now it’s like a snowball going down a hill — the rankings and traffic compound the more content and backlinks I get.

So what is your monthly site traffic?

It took a year to go from zero to 5,000 visitors a month. And then it took six months to go from 5,000 to 100,000 visitors a month (300,000 page views a month). Going back to the idea of the fire, I was building the kindling over the first year and then the match that lit it on fire was the media attention and backlinks that came with all the media mentions. This immediately increased relevancy and authority in Google so everything I had written prior skyrocketed in traffic and reach.

I am curious about the media attention for the site. What spawned that?

All of the explosive growth began with one CNBC feature. It was one of the most viewed articles on their site that month. The day it came out it was the top story of the day and outranked stories about Donald Trump and Mark Cuban. It was so funny, I tweeted at both of them, but they didn’t tweet me back. After CNBC the story traveled to The Washington PostUSA TodayChicago TribuneNPR, etc.

I have never reached out to a reporter. It’s wild how fast it blew up. Now my focus is on keeping the fire going and growing!

What is the size of your team (content, ad sales, tech)?

There are three of us. I’m the primary writer and manage the website. Then my best friend since I was 5 is the director of advertising and partnerships, and I have a co-creator for my course and co-host of my podcast. I’m still figuring out how big of team I really need, but my plan is to keep it lean and agile. I don’t currently have a vision to turn this into a massive company, I’m more focused on the mission of reaching as many people as possible.

Would you say that your content is sticky?

No, not really, but it definitely resonates with people. People tell me I have a way about writing about topics that normally can be dry and confusing. I relate with passion that’s blended with knowledge and my own experience. It also resonates because there is a level of vulnerability with the content. On my blog I am very open about the mistakes I have made, not just successes.

Do you have a content strategy?

I have a business strategy built around one of my favorite books, Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim. The central idea is to create a true business opportunity you need to create a new market and compete in uncontested waters.

Millennial money has hard to replicate content, a unique story, great brand, media attraction, and an increasingly diverse platform. And I just signed on two women podcasters whom I am going to syndicate along with other unique millenials voices on money in multiple formats.

I understand that the brand is now a leader working with Zillow and other brands to develop new content. How did millennial money attain thought leadership in a short period of time?

It is visibility and credibility. It’s all about audience share. Once you are endorsed by a few top publications, it’s a validator, and other people want to write about and partner with you. It’s all about mutual benefit – other brands want to reach my audience and I want to reach theirs. Many brands are super open and excited to explore creative ways to work together. I’m doing a series of videos for one brand, writing for another, and formulating a curriculum with another. It’s all a ton of fun.

Former Ogden CEO Explains How Fostering Passion Lifts Engagement & Profits

Long-time publishing innovator Bryan Welch shares lessons he learned from launching a slew of profitable magazine business, from Mother Earth News to Motorcycle Classics. [reprinted from my blog post on www.pubexec.com]

Tapping into one’s passion can be a powerful fuel for any business enterprise, but it is particularly vital for the magazine business. Bryan Welch, the former CEO of niche media company Ogden Publications, says that staying true to his passions and embracing the passions of his readers was the secret to the success of Ogden’s top titles like Farm Collector, Motorcycle Classics, and Mother Earth News. And that philosophy continues to guide his work today at B the Change Media.

Bryan Welch, Former CEO of Ogden Publications & Founder of B The Change Media

During Welch’s leadership, Ogden Publications experienced steady growth in audience, revenue, and profits. Welch spearheaded the company’s diversification into branded products, events, and television, and personally oversaw its successful insurance-marketing enterprise. In his last five years at the helm, revenues grew by 15% and profits were up 34%. In that same period, audiences more than doubled from 5 million in 2009 to more than 12 million at the end of 2014.

In 2015 Welch stepped down as CEO of Ogden to launch B the Change Media, an online publication serving B Corporations, also known as benefit corporations, which are for-profits dedicated to making a positive impact on society. B the Change Media sells subscriptions to B Corporations to distribute to their employees and supplements that subscription revenue with ads. B the Change recently suspended publishing in print and will continue publishing online.

In the following interview, Welch explains how fueling readers’ passions leads to profitability, and shares lessons he learned from Ogden Publications and B the Change Media.

Related story: How Mother Earth News Is Using Analytics to Drive Content

Why did you go into publishing?

