On the phone last week, Stephanie Williford, CEO of EB Medicine, spoke to me excitedly about SIPA's new Executive Councils, groups that will consist of 12 niche publishers who meet by video conference 11 times a year, plus once a year for an in-person meeting in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with SIPA's annual conference in June.
Each video conference will last about two hours, run by an assigned moderator. Meetings will focus on growth, profit and operations issues that group members specify—so you're always addressing issues that matter to you.
"It's so easy to get stuck in the day-to-day dealing with in-house fires," Williford said. She looks forward to "forcing myself out of the weeds at least once a month to focus on the business instead of in the business. She also has the unique perspective of having been a member of Vistage, a peer network group.
While that membership has allowed her to "take a high-level step back, hear from the outside and focus on strategy and big opportunities," it has been with people who don't know her industry.
"I am really looking forward to taking that same council idea but doing it with my industry," she said. "They've lived and understood your same exact challenges and will have unique insight and perspective. There are shared real-life experiences. The other thing I like is that you don't have to leave your office to get this value."
Ed Coburn, president, Cabot Wealth Network, and SIPA's 2019 Hall of Fame selection, said that the Councils are not a totally new idea for SIPA, but the timing just seemed right now.
"In my year as president, the board discussed something like this, and there was broad interest, but that was 2009 and with the economy in free fall, we had bigger issues to deal with, and no action was taken," said Coburn, who chaired the committee that planned the Executive Councils program. "So I was delighted when we took it back up last year
"We designed the Councils to meet the needs of owners and top leaders of SIPA member companies, which was relatively easy because that was us. We knew these folks often don't have peers within their organizations to learn from or consult with. We knew they are busy people so we needed to come up with something that could fit into a busy executive's schedule. And, we knew money is tight for many as well so we wanted to keep it inexpensive. The strong positive response makes me think we nailed it on all fronts."
Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up Marketing, who is currently managing the program for SIPA, calls the Councils a "brain trust of a dozen smart, ambitious publishers, just like you—who you can discuss your greatest challenges, quandaries and questions with. Imagine also that you can call on these colleagues individually—whenever you're stuck. Just pick up the phone or shoot an email—because you're connected, the door is open.
"The best news," he added, "is that response has been enthusiastic to this program. It looks like we'll soon have multiple Councils up and meeting."
Williford also looks forward to the start of the Councils. 'We've always had the Publisher Roundtables and retreats, and, of course, there's the SIPA Discussion Forum," she said. "But this will be on a more regular basis and more high level. People can recommend new event types, new products, project management tools, etc.
“I also think it will be fun to have these conversations, and they’ll be different than the types of conversations you can have internally,” Williford added. “Sometimes you have a crazy new idea, and you need to bounce it off someone outside your company in order to get objective feedback—maybe I want to start an e-commerce business selling merchandise. And maybe that’s crazy, or maybe some else has tried it.”
Interestingly, National Journal president Kevin Turpin spoke at SIPA 2019 in June about the strategic advisory group of government affairs executives that he built there. This resulted in the launch of National Journal's Leadership Council, a group he believes has strongly contributed to member successes. "The incentive for the council is that they get to gather with each other," Turpin said. "Remember, we have 40-plus years of equity [built up]."
That sounds familiar. Next year will mark SIPA's 44th Annual Conference.
"You'll get tangible takeaways at each meeting," Williford said. "Usually each person gets to have an action item. It will be interesting if we start to spin off ones at other levels like editorial, marketing and sales. There's a huge amount of value to be had."
If you'd like more information on joining a SIPA Executive Council—fees, schedule, expectations—please go to this link and/or contact Jim Sinkinson, Executive Councils Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510.914.0958.