Working Mother Media Founder on Succeeding with a Single Title
Since founding Working Mother Media (WMM) in 2001, CEO Carol Evans has helped to grow Working Mother magazine into a multimedia enterprise. Fueled by the success of its ground-breaking “100 Best Companies” feature, which Evans launched in 1986, the company now includes a research arm, a growing events/conference business and a member organization dedicated to diversity and cultural change in corporate America. WMM’s largest event, the 2007 Best Companies for Multicultural Women National Conference, was held earlier this week in New York City and drew over 700 professional women to discuss issues of gender and race in the workforce. Evans took a break from the conference to speak with Publishing Executive Inbox on the company’s various initiatives and how this single-title publisher competes against publishing conglomerates:
Inbox: What are the biggest challenges you face as an independent, single-title publisher? How are you competing with multititle publishers?
Carol Evans: It is more difficult [as a single-title publisher] because you have to have a brilliant editor, a brilliant publisher, a brilliant circulation director … you have to have all these brilliant people, and there’s only one magazine. But the way we’ve been able to afford all this brilliance, we utilize the intellectual capital from our top team to launch all these initiatives and to move into new spheres of revenue generation and branding. Even though we’re a single title, we’re by no means a single focus. We have so many avenues, and I have to say, in this day and age where advertising has had tremendous ups and downs, we’ve built a strong fortress around the advertising. If the advertising has its peaks and valleys, the rest of the business is much more steady. That really helps us a lot. If you have 15 titles and they’re all dependent on advertising and the advertising business slips, you have 15 titles in trouble. Because we have research, events and advertising as our revenue generators, not to mention the Web of course, it really helps. We’ve expanded too because we just acquired a member organization in the diversity business called Diversity Best Practices. [There are] almost 200 top-tiered companies in the United States who are members of this organization, working to make their companies better at diversity and inclusion. So now we tie this broader perspective of diversity into everything we’re doing at Working Mother.
We think very differently from your typical magazine company. We look at our brand and our mission, and how can we expand our brand and our mission and have it all fit together, so we don’t have to go outside of our expertise. We’re constantly building into our expertise, but in a different way than most magazines. [But] it’s still a single title, and we still need to compete out there with everybody, which is why we focused on doing our cover redesign with [designer] Roger Black and doing our magazine redesign a year ago on the inside. We’re constantly updating and refreshing our look and our editorial content.
Inbox: What role is WorkingMother.com playing in the overall Working Mother brand? How are you utilizing the online component to your advantage?
Evans: It wasn’t as important as it is now. About a year ago, we relaunched. [Until then] we weren’t a Web 2.0 company. So when we relaunched our Web site, we could do all the things our readers had been asking us to do, [such as] blogging and message boards. ... Now all of a sudden within the last year, we’ve been able to keep up and move ahead, and because we have so much content, what we’re working on is to have a lot of our conference content fresh from the horse’s mouth right up on our Web site as soon as the conference is engaged. We still have a lot of expansion work to do around the Web, but at least we have the capability. We acquired a content management system … [that] is really powerful, and we still haven’t quite gotten to use it to its full capability. It’s been our big project for the last year.
Inbox: WMM is now holding more than 50 events per year. How have these events complemented the print publication and vice versa?
Evans: … The one we’re doing today is our biggest initiative—not oldest, but our biggest to date—our Best Companies for Multicultural Women. It ties beautifully into the magazine because … we publish the list of the Best Companies for Multicultural Women [in the magazine]. This year, we have 20 winners [listed in our] June issue. Then, we publish a whole series of articles about multicultural women around a certain theme; this year [the theme] was “empower.” Then, just a little bit later in July, we host our Multicultural Women Conference. … It’s a two-day conference on the topic of power, and tonight, we’ll celebrate the list of the winners. So it all ties together.
Inbox: Are all of the events WMM holds reflected somehow in the print publication?
Evans: They are. … The themes [of the events] are tied together [with the magazine’s content]. We also run stories about what we learn at the conferences. [For example,] this conference will be reported on in the December issue. We’ll talk about the topic of power and what we learned from the conference, specifically what the [attendees] said. The June issue, which just published, has the stories about power that we built the conference around. … So it’s kind of an all-year-round touch-point between the magazine and the conferences.
Inbox: Are the people attending the conferences readers of the magazine as well?
Evans: They’re not necessarily readers. They are being sent by corporate America to these events to help them become more effective in their careers. So they might be readers, they might not. It’s not really about circulation … it’s to further our mission, which is to be champions of culture change in corporate America.
Inbox: Do you have plans to grow the events aspect of your business even more?
Evans: Yes, we’re always growing. Our latest growth is [that] we’re going global with our events. We’re doing an event in Brazil and then next year in Bangalore, India. We’ve done them in Canada, in Toronto, and we’ll probably be going to Europe as well. These are conferences where we link together the Diversity Best Practices members with our WMM town-hall format. We’re creating what we call off-shore events where in Brazil, we have our practitioners meet on day one to talk about doing business in South America from a diversity perspective, and then day two, we have our Advancement of Women Town Hall, so it combines both organizations together into one big event. … It gives us a global expertise. Also, a lot of our clients are huge global companies, so they’re doing half of their business at least outside of the United States, and they want us to keep up with them. It’s a challenge for us, but we’re meeting it.
We also have new initiatives that will become events as well; for example, we now have the Best Law Firms for Women. That’s going to be a list and stories published in the September issue [of the magazine], and then we have a luncheon on Sept. 24 for the best law firms.
Inbox: The Best Companies for Women feature has become synonymous with Working Mother magazine. Why has that feature resonated with readers for so long? How has this feature helped to shape the identity of Working Mother?
Evans: It’s our oldest initiative; it’s now 22 years old. And there’s no end in sight to its importance because women need to navigate this very interesting path between work and life. The more aware the country as a whole gets, other people want to navigate this [path] too. So it’s not just for mothers, but really also for all of us who are looking at how do we live full lives, how do we fit it all in. So people who have elder-care issues, people who just want the chance to run a marathon, people who want to be healthy, all these people are looking at the issues that Working Mother brought to the forefront with our 100 Best. … We were the only ones out there crying in the wind for a long time, but [work-life balance] has become a very key issue now for politicians, schools and corporations.
Inbox: And this is also something that you see continuing to expand into different areas, with more offsets of the 100 Best Companies for Women?
Evans: Oh yes … we’ve done [events such as] a pharmaceutical industry town hall … how are moms and women fairing by industry … and those events have been reflected in the magazine as well. … There’s an endless need to drill down into how each industry is affected by the needs of working women.