I discovered at the college newspaper that people would pay me a bit of money to write stories. I love writing stories. When I graduated I was hired to work at the local paper. I loved being engaged in the story process: writing, editing, photography, and design. At that time, journalism was an idealistic profession. The feeling of going to work every day to do something that matters was addictive.

My family and I moved nine times during the next 15 years as I worked my way around in the community newspaper business as a reporter, editor, and finally a publisher of local newspapers. Once I was a publisher, I discovered the newspaper business was boring. It was a very mature business that ran according to business norms. There was no business creativity. So I went to grad school to study business and was then led to do something entrepreneurial.

In 1996, a family I had worked for in the newspaper industry launched Ogden Publications, Capper’s and GRIT were our first acquisitions. They gave me a great 19-year run.

To what do you attribute your partnership with the Nutting family lasting almost two decades?

The family runs a company that has very little corporate management. They discovered that if they hired the right people to run their local papers, they could do without middle management. As a result, I was lucky to have creative opportunity. They were hands-off.

When we launched the publishing company, we turned the first title around quickly. It cash flowed soon. We launched Farm Collector and it cash flowed immediately. When we acquired Mother Earth News it was an instant success. [For 10 years leading up to 2013, Mother Earth News was the fastest growing magazine in North America. In 2014 it was also the magazine with longest time spent reading by its audience; and the magazine most likely to be a reader’s favorite according to MediaMark Research.]

Our good fortune gave Ogden Publications a credibility with its owners. The family gave us freedom to innovate and explore.

What were important lessons you learned from managing Ogden Publications?

I came into national magazines with no experience and I discovered in 1996 that there was a lot of inefficiency built into the business. We immediately saw that our business plan for many of our titles would be driven by circulation revenue more than advertising. But there was a steep learning curve. The newsstand business is difficult and not as lucrative as it should be. Direct mail was the primary source for attaining paid subscriptions, but it can be risky. You invest millions of dollars and put your business at the risk of weather, news events, etc. A key turning point for us was when we created an early lifetime-customer-value model. This allowed us to design promotions with better strategic understanding of our goals.

Our lifetime-customer-value model was essentially a discounted-cash-flow analysis of each magazine buyer, whether a subscriber or newsstand customer, that evaluated all the revenues from that reader. We looked at specific longevity of reader groups by source and adjusted our promotional spending so that each reader we acquired met our efficiency standards. Those standards varied from title to title. Growing titles that were more ad-driven were managed to make sure a subscriber group had paid off the promotional investment by the second renewal. Lower-growth, circulation-driven titles were required to pay off their promotional spending at acquisition.

It took us years to make Utne Reader profitable. The reality that idea (aka intellectual) magazines are uniformly difficult to make profitable was a hard one for me to swallow. The battlefield is littered with idea magazines and I was slower than I should have been to realize that we had to operate on very low expenses. It was painful getting there. Over the course of several years we gradually decreased the editorial staff from 10 people to one talented person and that was the key. That publication won’t support two editors. One of the other lessons I learned is that the national advertising market was not interested in niche magazines. Visiting the agencies was only helpful after I had a relationship with the client. Then and only then did we have a chance at some business. I batted zero for 19 years. Other people have done better.

What principles helped guide you toward success at Ogden Publications?

I had two strategies for growing the company. One, if we had someone on our staff that had a passion for the topic, then we considered launching or acquiring a title in that niche. For example, our IT director had a passion for antique tractors so we launched Farm Collector. We started Motorcycle Classics because we had an employee whose dissertation in grad school was a business plan for a classic-motorcycle magazine. Second, if we discovered a passionate audience that significantly overlapped with one of our existing audiences then we would seriously look at a launch, a brand extension, or an acquisition. For example The Herb Companion and Herbs for Health had nice overlap with Mother Earth News.

Coming to the subject matter with real passion is one of the most important things you can do. If you and your editors are not interested in the topic, you are not going to be a thought leader. These two strategies enabled us to create relationships and connect with others. And that’s how Ogden grew to become the leading information resource serving the sustainable living, rural lifestyle, farm memorabilia, and classic motorcycle communities. In 2014, across all brands the company had almost one million paid subscribers, more than 3.5 million unique visitors each month, and multiple sources of revenue. The depth of engagement with your audience is more powerful and you can measure that in dollars.

