Season is on the SIPA 2014 Conference Program Committee and will co-present a session on Managing Remote Teams. We caught up with her between managing a company and running her daughter’s soccer league for this Q&A.
SIPA: I understand MMI just celebrated an anniversary. Congratulations!
SEASON: Thanks, five years. I’ve been there since the conception.
How did you first get involved?
MMI was started by Sam Spencer, who asked me to join. He’s the son of George Spencer, a founding member of SIPA. George owned one of the largest newsletter businesses in the ‘70s, Observer Publishing, where important industry people like Tod Sedgwick and Bruce Levenson got their start. He sold that company and later started GHI where I got my start. Around the time George retired, Sam started MMI.
Tell us about it.
We publish two electronic daily journals, hold webcasts and put out industry reports all for the energy industry. Our customers are high-level executives in the utility industry—as well as lawyers, regulators, technology providers, universities, energy service providers and consultants. Subscribers pay anywhere from $300 to $7,400 for a journal subscription depending on the license. Our reports and webcasts are one-shots. We don’t really bundle, though subscribers will get a 10% discount on webinars, maybe more for reports.
Where do you find new subscribers?
We partner with trade associations and conference organizers. Word-of-mouth is also important so we are on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We promote through all four but LinkedIn and Twitter probably work best for us. Our website attracts new subscribers through search engines. Once a prospect comes in, it’s up to us to convince them that the content is worth paying for and we do that with high-quality, professional journalism. George was well known for his forced free trials and we have had success with that. Prospects get the content free for a while by email and then we follow up with sales pitches by email, mail and phone.
What is your role?
I help oversee the day-to-day operations of most aspects except editorial. At the time MMI started, I was getting a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University at night and applied a lot of what I learned to help develop the strategies, policies and procedures for the company from the ground up. Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning what we have and finding new ways to grow the company and readership. Sam also writes for us and knows how important the marketing and editorial relationship is. He’ll send me ideas and ways to promote the publications. We have a staff of 6 plus stringers, and have gone from zero to several thousand subscribers.
Talk about SIPA and the upcoming conference.
SIPA is so important to me because I’m not in school anymore and I want to keep learning. It helps me stay in the loop and on top of trends. As for presenting, I’ve learned a lot about managing a completely virtual company with Sam. At first, we had an office in D.C. but then I had my daughter and started working from home. Then Sam gave that option to the staff. Most took it so he closed the office and used that money towards increasing compensation and health benefits. Providing that work/life balance helps us recruit and retain quality employees.
How are you able to replace the productive “collisions” of a traditional office.
What makes it work for us is having the right technology to communicate with each other—Google Sites, Google Hangouts and Basecamp give us immediate access. Everybody knows their role and what’s expected from them. There are also policies and procedures on our Google site for most of what we do; new ideas for the way things should be run are put into our policies and procedures. Another really important thing—and I’m still learning—is to communicate clearly and concisely, taking into account the technology you’re using. Otherwise something can be interpreted in many ways. If there’s a problem, it’s best to pick up the phone.
Are your subscribers big on mobile?
We’ve surveyed readers and watch Google Analytics metrics. Most read the publications by email on a desktop. We check the websites and emails regularly on mobile devices though. We used to send the issues as PDF attachments. It was printer-friendly but caused deliverability issues and was not at all mobile friendly. Now we send the full articles in the body of the email with simple HTML coding along with a link to the password-protected PDF. Deliverability is better now, and the content is very easy to read and navigate on any device. Our only concern is copyright infringement since you can just click forward. What we do is remind readers of our copyright rule and include a message at the top telling them it’s illegal to forward. We also put a message on how to upgrade to a bulk subscription.
Is there anything that keeps you up at night, besides the soccer league?
Yes, dealing with parents can make someone lose sleep. Professionally, we suffered through the recession like everyone else. Now we’re bringing in more revenue with an eye to growth. It’s still tough though to be a small startup—a lot of work! I’m looking forward to the SIPA Conference because if we can learn more ways to grow revenue and bring in subscribers, I will definitely sleep better. And that’s what the conference is geared to.
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 .