How niche media can build a large company

While the world of media is changing rapidly, one paradigm stands constant: content is king. For media and content, the internet is one of the most important tools developed in the the industry’s history, and recent developments have allowed for even tighter honing of demographic information and targeting. Sean Griffey, co-founder and CEO of Industry Dive, has developed an innovative approach to content creation and information transfer to the most important people in our communities.

ABERMAN: Well, let’s begin with: what is Industry Dive?

GRIFFEY: Industry Dive is a digital media company, we’re based in the District. We cover niche markets for executives in there. So, we have teams of reporters that will cover the daily news stories, and the trends that shape the industries.

ABERMAN: There are a fair number of companies here in town that provide targeted journalism, and targeted content. What makes your business different from more traditional media businesses?

GRIFFEY: We started, at the very beginning, what we set out to do was build a mobile company. If you look back to 2012, it was a time where mobile was becoming more and more pertinent to how people consumed information. It was a time when Facebook was going public, and people wondered if they could even make money off of mobile. And what we saw was an opportunity to take some of the traditional aspects of journalism, and apply to a mobile-first aspect.

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So, we started with the phone, in terms of how our content strategy worked, how the ads worked, how we acquired audiences. And we went from there. Today, we’ve moved past that. I think we’re still very mobile-focused when we think about digital technologies, but our content and our audiences and our users are across platforms, both in live and social and online.

ABERMAN: It’s interesting to me that you talk about it from the standpoint of mobile shaping. It’s my experience, helping to launch a number of mobile companies here in town, that when I think about mobile, at least earlier on, it was snacking content. Really short bits that people could consume rapidly and move on, but I get the impression that at Industry Dive, you get much more into issues than I would think about as snacking. So, am I missing something, or have you evolved?

GRIFFEY: No, I think it’s an evolution of that. Now, we still try to make our information accessible, so that people who only have a short amount of time can come into the story and out of it. But what we’ve really done is focus on insight. I think that information, on some level, is a commodity, Facts are a commodity, not information.

But, in the industries we’re in, and for the executives we’re serving, taking those facts about what happened and tying them to the larger trends that shape their industry, and helping explain how this story applies to that trend, and what it means for their business and their careers next, is what’s important. And so, our content has gotten meatier as we invest more in the insight of the publication.

ABERMAN: It sounds me like what you’re getting at is the difference between facts and insight.

GRIFFEY: Correct. I think our reporters and journalists are as much analysts as they are just pure reporters saying what happened. For us, it’s why it happened, and why it’s important, and matters more.

ABERMAN: When I hear analysts, it starts to trip, for me, more towards a research shop, or something like that. Give me an example of how your business is, say, different from the Washington Post, to the Business Journal.

GRIFFEY: Where we’re the same is that we focus on high value content. Where we’re dramatically different is that our focus is on our audience. So, whereas the Washington Post is creating content that can consumed by just about anyone, whether it’s a student or a retiree or professional, we are creating content that is very, very niche and targeted for a specific audience. And that changes how we monetize and operate the business.

The Washington Post, and some of the traditional media, you see much more of an emphasis today on subscriptions, and paywalls going forward, and part of that is because when you think of this broad audience collectively, they’re not incredibly valuable together. I always talk to people about the Washington Post, one of the things that they can sell to most of their audience is tires. And if you’re an advertiser, and you sell a set of tires, you may have made 600 dollars on that sale. And so, the value of that advertisement, per sale, is 600 dollars.

For us, we’re targeting very niche executives that have specific buying power within their industry. For example, we have a utility publication that reaches about 70,000 North American utility executives, anywhere from directors, VPs, even CEOs of some of these major utilities. They read us every day for the specific insight that we get, but they also buy significant equipment. So, people here can grumble about the utility company every time the power goes out, everyone likes to complain about the utilities.

At the end of the day, though, those guys are spending billions of dollars each year on infrastructure, equipment, software, to reliably provide electricity and power to us. So, for an advertiser, the Siemens of the world, the average sale that they make could be 20 million dollars. And so, if you think about the value of the advertisement for that 20 million dollar sale, it’s a lot higher. And so, as a result, we can charge more for our advertising on a per-person basis.

ABERMAN: When you started your business, did you have any idea that you basically created a business that was going to go against the argument that the internet is just cheapening information?

GRIFFEY: The funny thing is, when I first got into digital media, that wasn’t the view. I think the pendulum is shifted towards that, but I’m a big believer that in business itself, everything comes and goes, and how people view things comes and goes, and the mistakes we make come and go. And so, when I first got into media, 2006, free and ad-supported was all the rage, and now it’s a 100 percent opposite. And people say, well, information’s cheap, and everyone has it, and there’s too much of it. And as such, you can’t make money off of that. We have proven, as a business, that you can have a quite healthy one.

ABERMAN: My perception is that people will pay for insight. A lot of money, if you give them real insight.

GRIFFEY: They’ll come back, and they’ll trust you, and if you can give them real insight, then you will be a part of their daily routine, and you’ll be the place they turn when something interesting or exciting or scary happens. They’ll look for you for guidance, and your opinion. And when that happens, when you build that relationship with an audience, you can monetize it. We do it via the advertising, because we think that’s one of the most effective ways, and when we’re connecting the types of advertisers we want with our audience, it actually helps them. But there’s other ways we can do it, too, in the long run. Live events, video, all types of things out there.

ABERMAN: Well, Sean, very much appreciate you coming on the show today. It was great to have you.

GRIFFEY: Thanks for having me.