In late 2015 you left Ogden Publications to launch B the Change Media. Why did you leave Ogden and why B the Change?

It is time for business to be a force for good in the world, and a lot of other people think that, too. At present, there are more than 2,000 certified B Corporations with 70,000 employees operating in 50 countries and representing 130 industries. They have a shared purpose to harness the power of markets for social change. This has become a global movement, yet there was no hub for their stories, tools, and insights. B The Change launched as a multi-platform media company to fill the gap.

My business plan cornerstone was to sell bulk subscriptions to B Corporation employees and augment that with paid advertising (sponsorships) in print and online. We launched in the summer of 2016 as a quarterly with a print run 100,000 and placing 70,000 on the newsstand. After a year and publishing four issues, we ceased publication of the print magazine. B the Change will continue as a digital product with no significant sources of revenue until when, and if, it is repositioned.

The gamble is always, “are you early?” The revenue was not there. We had great salespeople working very hard. I would have long conversations with clients debating between a $1,000 or $2,500 annual spend. You can’t have very many of those conversations and survive. It’s a small community. We hoped that the community of B Corporations would be the wind beneath our wings, but there were not enough of them and there was not enough money.

It’s disappointing to me that monetizing without a physical product is next to impossible. But the rest of the world is unaware of how the business of publishing works and how necessary the print product is to the business model. Thousands of media brands have lived and died discovering that.

When I went out to sell bulk subscriptions to the community, I encountered this reluctance to buy and distribute print magazines. I found it difficult to gain traction when I explained the benefits of print.

How much of the reluctance to acknowledge the importance of print was generational?

None of it. As a matter of fact, some of the younger employers were open to it because they see the value of print. It’s the popular notion that the print media is obsolete that was our biggest disadvantage.

We did okay, we had mid six-figure sponsorships in the first year. But all of that came in association with the print magazine. And I could not talk clients into spending money to subscribe to the print magazine for their employees.

One of the things I say to people all the time when the topic comes up…there is this beautiful 750,000 circulation magazine called Wired and it’s about digital media. If there were no value in the print product, why would there be a Wired magazine? I can’t explain why there is a Wired, but the evidence indicates that many people find value in a print product.

What is the most important metric for measuring health and success in publishing?

When I came into the business, I was astonished at the idea of a rate base. I discovered in the magazine business this labyrinth of representation and misrepresentation, fake numbers that had grown up over time and served the purposes of major publishers and agencies in various ways. I understand the historical roots, but it reminded me of the medieval Catholic Church. Reach is created in so many flimsy ways; it has no substance.

Now that we have the digital industry with all its metrics, everyone would be better off if we did something much simpler. I know that I can make money if I build metrics around engagement. If I double down on content that gives me deep engagement, then I can sell subscriptions. Engagement gives us an audience we can monetize. We would be better off if we valued and sold engagement and we taught advertisers to speak to those readers with real, passionate interests.

At Ogden, we valued engagement. That’s where the money came from.

What Mediabistro Founder Laurel Touby Learned From Building a Lucrative Membership Site

A conversation with Mediabistro founder and startup investor Laurel Touby on starting a media company and embracing new revenue models and technology [reprinted from my post on www.pubexec.com]

It takes courage to interview Laurel Touby. In recent years, she has been interviewed by The New York Times, CNN, Inc., Oprah, Fast Company, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CBS, Kiplinger’s, Time, Forbes, New York Magazine, Entrepreneur, Village Voice, The Huffington Post, Slate, and Adweek, among others. Six years ago, I spoke with Laurel for pubexec.com and you can read that interview here.

Laurel Toby

Laurel is most recognized as the founder and CEO of mediabistro.com, a website that revolutionized the way media professionals do business, connect, and communicate. During her 10-plus-year tenure, she navigated the business through two recessions, a pivot, early adoption of online audience development and most impressive . . . profitability. Prior to launching mediabistro.com, Laurel worked as a media planner at Y&R, as a writer covering corporate strategies for BusinessWeek, and as a writer-editor of the “Getting Ahead Guide” for Glamour magazine.

Laurel is managing partner at Flatiron Investors, a venture capital firm she launched two years ago that focuses on fintech, digital media, enterprise software, and SaaS companies. Here she shares how she got mediabistro.com off the ground by focusing on her members’ needs and what lessons she’s learned from the startup world that publishers should apply to their businesses.

