I had so much fun being a panelist on the Building Your Brand panel at the national conference for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists this morning, moderated by Liz Weston, the most read personal finance columnist in the U.S. It was bit of a whirlwind since I only had time to attend my own panel plus tidbits of the panels before and after mine (phew! didn’t even have time to take good pics on my cellphone, so you’ll have to settle for the conference logo, sorry), but I learned a lot. I wanted to recap a few things we talked about on our panel here so you can attend virtually. A big thanks to event host Brian O’Connor, Finance Editor of the Detroit News, for asking me to be a part of this event. I was in esteemed company, and I’m glad I was able to contribute something of value (the feedback was very positive).
1) Tracy Beckerman, syndicated columnist of Lost in Suburbia, spoke first about ways to successfully build your media brand via syndication, books, and speaking engagements, and how to target your brand properly. She covered so many things in just a few minutes it would be worth picking up a copy of the video of this panel just to see her rattle off all her ideas for making syndication work. Wow!
Her primary point was that you should know your audience and focus on going after them: if your readers are housewives in suburbia who read small-town papers, don’t bother going after the New York Post. Pitch editors of targeted newspapers with the reasons your column will help them attract advertisers who want to reach their niche audience. Use your books to make your speaking engagements more profitable, and negotiate your speaking fee around the ability to sell them. Tracy has also successfully created and marketed her own compilation of columns, which is a tough thing to do, so I wish I had more time to talk to her about this. Maybe via email.
2) I was invited to be a part of this panel to talk about promotions and how they affect your traffic and the type of readership you attract. My primary focus wasn’t so much a how-to but on factors to consider when you decide to run promotions on your media site: do you want to do a one-time promotion or ongoing, how will you take advantage of traffic spikes to retain your readers after the promotion, how to use Google Analytics and similar tools to keep track of who is reading your blog and when and why, and finally using promotions as a part of building your brand in the direction you want it to go. I also talked briefly about the importance of finding your niche and owning it before expanding, or finding the balance between saturating your market and expanding into new ones.
One conference attendee asked me a great question: Are you concerned that in picking a small niche to start (with moms in particular) you might lose readers as they move on beyond the point in their lives when they need your content? I was concerned about this when I founded 29Diapers.com and learned a lot about when and how far to expand because I was trying to find that balance between focusing on the core subject my readers love (cloth diapers) and expanding as my own family grows into money-saving tips for going green with babies, then toddlers, then kids. I think the answer to this question is that I was pleasantly surprised that my readers stuck around for longer than I initially hoped, but a big part about making sure I know who is staying and why is monitoring my traffic stats and traffic sources and paying attention to who my audience is and what they like. I also am working to outsource some of the review work on 29 Diapers to readers who have kids of all ages, which will broaden the appeal of the reviews as well as free me up to focus on other parts of the business.
3) W. Bruce Cameron, New York Times best-selling author and humorist, talked about how important it is to have a product to focus your brand on. As important as it is to know that you are your brand as a journalist, Bruce’s point was that if you focus too heavily on marketing your brand and run out of product to back it up, you will have a serious branding problem, like Coca Cola running out of Coke. He says he is currently dealing with this problem since interacting with his fans on Facebook and other social media platforms is a full-time job. He loves it, but he hardly has time to write his next book. I definitely would love to hear more on this topic as well, since I am currently working to outsource some of my writing on 29 Diapers to other readers/writers. I’m at the point where I can’t do it all, and I think this is an important and shifting balance we all try to strike as we grow brands.
So, if you were at the conference and I didn’t have time to meet you, please drop me a line! And even if you weren’t I would love to continue the conversation on these topics. A woman from the Detroit News approached me after the panel and said, “Yes, but how do you find revenue streams in all of this?” Touche, that’s a complicated one. I quickly rattled off some possible business models and told her the best thing to do as an agile start-up was fail fast (try one thing after another), but I felt and understood her frustration with finding workable business models in new media. Alas, there are no turnkey businesses in media at the moment. But the more we try, the sooner we’ll find the new way to keep us all gainfully employed and serving our readers.