Monday, April 7, 2014

Seeking a Leader to Head CannaBusiness Media

And we're hiring again! When we launched the CannaBusiness Media division back in 2011, we had no idea how big this thing could be. Obviously we were hoping for big.

However, the market pretty much promptly contracted, and our then-only competitor folded. Nail-biting times. The work involved to keep going was extraordinary. The financial risk, significant. 
We crossed our fingers and kept plugging away, slowly but steadily growing the division. 

Then came August 29, 2013. The federal Attorney General's office release a memo (aka 'The Cole Memo') that effectively said they would no longer go after licensed, cannabusinesses that weren't breaking state laws or doing anything egregious such as shipping marijuana across state lines.

CannaBusiness Media took off. Our circulation skyrocketed. We hired, we hired again. We moved our trade show from a small space outside Seattle to an enormous space in Las Vegas.It was exciting and nearly overwhelming. We're on a rocket ship.

Now we've realized we can't take advantage of this tremendous opportunity without the right division leader. We've posted the job application online here.   

This is not a typical publisher position - if all you know how to do is sell ads, don't bother. What we're really looking for is an entrepreneurial businessperson who can lead our growth across business models - from paid subscriptions to trade shows. Also, if all you know is online media, don't bother. We're publishing in print and online, and our events are real-world. We're media platform agnostic. You should be as well.

We're also location agnostic. Many of our staff are work remotely. What matters is bringing the right person on board. You can live anywhere in the US.

Know someone? Tell them to apply for the ride of a lifetime. Thanks.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Very First Infographic ... 3 Lessons Learned

Back in 2000, when I was waiting to run up to the podium to give a speech on Internet PR at a conference in New Jersey, I overheard one grey-haired attendee say to another, "I only have 5 years left until retirement and I wish it was sooner, because I just don't want to learn all this new stuff."

 I instantly felt superior.  New stuff was heaven to me.  I was the queen of marketing tactic early-adopters. 

It didn't occur to me that I was also still in my 30s.

Now that I've cracked the 50-mark, I finally have some sympathy for that guy.  The pace of marketing innovation has been dizzying for the past 13 years. Sometimes I just want to lie down all afternoon on a velvet sofa -- with a box of chocolates, a thick novel and a cat on my lap -- instead of diving in to learn the next hot new thing, and the next one, and the next one after that.

But, when I force myself to tackle my job, and get over the lazies already, the juices still come flowing back.  Last Friday I decided to invent my first infographic to help promote our big upcoming conversion optimization trade show... yes, I'm about 3 years late to the infographic party, but better late than never.  Here's what I learned:

#1. If you're wordy, you suck at infographics.
I'm a writer.  For infographics, this is not a good thing. After DRASTIC cutting, slashing and burning, I still ended up with probably 75% too many words for the medium.  Ok, so room for improvement....

#2. Don't break in a new designer for your first infographic.
We have an awesome in-house designer, but I knew he was already overloaded this week, to the point of nearly cracking.  So I decided to get all 21st century and outsource to TaskRabbit.  It's fast, cheap, and you can surf people's portfolios before you pick the winning contractor.

Turns out breaking in a new designer to your branding -- not to mention direct response philosophy -- over the course of one sleepless weekend is a terrible idea.   His design was artistic, professional, lovely ... and you couldn't read a word on it, much less find the call-to-action button.

In the end our in-house designer Ron Perry came riding in on his white Mac to save the day.

#3. Creating infographics is addictive.

The instant we published this first one today, my head suddenly was SWARMING with ideas for more, and much, much better ones.  (Do not tell my designer this because he will probably wallop me over the head.)

OMG it's so much fun.  I am all excited.  And relieved, because I don't feel like laying down that velvet sofa anymore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Milestone: WhichTestWon Publishes its 300th A/B Testing Case Study and 5,634th Reader Comment

This morning at 8:45am, WhichTestWon published its 300th Case Study on A/B testing.  As always, we included creative samples and real-life test results :-).

No, it wasn't easy.  Contrary to what many people seem to think, companies like Avis and Yahoo! don't just hand over Case Studies tied up in a bow for us to post on our site.  First our editors do a lot of research and networking to figure out who's actually conducting interesting tests. Then, they use all their powers of persuasion to beg, plead, and wheedle creative samples, results data, and most importantly, permission to write a story about the test.

It can be a tough sell.  It's scary to hand over your data and 'secret sauce' to be revealed in public.  Every single marketer, web analytics pro and usability expert who has allowed their data to be shared at WhichTestWon is a hero to the community.  They took a professional risk for the greater good of all.  

Lastly, actually writing Case Studies can be tough.  At most, we have space for about 200 words -- compare that to MarketingSherpa where stories routinely ran 1,200+!  Getting the technical details right is also a challenge, often involving hours of review, statistical analysis, emails and phone calls.  Yes, we go through this process even on the rare occasions when a source hands us a pre-written story because we have to be sure every detail is clear and correct.  We redo the math, re-examine the creative samples, query the testing strategy and process used, and rewrite the story to fit our criteria.