I read an interview in which you said that the most important thing you did in the early days of your career was that you “listened to people.”

Because I was a journalist, I was accustomed to actually tuning in to what the other person was saying. That turns out to be the number one way to gain the trust and support of your customers. The customer will tell you what he or she really thinks of your product, what he wants to pay for a product, what features she wants, and much more, if you just pay attention.

You cannot simply push content out to customers and expect them to bite; it’s all about the conversation. That means physically sitting down with your readers, users, listeners, etc. and asking “What are some of things you might purchase?” There is a reason why they are reading you, paying attention, and giving you a piece of their mindshare. Find out if there are other things you can offer them, in order to monetize the audience better.

When I first started out, the first thing my members seemed to want was a free cocktail party, where they could connect in person. Then, as a direct result of my conversations with my audience, I added on a website, an email newsletter, and job listings. At this point, I was not making any money from the individuals engaged with the brand.

Three years into giving away my products and services, I began making money from the job listings (HR managers began to pay). It wasn’t a ton of money, but it was a tremendous start. Then, in March of 2000, that little tiny revenue stream was threatened. The job listings began plummeting, as the Internet suffered a dramatic decline. Luckily, I was paying close attention to my customers. I hosted a focus group pizza party and asked the attendees what else they would like me to offer them. They had great ideas such as education, health insurance, and a formalized membership program. Training seemed like an idea that I could most quickly launch and collect revenues from.

Committing to a new product line is scary, but the alternative for me was scarier. I teamed up with a trainer who had taught classes and she encouraged me to create a media “school.” Gradually we began to offer more and more classes and we brought the trainer in-house as our Learn Director.

How do you think publishers are doing with diversification?

My observation is that most publishers acknowledge the importance of diversification and creating new ways to engage the audience and monetize, but they rarely commit enough capital to these efforts. In most cases, they test out concepts without hiring someone to oversee them, without spending any marketing money, without developing any in-house tech. So, those efforts fail. They try to partner with a provider instead. That always fails. Partnerships that are revenue splits never work for anyone. You have to commit to it, devote real in-house resources to it, market it, commit to it.

You have a passion for working with entrepreneurs and you have stated that undercapitalization is one of the biggest mistakes that those in media make. [Undercapitalization limits growth by constraining business investments in key assets; the business does not have the funds it needs to meet demands.]

Yes, I believe this. And it’s critical to get the right investor. My investors looked at me and saw things in me that I did not recognize in myself. I knew that I had vision and hustle. But they saw a driven, powerful, intentional, intelligent founder. When they told me that I had to sell the company for over $33 million, I thought they were crazy. But then I worked my butt off to meet their expectations, and soon those were my expectations, too.

Because I have worked in both the media world and in the world of the “Gazelles,” I now see a huge difference between the provincial media owners out there and the high-growth business owners. Media owners don’t understand business revenue streams, only media revenue streams. They are almost like horses that have worn a path to their one watering hole. They have been traveling this same watering hole for so many years with their heads down, following one another. That watering hold is advertising/sponsorship revenue. They are afraid to get off the path. They don’t trust another path. If they do veer off, and don’t see floodplains immediately, they abandon the new potential revenue streams and go back to what’s familiar.

You have to believe in the future media disintermediation and you have to run toward it. You must invest money and energy in order to find other watering holes. Sure, media companies have added little streams, such as white papers and conferences, etc. But, how about new technologies? Where is the new tech coming from old media? Maybe they need to attend more of the conferences I am attending, see more of the startups I am evaluating to gain the vision to see around the next corner?

There are so many cool small companies innovating in the world that a media company could take hold of with their unique and very fertile audience – and make money on. The will to do this must come from top leadership and the board. This is why many media companies are dying and lovely tiny companies are evolving into media powerhouses right under their noses.

As one who has built a very successful brand based on community, and you are doing so again, I was surprised that you once said that community and business don’t always mix. Please elaborate on this.

Companies become too corporate and forget that brands are personalities; the audience wants, no demands, an authentic interaction.

