Sheila Robinson: Dedicated to Serving Women in Business
Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention—and in the case of Diversity Woman, the North Carolina-based business-to-business media company, that certainly seems to hold true. Before becoming a media entrepreneur, founder and publisher Sheila Robinson worked hard and rose—slowly—through the ranks of industry, wondering all along why she couldn't find the kind of resources she needed to meet her specific challenges as a working woman. Knowing what she wanted, she eventually decided to produce it herself, launching a regional magazine, Career Network, in 2004, and expanding nationally in 2007 with the launch of Diversity Woman.
Diversity Woman is now truly national, with editorial based out of San Francisco and sales in North Carolina, and a current staff of five people. While the company dealt with the same economic challenges all publishers have faced in the last two years, finances are "coming back around," Robinson says, and based on the impact of its annual Diversity Women's Business Leadership Conference (now in its 5th year) and Mosaic Woman Awards, the company is poised with a strong brand and influential reach to expand its mission of empowering women.
Robinson shares with Publishing Executive Inbox: Executive Insights her understanding of how to establish and maintain connections with audiences and advertisers, build relevancy and increase revenue opportunities going forward.
Executive Insights: Why do you believe there was a need in the publishing industry for a magazine like Diversity Woman?
Sheila Robinson: I worked for a global chemical company in corporate marketing for 14 years and had major challenges trying to climb the corporate ladder. I used to constantly work on improving myself—I read books, took classes and workshops, attended conferences—and there was nothing in a magazine that addressed my issues and needs. I would read my favorite magazines such as Fortune, Black Enterprise, Essence and others, but often wished it was something that addressed me directly. I guess I felt that I had to read five magazines to get what I could get in one, which is Diversity Woman.
Executive Insights: Your approach is partially grounded in mentoring. How does this affect the way you design the products you offer?
Robinson: We focus on solution-based editorial and programs. We want our customers to gain knowledge and insight into how to better themselves. We have had to turn editorial away because it was not focused on the positive. We can choose to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution—and we choose to help our readers focus on solutions.
Executive Insights: In your events and publications, you don't shy away from issues of culture, faith and personal well-being. Why do you believe addressing these issues should be a part of what you offer women in business?
Robinson: Our events and publications are for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds. We help each other to understand our differences and celebrate our uniqueness. According to Dr. Maya Angelou, 'We are all more alike than unalike.' When we get to know one another, we realize this. Women are great leaders and have the ability to influence positive change in their families, communities, our country and world.
We also respect our readers' differences, by making sure our editorial is focused, but general enough for everyone to receive the point, without being offensive to anyone.
Executive Insights: What is your fastest growing product segment?
Robinson: At this time, our live events. Our conferences generate a ton of excitement and education. Word of mouth is the fastest PR and the success of our events has spread globally. We are also working on webcasting so that those unable to attend can experience these events virtually.
We have learned that networking and physical contact has a major impact on women by the way they go back into their jobs and businesses empowered to succeed and do more!
Executive Insights: What percentage of your total revenue comes from events?
Robinson: At this time, 40 percent.
Executive Insights: Are you moving into virtual events or webinars as part of your product mix?
Executive Insights: Does most of your magazine revenue come from subscriptions or advertising?
Robinson: Most of our revenue comes from advertising. We are 80 percent a business-to-business publication sponsored by corporations [looking] to support the leadership and executive development of their employees and customers. We work on their behalf, developing and offering [products] to customers consistent with their initiatives and goals to ensure their return on investment.
Executive Insights: Do you expect print to continue to play an important role for you going forward?
Robinson: I believe there will always be a place for print. Many of our customers complain that the relationship with a magazine is totally different from the relationship online. While technology continues to drive communication quicker and [in] environmentally friendly [ways], print continues to innovate as well. Consumers who read magazines want the experience they have with a magazine. My 13 year old daughter texts, uses her ipod and the computer, but she loves magazines and reads them about two to three days a week; she [also] buys one to two magazines a week. So technology has created a shift for magazines and where they fall [in the product mix], but they have not been eliminated.
Executive Insights: What new products are in the pipeline? Will mobile play an increasingly important role in your product mix going forward, for instance?
Robinson: We are always looking for ways to extend our brand and address our customers' needs, and mobile is included. Our focus is on reaching and helping more women and we are open to the most effective ways to do this.
Executive Insights: How has your role as publisher evolved over the last six years?
Robinson: When I first started the magazine my focus was 100 percent on articles to help my readers improve their careers and businesses. I now am also focused on how to help my sponsors and advertisers achieve their goals. I have learned in business that partnerships must be mutually beneficial and, more importantly, it feels better when you know that your work has helped someone else accomplish their goal.
Executive Insights: Has the enterprise taken you in directions you could not have anticipated?
Robinson: Absolutely, it is quite a bit of work and more than I could have imagined. However, I have learned so much and been able to accomplish more for others than I could have imagined.
Executive Insights: What keeps you awake at night?
Robinson: I sleep very well! If anything is keeping me up it is trying to find a solution to a challenge! I never view problems as problems, but as challenges that I enjoy finding solutions for.
Executive Insights: What helps you sleep?
Robinson: The peace, safety, and success of my family, friends, clients and customers.