I've been incredibly lucky in having a strong editorial team to make our Case Study Library possible -- Natalie Myers Tomasso, Lisa Seaman, and Justin Rondeau all went above and beyond. 

We've also received significant support from the testing services and testing community, including 42 testing tech companies and 115 conversion optimization agencies and consultancies. Everyone has recognized that a rising tide floats all our boats.

Thousands of readers have also contributed their insights to make each Case Study far more valuable -- we've published 5,634 reader notes and comments so far!   

Back when we launched in mid-2009, fewer than 35% of companies marketing or publishing online had conducted a test or scientifically improved their conversion optimization in the prior 12 months.  Our goal then, as it is today, was to double that number. We're on our way....

BTW: If you'd like to see all 300 Case Studies, here's a link to WhichTestWon's complete library.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why We Sold Subscription Site Insider to InfoCommerce Group

Today we formally announced the sale of our Subscription Site Insider publication line, encompassing a membership site, daily news site, annual Summit and a line of benchmark reports, all focused on the paid online content industry.

Editor Minal Bopaiah will continue with the publication.  And, the new owners, InfoCommerce Group, intend to continue publishing just as before... only better because the information industry is their sole focus.
We decided to sell the title because although we're in the information industry, it's not our sole focus as a publisher.  When I founded this company in 2009, my business plan was built as a reaction to my feelings about my last company, MarketingSherpa which focused on one single topic -- marketing.  After nearly a decade, publishing on just one topic, no matter how broad, had felt like a straight-jacket.

My new company, I swore, would be diversified.  We would publish in a whole bunch of different niches!

And so we did.  We were incredibly lucky that all three of the niches we chose to publish in (paid content, conversion optimization, and medical marijuana) took off like gangbusters, especially in the last year.  I found myself leading the editorial and marketing for not one but three rocket ships.  But there came the rub.  If you're not focused, your attention is continually fractured.

Each of our publication lines felt a bit like the red-headed step-child.  Everyone here was racing faster and faster, but we always felt like we were behind.

During our company strategy meetings this fall, we decided our internal theme for 2013 would be, "Go big or go home."  Maybe a larger company can 'go big' with multiple product lines serving very different industries, but with just 10 people on the team here, we couldn't.  We had to take something off our plate.

We chose to divest of Subscription Site Insider in particular because we ourselves are customers.  The information it publishes is critical to our business.  As a customer, I didn't have the objectivity to be able to do a really great job of leading it for all the other companies who rely on it. 

We selected the publication's new home, InfoCommerce Group, in large part because I've known the principals there for more than a decade.  Back in the mid-1990s, Megan St. John and I worked for the same company, then Phillips Business Information; in fact our offices were two doors down from each other.  In the early 2000s, Russell Perkins was one of the speakers I invited to present at MarketingSherpa summits on content marketing.  And, this year, we partnered with InfoCommerce Group to produce Subscription Site Insider's Retention Handbook.

Today, I'm feeling much more secure about the future of my company and the publication we divested. Now they both have a stronger chance to do well in the future.

Will we ever publish in a third niche again?  Possibly.  But, we'd have to be a lot bigger.  I now know my eyes can be too big for my stomach.  So, I'll try to guard against it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Change Your Language: Problems vs Opportunities

I once had an absolutely terrifying boss (perhaps the only boss who has ever terrified me) named Ellen Stuhlman.  She was in her mid-forties, which seemed a very old age to me then, and ruled as the publisher queen over dozens of paid, print newsletter titles in the then Phillips Business Information Inc (now Access Intelligence.)

But she did me one enormous favor -- she taught me the importance of verbiage.  I'm not talking about SEO taxonomy, but rather the every day wording of your thoughts and exclamations.

During one mid-morning meeting, I explained we had a problem with something or other -- being me it was probably related to marketing.

"Opportunity!" she barked. "Nothing is a problem, it's always an opportunity!  I never want to hear the word 'problem' from you again."

At the time I thought this was just so much MBA-bullshit.  What difference does it make how we describe things?  Especially stuff that we all damn well know is a going to be a problem.

Then I started using her management-approved language....

And damned if it didn't make a difference!  It made me feel silly at first, but even then I could feel a palpable change in the air.  In the team.  We had an opportunity, and we could rise to the challenge, we could exploit it, we could kick ass.  And we did.

Perhaps it's not about copywriting, it's about leadership. All I know is that I hesitate before using the word "problem" to this day.  I think I and my companies have been far better for it.  Thanks to Ellen Stuhlman. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Less Stress Over the 'Crash of Ineptitude': The Glory of the Second Time Around

I just about cried laughing when I saw Fred Wilson's version of Paul Graham's start-up curve. It's not just true for software or tech companies - it's true for nearly all entrepreneurs.

The difference is, if you've been through the "Crash of Ineptitude" before (which invariably occurs right after the internal high of "Releases and Improvements"), then it doesn't hit you nearly as hard as it did with your first company.

Having both staff who saw me through the first one (thanks Ron!) and a current business partner for whom this is a first one, helped me notice the difference in my reactions.