In addition, you cannot make money from every interaction with your audience. More brands should consider bringing their customers together for the fun of it. It just has to feel good. That leaves a lasting impression. People leave saying “I LOVE this brand.” These experiences don’t have to be in person. They can just be wonderful experiences the brand offers, a little gift that the brand gives to the audience. Think: how can we delight your audience? Brands (media companies included) take themselves too seriously. There is little whimsy. You have to bring some emotion to your interaction. Some media brands I hear people using the word “love” with, other than mediabistro.com (of course), are Garden & Gun, Dwell, Wired, Inc. Take a look at what they are doing.

In the early years running mediabistro.com, it served only journalists. When you expanded the audience beyond journalists, how hard was it to retain the sense of exclusivity?

In the very beginning, we were leaving out the marketing, sales, and other departments. Once I had built a strong following with editorial people, then I expanded into TV, design, and finally sales and marketing. Our website had 13 blogs and each targeted blog was read by mostly that group of people.

Any principles that you attribute to building mediabistro.com into a solid brand with a small staff?

I believe in giving ownership to employees so they are part of the success. It’s easier to do with small companies, but any size company can offer some type of reward. And it is important to acknowledge that millenials want a career track and want to feel that they are continuously learning. You can create an artificial ladder of learning for them. Sometimes they would rather have that than money. Look at what Goldman Sachs is doing to keep its millennials engaged, creating constant, instant feedback!

Why did you transition from media to tech investor?

I think the best companies are started by people solving their own problems. My original reason for launching mediabistro.com was to find a boyfriend (I kid, but only sort of) and to get better writing gigs. Then, I figured out that what I was really creating was a safe space for people who shared the same demographic and psychographic to commune. People in any industry, even the media, craved community; that became my mantra.

When I joined the media world, it was where all the ideas and all the smart people were. A decade later, media increasingly was looking backward and sideways. Tech is about the future. I find myself more engaged by the future than the past, so that’s why I migrated into tech. I love helping AI, IoT, software, and other types of startups achieve great things. Not surprisingly, I avoid any media-related investment that has sponsorship or advertising as its business model.

You have been recognized throughout your career for being supportive of women in business, including receiving the Women in Leadership Compass Award for shifting the paradigm of how women are perceived in the world. I notice that you don’t list women on your board or your team at Flatiron Investors. Why is that?

I see a lot of female founders, because of who I am, but I don’t see a lot in the space where I invest. I see a lot of women starting consumer-facing companies. I have invested in two, but mostly I don’t invest in consumer tech. And in terms of staffing, I have tried to get women to intern for me for next to nothing and they won’t do that. The men do, the women don’t.

What are key questions you ask before investing?

Where did the deal come from? Why is this founder uniquely positioned to turn it into a company? It’s all about the founder. Is this person going to pull off the impossible or quit when things get tough? How big is the market? Is the company or product evolutionary or revolutionary? There is a list of 40-plus criteria that I evaluate, but in the end, with an early stage startup, you rely a lot on your gut.

5 Ways to Improve Native Ads While Maintaining Reader Trust

[reprinted from my blog post on www.pubexec.com]

Native advertising is now a major revenue driver for publishers, and its share of the advertising market will continue to grow. Revenue earned from native display advertising in the U.S. is expected to surpass $34 billion in 2017, and by 2021 it will make up 74% of U.S. display ad revenue. In 2014 Doug Anmuth, an internet analyst at J.P. Morgan, explained one reason behind this massive growth, “Native ads are quickly becoming the de facto ad format on mobile and increasingly moving into desktop. Publishers are increasingly shifting inventory to the format.”

While there are huge opportunities in native advertising, publishers must acknowledge the risks associated with the format and build greater trust with readers. Native advertising that is not distinguishable from content can make readers angry and discredit a publisher’s brand. Native advertising that is not relevant to them will lower reader’s opinion of content. Cluttering a website with low quality or poorly targeted native advertising forces readers to ignore the ads or abandon properties, which loses publishers money. In short, there are right and wrong ways to execute native advertising, and I’ll explore some of those in this post.

What Is Native Advertising?

But first, we should define exactly what we’re talking about when we discuss native advertising. According to a Cision white paper, native ads can take on a variety of formats. They can straddle social engagement (paid search ads or promoted content on social media), owned media (outlets or channels controlled by the brand or advertiser), and paid advertising (advertising and promotion placed in media through paid partnerships). Each format can help advertisers reach a variety of goals, whether that’s brand awareness or lead generation.

How Can Publishers Work With Advertisers to Improve Native Ads?

