How does a small start-up content site syndicate their content to the big guys? StrategyWeek.com’s CEO/Founder Karen Lake (who had no prior publishing or syndication experience) sells her content to The Wall Street Journal and eMarketer among others. She told us how.
STEP ONE: CREATE KILLER CONTENT “One of the things we did right was we have an obsession about excellence. We have three very, very good editors who see everything before it goes live. We knew these very big names - Wall Street Journal, Inc Magazine - were going to be concerned about quality. At first we were pretty nervous, but the big name editors said, ‘Wow this is good stuff.”
“You also have to be unique, so differentiated. You’d better come up with a better story or a different story. We came from a very different approach from other business publishers. We interview CEOs of very big companies to learn what people who are really successful are doing and how small-to-medium sized businesses can duplicate it without spending $10 million.”
“When you work with very large companies you’ve got to create credibility. The secret to our credibility is that we interview very high profile people. The Wall Street Journal’s not going to print something by an author they don’t know. Good content is not enough if they don’t know or care about the author or consider you credible.”
STEP TWO: PITCH IT TO THE BIG GUYS Lake says it’s best to start at a company’s top decision-maker level, “usually you need to talk to the business development director or the editor in chief. Some people have 20 levels, you start at the beginning and think you’ve got a deal and then it never gets up to where it needs to be.”
“Most big guys will start by saying ’I have a million readers, how many do you have?’ Don’t go into a discussion of traffic. In the beginning we had none, and the big guys won’t talk to you if you say that even if it’s not relevant. I said that’s not what we’re selling, we’re selling content.
“You have to realize that most people you talk to will want it for free. A lot of publishers say, ‘Oh this is such good content, people should pay.’ The big guys say back, ‘You should just be glad to be on my site. I’m doing you a favor.’ So, you better have some kind of system of revenue share where that can make money or you’ll be in trouble. Some models are based on a flat fee per month, others are on a click through basis.”
“The Wall Street Journal deal was all done through email negotiation with the editor-in-chief of that section. It was very quick -- about two weeks. Our first deal, with eMarketer, was done over dinner. Most good deals are done quickly. If it goes on too long there’s probably something wrong with it.”
NOTES: Lake’s company has diversified into a wide variety of revenue streams, “there’s so many ways you can skin a cat with regard to content”, many of them suggested by site visitors. In addition to banner sales revenue generated through broker B-to-B Works, StrategyWeek.com sells audio CD and downloadable PDF transcripts of its interviews directly to site visitors. “You can get our interviews for free at the site, but our interviews are 40 minutes long, so some people like to listen to them while commuting. The majority of our PDF files are sold to international visitors who have bad Internet connections and don’t want to spend the time downloading every page from the site.” The CEOs being interviewed can also purchase glossy 4-color reprints of their interviews, as well as copies of their cartooned-selves from the site. “Wow this is profitable!” says Lake, “it’s gone very, very well.”
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