Choose Your Words Carefully, Green Advises, One of Which Can Be 'No'

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At our BIMS conference last month, Elizabeth Green, CEO of Brief Media—a leading publisher in the veterinary medicine field—delivered a keynote titled Disrupting Goliath: Tales of a Small Cap Media Innovator. "I've spent my entire tenure as a publisher watching Goliath," she said. What she learned helped her to build one of the top brands in the field.

Here are eight keys to Green's success:

1. Create an idea-sharing culture. In telling her company's success story, Green described a key moment. When the industry trend was to build an app, a young woman employee raised her hand and said, why do something that only 17% of their audience could access? Why not follow the Boston Globe's lead and build a responsive-based website that 100% of their audience could access? It took their main competition six years to match them.

2. Establish trust. Because employees are encouraged to speak up, another young employee asked Green to give her a go at social media. Some 5,000 Facebook friends and $10k of ad revenue later, and their $2,000 investment paid dividends. Trust is huge, she said. "People have to know that they will not be reprimanded or ridiculed... Be willing to be vulnerable to establish trust in your organization."

3. Choose your words carefully. Green learned right away that it would be beneficial to refer to her audience as "pet parents," not pet owners. That's never changed.

4. Don't be afraid to say no. Perhaps the biggest moment for Green came in 2009 when she fired a big client. "Steve Jobs said that sometimes it's more important what you say no to than what you say yes to," she recounted. "It was a tough time for us; we had to look at every process, every strategy. We had to figure out what we were getting a return on and what we weren't."

(Interestingly, Sean Griffey, CEO of SIIA member IndustryDive, was asked a question about what he has said no to. There were some revenue opportunities such as licensing and events that he decided would "take us away from our core, our real business. So we're going to walk away. Events are huge, but I'm not good at them. They take so much time and energy from everyone. I don't want to do that. We're growing at a good clip, so I don't want to be distracted. Let's keep going in one direction.")

5. "Adapt and choose an unconventional strategy, and the tables flip," Green said, meaning David can come out ahead. During tough economic times around 2010, she raised the cost of print ads 20%. The strategy worked. Their print advertising dollars went up 40% the next year. "We went to see our clients to explain why," she said. "The key was the exclusivity and valuing of our products. If you value them, [your customers] will value them."

6. Look at popular writers in your niche. Green pursued the author of a popular book to ask if Brief Media could distribute his content on a more frequent basis. That became a very profit-friendly app. They recently hit the million dollar mark on revenue this year from that content. And renewal rates are 85-90%. "It's the fastest growing part of our business," Green said.

7. Don't undervalue your content. Initially, Brief was only asking for name and email to access their free content. That changed when an employee said that the names weren't helping much, that they should put their entire sub-form on there. "We were getting 4,000 people before that," Green said. "We then asked all the information and still got 4,000 a month. If you have great content, people are willing to give you all the information you want and need."

8. Put on events (if you're not already). Griffey's explanation of his decision not to do events makes sense, though we'll see how long that keeps. They can be quite profitable. "We had a lot of encouragement," Green said. "A good friend said, 'I'm not going to speak to you until you launch an events business.'" They did and are not looking back.

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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…