Ask advertisers about their objectives. For example do they want to convert sales and build leads? A recent study revealed that native ads generate higher click-through rates than traditional ads. And with targeting and retargeting, advertisers can achieve a cost-per-lead that is down significantly from direct response marketing.

Or do your clients want to use native ads to build a social brand? Native units are most helpful to brands that already have a presence on the social networks and who know how their users respond to content.

Alternatively, brands may want to establish themselves as a thought leader in a certain industry. Native, branded content is a great way for a brand to share their expertise.

Once you understand the objectives of your advertisers, you can better serve their needs while maintaining the trust that you’ve built up with your audience. Following are a few native ad guidelines that will help you balance serving the advertiser’s goals and maintaining the reader’s trust.

  1. Choose brand partners wisely. Because the user experience is seamless, a reader loses trust when publishers carry ads from a brand they consider to be untrustworthy If the brand is not relevant to your audience or lacks authority, readers will consider that brand untrustworthy. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Contently, “consumers trust the publishers they read to make responsible decisions about the partners they choose and the content they run.”
  1. Provide a seamless ad experience that engages readers. Successful native advertising follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. Mimic the content around it; match the appearance, tone, and function of the page and platform where it appears. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, most advertisers and publishers aspire to deliver paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that “the viewer simply feels that they belong.A good example is the award winning 2016 campaign that created by Politico, Hacker Avenue.
  1. Deliver relevant content. Native advertising relies on strong headlines and relevant content that people want to read. An excellent example of quality paid content that received wide recognition two years ago is Netflix’s “Women Inmates, Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work” promoting Orange is the New Black, which was published on NYtimes.com.
  1. Incorporate video. The Native Advertising Institute cites video as the most popular native format right currently. Publishers can incorporate native video in three ways:
    1. Native Autoplay Preview (a short-form video preview)
    2. Native In-Feed Video (click-to-play format that is user initiated)
    3. Outstream Autoplay Video (video that automatically plays outside of a video player, often in between text paragraphs)
  1. Label native advertising. While labeling can be tricky, don’t trick your audience. Generally, a consumer should be able to distinguish between what is paid native advertising and what is the site’s editorial content. Mediaradar recently reported that 70% of publishers are not following FTC native ad guidelines. It should be noted, however, that the FTC guidelines are open to broad interpretation and many in the industry are asking for the guidelines to be clarified. TheNew York Times, which uses a color bar and the term “paid posts,” and Forbes, which labels native content with “brand voice,” continue to tweak their labeling in an effort to create good brand experiences while also giving readers clear signs they’re reading ads. Type should be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of the overall page regardless of the device it’s viewed on.

With the revenue opportunity, native ads must be carefully developed and delivered to realize benefits for advertisers and avoid confusing or angering your audience. Done poorly, native advertising can break consumers’ trust in the publisher’s brand – it misleads consumers into reading content that’s actually an ad. Done well, native advertising can move the publisher’s time-on-page and engagement numbers up as well as generate new ad revenue.

5 Questions to Save Your Readership Survey

This article is reprinted from Associationmediaandpublishing.org. It is a summary of a presentation Sabatier made in Washington, DC in early 2017.

AM&P’s December Lunch & Learn session covered ins and outs of audience research

By Rebecca Stauffer, PDA

“Most research projects fall down in the thinking and planning stages,” says Lou Ann Sabatier, principal for Sabatier Consulting. During AM&P’s December Lunch & Learn session, “Reader Surveys: Finding Out What Your Audience Wants,” Sabatier recommended asking a series of questions throughout the survey process to ensure success.

Based on her firm’s work with associations and survey research, Sabatier says preparation on the front end can save publishing teams from failed research projects.

1. What information do you want?

The first step in developing an effective readership survey begins with spelling out the objectives. Is the survey for marketing-advertising purposes? To analyze the audience? To determine brand perception? Knowing precisely what information you want will help you craft more precise, more meaningful questions.

An effective survey should have clear directions with questions in a logical order. The first questions should also hook the reader. One good strategy is to start with easy questions before moving on to harder ones.

2. Who is the information for?

Is it for the editorial team, marketing-advertising, accounting, or executives? Different groups will have different needs. Knowing the group will help you make the end product more understandable and more useful for the group.

All findings from your research should be presented clearly and accurately. Provide a complete summary of all the results and then present your conclusions and interpretations. Sabatier recommends presenting the summary and conclusions live or via a webcast, followed by sending out a PDF report with more details to all involved parties.