The second time around, SNAFUS (from WWII soldier slang, "situation normal, all fucked up") just don't freak you out the same way they did the first time. For example, today when a customer announced his decision to cancel his account to the entire customer email list instead of to customer service directly (I choose to assume it was by mistake and he didn't mean his message to go to all other clients of that service), I laughed. Shit happens. And then when our service rep replied to the entire List, instead of to him directly, I felt empathy for her, instead of outrage. I knew she'd feel awful about her mistake already and she didn't need my anger on top of that.

This is not to say you let things go, or don't try to control things even better, your second time around. I've been better this time at foreseeing potential problems and training people to avoid them. We have a lot more how-to docs now, and tons more training.

But I accept that there will be SNAFUS. There will be situations we should have foreseen and fixed before they became problems (or in the words of a former mentor, "opportunities".)

If we stay customer-centric, customer-focused, and apologize wholeheartedly, everyone's going to be OK. And if they are not, well, that's part of doing business too. Sometimes you will screw up. It's inevitable. Put all the measures you can in place, and then pray you've done a good enough job of solving customer pain with your product or service that they'll forgive you. When you inevitably fuck up. Because we're all human. Even the second time around.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How Dyslexia Has Helped Me Succeed in Online Publishing

My high school guidance counselor told me not to bother applying to the Ivy League, despite my high SATs, because "According to your teachers, you're a clear underachiever. You'll never get the references you need."

It was no shock, I'd heard it all my life. Spelling is difficult for me; math near impossible even with a calculator -- dialing a phone number correctly takes enormous concentration - and there were no PCs with Word auto-correct or spreadsheets back then. I didn't hang my head, I had too much dignity, but I hung it internally. I was no good. Somehow, despite trying and trying, I apparently didn't try as hard as other kids did. I would have modest success in life, if any, and it would all be my own damn fault.

It was only years later I learned my faults had a source. A college friend who'd been to a special high school for dyslexics was describing the tricks they'd taught her to manage daily life. "You have tie an imaginary thread to your starting point when you walk someplace that's new to you," she said, "then keep that thread in your mind all the while so you can find your way back again." Oh. Revelation. I thought I had invented that trick and so many of the others she described that day. I wasn't a bad person. I was dyslexic.

It didn't make much of a difference though. When I graduated, still in a world largely without personal computers, I forsook my dream of becoming a professional journalist, because journalists have to spell properly, and accepted the most lowly job in the marketing department of a publishing company instead. If I couldn't be a writer, at least I could be close to it.

A handful of years later, I found myself in an extremely odd position. Feted. Employee of the month, employee of the year, winning regional marketing association awards, written up in the national press, invited to speak at professional luncheons. I didn't know what to make of it. I couldn't even learn to drive a car because making quick decisions about right and left was so terrifying. And I was an underachiever after all, surely these people were mistaken.

Only after I started my first online publishing company in 2000 (an act of presumption for an underachiever such as me, only possible to conceive because I saw so many, quite frankly, idiots starting apparently successful ventures in the dot-com boom) did I learn how I was truly different from other "normal" people.

My staff had phrase for it: Anne Time. As in anything that takes Anne an hour, will take anyone else three.

For more than a decade now, it's driven me crazy with frustration. I would hire top people. Experienced, intelligent achievers. And then I would give them assignments, and everything took them FOREVER. "How is this so difficult?" I would (literally) scream. "I can do this in 30 minutes. What is your problem?"

Most annoyingly, my journalists, far more trained and experienced at their jobs than I with my marketing department background, would take hours to skim through the "beat" gmail and Twitter accounts I set up for them that poured all the news of the day to their fingertips so they didn't need to waste time searching for the obvious stuff. I even held in-house training webinars, "See, you just skim it, and then zap a message to a potential source here, pop out a quick Tweet here and dash off a blog post there. It should take no longer than an hour day. It couldn't possibly take longer,"

But it did. And the myth of "Anne Time" grew, haunting me until I grew half-afraid to set hard deadlines for anything.

Then this weekend I read an article in the New York Times about the advantages of dyslexia . Oh. Well, that explains a lot.

Now I understand why I can read two novels from cover to cover on a lazy Sunday, despite not "seeing" all the words. And how I can skim through multiple email inboxes, with 200+ messages each per day, in a heartbeat. And why reviewing Twitter streams from 300+ contributors for the daily trends take me about 15 seconds. Not to mention why I can only give my CFO a garbled explanation of a financial spreadsheet we need, but then spot the erroneous calculation like a big sore thumb sticking out when she doesn't "see" it. Not to mention why I can leaf through 100 charts intended for one of our new Benchmark data reports and intutively and instantly just "know" which belong in the Executive Summary because they are somehow, obviously-to-me, sexier than the rest.

And apparently dyslexics tend to end up in the design profession. Hence my penchant for Web design, and why my gut has the "right" answer to problems invariable with content heavy sites.

I'm dyslexic, and apparently I should be proud of it...and cut normal people a break.

That said, I still can't spell dyslexia with help from an auto-correct program :-).