Q&A with Tyler Alvarado, Director, Inspectioneering, The Woodlands, Texas

Share |

Can you give me a little background on Inspectioneering?
Inspectioneering Journal was created in the mid-'90s as a niche publication to serve the oil and gas, chemical, power generation, and other process-heavy industries. In particular, it was created to give inspection, engineering, and maintenance professionals (affectionately referred to as "Asset Integrity Professionals") working in the aforementioned industries a reliable technical resource to help them (1) do their jobs better, and (2) make these industries safer. 

This was after that run of accidents?
Yes, some very serious accidents occurred in the '80s and early '90s that resulted in numerous deaths and significant environmental damage. One of Inspectioneering's core beliefs is that proper safety and inspection practices can prevent most of these incidents, or at least mitigate the damage. These events and the attention they received from the national media combined to become the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Soon thereafter, OSHA dropped a regulation on the oil and gas and chemical industries that mandated the management of process safety. 

That opened the door.
Yes, we started to bring in industry experts with various backgrounds from all over the world to share tips, best practices and lessons learned. Most publications were more concerned about selling ads than offering any real value to the technical reader. For us, it wasn't about flair, it was about substance. My father started Inspectioneering Journal on Microsoft Publisher, printed it off, and sent it out to friends and colleagues initially. Soon, word spread and people from around the globe began to subscribe. 

Sounds like it was the right thing at the right time?
You could say that. The industry needed help. At that time it was, and still can be, very siloed, and if you didn't have regular access to a subject matter expert at your facility, it was difficult to find help. Inspectioneering Journal helped fill that need. Plus, from the outset, our authors had to be unbiased. It couldn't be, "My technology is better than theirs" or "this is the best way of doing something." Authors had to be objective and allow the reader to formulate their own opinion. This required painting the whole picture. If you presented a new technology, talk about the benefits and discuss the limitations and associated costs. If you couldn't back it up with facts, we wouldn't publish. This resonated with our readers and earned the Journal a lot of respect. 

But it was still a side project?
Yes, it wasn't a big moneymaker. Then, in the late '90s, a major oil company reached out to my dad and said they wanted him to make it digital. So he did. Fast forward, it stayed like that for 15 years. I was in my third year of law school and had lost all desire to enter the legal field. I found it too adversarial, too unfulfilling. But I love business and have always had an interest in this industry. So I went to my dad and asked if I could take over the Journal and see if we could take it to the next level. 

What happened then?
Rather than just do what they've been doing, I wanted to create a repository for the information that had been published over the last 15 years. I wanted to stay away from chasing ads and find a way to deliver more information to the companies that found value in what the Journal represented. We cleaned up our subscription model and shifted our focus to getting the major oil and gas companies to invest in a corporate subscription. I wanted to create a product of value, and the corporate subscription brought the most value to these major operators who had thousands of employees and numerous facilities. We also developed the ECA model. 

Editorial first, circulation second, and advertising last. I had big hurdles to overcome. I was a political science major. My friend from college who was the first to join me was a finance major. We didn't know anything about the publishing business. So we asked ourselves, "What are the aspects of this business that we like and what don't we like?" We knew we didn't want to follow the status quo and be guided by advertising dollars. We were also very aware of the reasons why Inspectioneering had garnered the attention and following it had without any real attempts to market it on a large scale. 

Good editorial.
Yes, readers came to us for high quality information, so editorial would always be the primary focus. But we also needed to find ways to grow our subscriber base if we wanted to survive as a business, so improving circulation became the next most important driver. Finally, we did not want to rely on advertising to support our business or flood the Journal or our website with advertisements. But we did recognize the benefits advertising could bring to the product and service providers who cater to our niche market. So we created strict rules to limit how much advertising is allowed and made it a much lower priority.

How did you get content?
That has always been a challenge because of the way other publishers have done it. Companies in our industry had come to expect the same practices. Many were used to just publishing "advertorial" type pieces—bias was a problem. We had to go through a phase of, "We're not going to publish this. If you want this published, here are our edits." And there were a lot of them. I'd be lying if I said it came together instantly. People were resistant. But primarily because of my dad's reputation in the industry, they ultimately trusted us. Now it is easier because individuals and companies are more educated on the value of content marketing. They see what we do and how we do it, and understand how it will be received by a savvy reader. We are now receiving more unsolicited content submissions than ever before, and are also finding new and creative ways to entice authors to publish with Inspectioneering.

When did you start selling corporate licenses?
In 2010. Then, we launched our newsletter the beginning of 2012. We went through the whole spamming and bad practices learning curve. That woke us up, and we scaled back and implemented better practices. We gradually improved at everything and after a couple years, things exploded. We jumped up to over 100 corporate licenses, including major oil and gas companies like Exxon, Shell and BP. At that point we had captured the lion's share of the refining industry. We've stuck to the mandate that my dad established early on—to educate the industry—and we continue to see positive results. 

And you also have a side of the business that helps companies market?
Yes, we work closely with a select group of product and service providers to help them connect with our niche market. In addition to limited advertising opportunities, we offer email campaigns, business marketing plans, ghostwriting services. And we're always looking at data. Everything we have, from the website to the back-end system, was built in-house, mostly by my best friend from college, Nick. We're now able to identify the habits and wants of our readers down to a granular level. When they log in, they create an individual profile and we are able to follow that user throughout their journey with us. This helps us better understand people's interests, determine what information we should be developing next, and create a better overall user experience. 

What are other keys for selling corporate licenses?
Getting to the proper point of contact to discuss our offering. It's easier when the money is coming out of a central location, but a company like Marathon for example has seven refineries and thousands of employees spread across multiple locations. It is not always easy to find the right person, and often takes multiple attempts to find someone who can and will champion a purchase. 

Are you doing events?
Inspectioneering participates in a number of industry events every year; however we have not produced any events yet. This is something we have discussed at length, but right now the timing isn't right for us to take the dive.

How many employees do you have?
We're a small, six-person outfit. But I like that. It keeps us nimble and able to provide the kind of personal service our clients have come to expect. We do outsource many aspects of the business though. We have graphic designers, writers and printers that we use on a case-by-case basis. We'll get bigger; I can see us being a 15-20 person operation in the near future. When the time is right, we will be looking to add fun, energetic people to the mix. 

Do you have a theme moving forward?
Not to make changes for the sake of change. I want our growth to be calculated and intentional. Decisions to change must always be backed by reason and further our mission to educate, inform, connect, and advance the industry. 

Where is most of your customer growth coming from?
The Middle East and Europe have been great to us, but our biggest growth is now in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. When it comes to process safety, the U.S. is leading the charge, and the rest of the world has adopted many of our standards—there's no reason for other countries to recreate the wheel. 

Does your father still contribute?
Absolutely. Dad is Inspectioneering's chief editor, and it's a pretty rigorous editing process. Engineers have a tendency to focus on technical substance over writing practices, so to have a subject matter expert who knows grammar and readability is great. My dad and our other editors make sure our articles are not only technically sound, but that reading them doesn't make you want to slam your head on a desk. 

Sounds like you're keeping busy.
I am, but I'm only 32 so I feel like I can handle it. I have a long way to go.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
If not, you're missing out on daily strategies, tips, profiles and case studies that can build your audience and increase revenue. To sign up, please contact Nevena Jovanovic.

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 a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…