3. Who is providing the information?

Will the survey be aimed at existing members? Prior members? Members in a certain geographical area? An effective survey is aimed at a targeted group. Avoid the wide-net approach when you have specific fish in mind.

Remember to go where your readers are. If you want responses from groups that tend to be digital savvy, work in that medium. Use your analytics to target the survey with the most efficiency.

Also, the design of the survey can impact response rates. Tailor the survey to your audience. What’s the best time of day to send it? How long are they likely to spend with it? What type of questions are they most likely to answer?

The privacy of your respondents should be assured and a statement to this effect clearly seen on the survey. When presenting the data, keep responses anonymous.

4. What’s the best research approach or methodology?

Knowing the answers to the preceding questions is vital to deciding which methodology is best. Sabatier says she worked with a cancer association that had significant success with focus groups via their Facebook page instead of a traditional questionnaire.

If you settle on a questionnaire, Sabatier says she’s found surveys sent by mail tend to generate twice as many responses as online surveys.

To ensure the survey is effective, pretest it with at least 12 individuals who have not been part of the planning process. Ask them if the questions are clear and if the length of time needed for completion is appropriate.

At every stage of the process, ensure that the proper sample is selected and that information is recorded and analyzed correctly. Sabatier recommends treating the data as if your job is on the line. Check. Check again. And then check again.

To ensure you can accurately report on the methodology — which is important to prove the veracity of the results — keep records of every step. Keep records of all information pertinent to the survey, such as sponsors, everyone conducting it, the purpose, the actual questionnaire, sample design, sample data collection, special scoring, etc.

5. What is your budget and time frame?

Map out your survey plan and methodology early to ensure you can allocate proper resources. The typical survey takes two to three months; make sure you won’t have to cut corners or cut your timeline later on.

While considering expenses, determine if you’ll use incentives. Sabatier finds that incentives can help increase survey responses, however, she recommends avoiding awards like iPads or $100 gift cards. Instead, she’s seen success with offering free conference registrations and similar job- or profession-related prizes.

Rebecca Stauffer is managing editor of the Parenteral Drug Association’s membership magazine, the PDA Letter. Association Media & Publishing thanks Rebecca for graciously volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.

Professional Growth and Development



‘Do what you love. Let your passion become your career.’

For most people, that’s not very practical advice. Here’s a short presentation with a better strategy. You’ll learn about the attitudes and skill sets you’ll need to build a great career, whatever your profession.

Click HERE to start the presentation.

(Use your browser’s Back button to come back here after you’ve finished …)

Publishing for the Millennial Generation

Mills TitleImage

The Millennial generation – those born between 1980 and 1998 and now aged between 18 and 36 – are the second-largest generational group in human history (after the Boomers) and will soon be the largest consumer group ever. They’re moving through the first half of their working careers and building young families now.

For most publishers and media outlets – whether it’s general news or special interests – the Millennials are the biggest target market now and for at least the next 20 years. And for publishers now targeting Boomers: the Millennials are your company’s future.

Millennials are a huge market opportunity for publishers, but two misconceptions seem to get in the way.

The first is the belief that, as the first generation who grew up with the internet, millennials (and the younger Gen-Z crowd) believe that everything on the net should be free. To many, this concept is a better match with the Boomer counterculture who came of age in the 60s and 70s. We’ve paid for our news and entertainment content – in one way or another – in every communications medium before the web, so why should it change now? And, in fact, the observed behavior of millennials seems to demonstrate that they’re comfortable paying for content in various media channels, including print.

According to the 2015 Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 93% of millennials now pay for some sort of content service. Despite growing up amid abundant free online entertainment and news, today’s young adults still use significant amounts of paid content. This includes entertainment (streaming video, games or music) and news. The numbers look like this:

Mills Content Types

Interestingly, the most common news content format they pay for is print – magazines and newspapers – at about 30%, compared with 19% for news apps, 15% for digital editions of newspapers or magazines and 15% for email newsletters.

Mills News Formats

Predictably, the millennials who say they want to stay connected with the world and are interested in news are the most likely to be willing to pay for it. That mindset is the biggest driver of a person’s willingness to pay for news, not their age or socioeconomic status.

