SIPA Member Profile: Ed Coburn, co-president, School Family Media

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Prior to joining School Family Media, Ed Coburn was senior VP at Mequoda Systems where he provided strategic consulting to numerous B2B and B2C publishing clients. Previously, he was publishing director at Harvard Medical School.

SIPA: Can you offer a short preview of your webinar? How you and Jack might complement each other. (Coburn and Jack Farrell, managing director, Jack Farrell & Associates, presented a SIPA webinar on Employee Recruitment and Retention: Strategies and Tips to Attract and Retain Top Talent. You can access that talk here.) 

Ed Coburn: The biggest single contribution an effective leader can do is to attract and retain highly productive people. That has always been a passion of mine. Jack runs a recruiting firm and does considerable work in the publishing industries so I really don't know anyone who can better talk about recruiting trends. I will focus primarily on the retention piece, and that, of course, isn't just about holding onto employees but creating and sustaining a highly engaged and productive team. (Spoiler Alert: I'm going to talk about management training, because I've never seen incompetent or poorly trained managers foster an environment that maximizes engagement and productivity.) 

Tell us a little about School Family Media? Who is your main audience?
We serve leaders of school parent groups (groups like PTAs, PTOs and other similar groups) primarily. Of all the things you can do to try to improve educational outcomes for children, the biggest single influencer is parent involvement—which falls to three parties: administrators, teachers and these parent groups. Since the administrators and teachers already have full-time jobs running the school and the classrooms, the school parent groups play an enormous role in generating that parent involvement. School Family Media began with the mission of making those parent groups more successful.

What type of revenue model do you have?
Advertising and sponsorships are our primary business model through our magazine, extensive regional expos and a wide range of email, sampling and custom programs. We do have some user-generated revenue for guidebooks, software, services and expo registrations but it's relatively smaller. 

I see that the organization goes back to 1999. Has the focus changed over the years?
In the early days we were exclusively focused on the parent groups. To that we have now added homeroom moms, which are closely related. In addition, we have a number of programs that serve school families, including sampling programs and perhaps most notably, our TeacherLists data platform which is fundamentally changing how teachers, parents and retailers deal with the previously challenging process of school supply lists. These are the lists that virtually every child receives to start the school year, telling them what supplies they need to purchase, which generate $3.5 billion in annual spending. So that's an exciting addition to our business over the past several years.

There's always a tendency to want to do too much too fast. With all your experience and knowledge, where have you placed your focus?
I had the good fortune of joining a growing, successful company with a stable and high-performing team so there were no fires needing to be put out. Of course there are things to work on—new opportunities to develop, processes to tweak—but nothing that demanded immediate intervention. The first place I looked at was our data management processes. Coming from my time as a Mequoda Group consultant, I was very much aware of the costs and risks of substandard data management. And importantly, I had learned that due to the rapid changes in data technology and cloud software and integration, most smaller media companies are not at current standards. So, we have been working on a program of initiatives to collect more and better data, store it more efficiently and securely, automate some steps that have been manual, and provide greater flexibility going forward. 

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