The second misconception that publishers and media outlets have concerning millennials is that they’re a single big demographic and behavioral segment. The same 2015 API/AP research project reveals that they can be broken down into four segments who think and behave quite differently …

The Unattached (34% of millennials) – Ages 18-24, who get their news and information primarily by ‘bumping into it’. Many are still in school, and 38% are unemployed. Primarily, they go online to stream music, TV or movies (79%) and do not actively follow general news or current events. Most of them do, however, look for information on entertainment or their hobbies or interests (65%) and about three-quarters of them to keep up with what their friends are doing through social networks (although FaceBook is not that popular with this younger crowd). This group is also the least patient when it comes to slow page load times online.

The Explorers (16% of millennials) – also in the 18-24 age group, but quite different than the Unattached. This group actively seeks out news and information. They’re highly-connected, especially with smartphones (97%), and they follow news for social information, current events and practical news-you-can-use. 61% of them use paid news content of one sort or another and 52% also get news from FaceBook, often several times a day. They also use YouTube (29%) and Instagram (25%) to get news regularly. Popular news topics for them include politics or government (57%), science and technology (54%), mews related to their job role (52%), local news (47%), business (44%) and schools and education (43%). They are very likely to discuss this news with friends on social media.

The Distracted (27% of millennials) – This group represents just over half of the older millennials (ages 25-36). They’ve started their families (68% are married and/or have kids), are working to develop their careers and have moved into the middle class. This busy group get less news and information online or from social media than any of the other millennials, and they’re the least news-oriented of their generation. The news and information they do follow is often about popular culture, their jobs, kids or other issues in their own lives. This is the most difficult group for most publishers to reach.

The Activists (23% of millennials) – This final group account for just under half of the older millennials (ages 25-36). Like the younger Explorers, they are actively seeking news and information. They’ve generally established their families (70%) and careers (81%) and are now more engaged with community affairs and news on a range of topics. They have acquired enough experience in the world to care about certain issues, and enough stability in life to spend energy on those issues. And just over over half of them pay for a digital or print news subscription.

They go online to keep up with what’s happening and are less likely to spend a lot of time with social connections or entertainment there. Almost half of this group have college degrees. This group is also the most racially-diverse – 46% are non-Hispanic white, 29% are Hispanic, 13% are black and the remaining 12% are from other ethnic groups. About 60% follow national politics, 50% are interested in science and technology, and 46% follow international news. With these increased interest levels and more disposable income than the other millennial groups, the Activists represent a small but very attractive audience for many publishers.

So – as a publisher or a media outlet, how does one best connect with the millennials?

First and foremost, recognize the different demographics, interests and behaviors across the four millennial groups. Look at your own content, marketing and communication channels and see which group(s) you appeal to the most. For many publishers the Explorers and the Activists are the best groups to focus on, even though they represent less than 40% of the generation. Remember that over half of the members of these groups now pay for some form of content subscription, and print is a significant part of that mix.

Second – once you’ve settled on which of the millennial groups you’ll target, be open to the possibilities of changing your content mix,distribution formats and marketing methods to best align with their interests, priorities and news consumption habits. Remember that these people are big users of smartphones and often learn about news through social media channels. How well are your titles leveraging mobile and social?

Third – remember that your biggest competition for this group’s attention (and their wallets) does not come from your industry segment’s publishing competitors. It comes from the enormous volume of free content online in every conceivable topic. Being active in social media channels and having strong SEO tagging will help your content rise to the top in those discovery channels – the ones millennials rely on most.

Fourth – when deciding on the balance between an ad revenue model and a paid subscription model, remember that millennials are often just fine with the idea of paying for good content in their interest areas – and that they often associate ad-riddled publications or websites with low-quality content.

Fifth – Be willing to consider new approaches to content and storytelling. While journalists are trained to take themselves out of the story and just present the facts in a balanced fashion, millennials have demonstrated that they value passion, enthusiasm and thoughtful opinion in the news and information they consume. As an example Sarah Koenig’s ongoing weekly podcast series Serial, which in it’s first season told a 15-year-old murder case story in real-time (including her opinions and feelings about it along the way) was a massive hit among millennial audiences. Rather than a dry recounting of the facts, she took her audience along on a journey of discovery and told us how it affected her. This new storytelling approach clearly appeals to millennial audiences. Can you bring these elements into the content and stories you offer?