Building a company culture is the most satisfying, frustrating, complex, fascinating, and rewarding part of developing a successful niche business. The culture you establish is your single greatest tool to foster real growth.
We caught up with Niche CEO Summit “Fab 4” speaker Bryan Welch to get solid insight into the nuts and bolts of creating company culture. Bryan is CEO of B The Change Media, a startup in partnership with the B Corporations, and formerly Publisher and editorial director for Ogden Publications (Mother Earth News, Utne Reader, Grit and many others) for 19 years. We asked him about the process of building Ogden as a conscientious, audience-centered, innovative company–while it expanded from two titles with a total audience of 300,000 readers to eight titles with eight million readers!
NMHQ: What are the core values of Odgen’s culture and why do you think it works?
Bryan: “I would say Ogden’s core values are a strong commitment to work; business as a force for good in the world; and humor. A sense of commitment drives value in all the usual ways. A fundamental belief in business as a force for good has drawn an exemplary team of like-minded people together, and of course strong teams are more productive. And a sense of humor is particularly valuable, I think, in an organization committed to doing good in the world, a commitment that might alienate stakeholders if you don’t leaven it with some humor and self-deprecation.”
NMHQ: You expanded with many new brands. What opportunities should CEOs look for?
Bryan: “In the media business I believe two quantities define a good opportunity: a passionate, underserved audience; and a sufficient number of endemic sponsors. If those two assets exist, the enterprise is likely to be successful.”
NMHQ: Tell us about a new experiment that worked out better than you could have imagined.
Bryan: “In 2002 we digitized the archives of Mother Earth News to build out a website. At the time web advertising was coming in at a trickle and we really didn’t know how we were going to redeem our $85,000 investment. After much debate we elected to press the archives to CDs in hopes that people would buy some of them, in spite of the fact that all the same material was available for free online. We priced the CD set at $49.95. The set cost about $3 to manufacture. Sales of the CDs paid off our initial investment in about 6 weeks. They continue to sell today as one of the most popular products. And from day one most of them sold on the website in the free archive.”
NMHQ: How does Ogden like to have fun? Can you give us an example?
Bryan: “The most fun thing we did was take turns traveling to staff the Mother Earth News Fairs around the country. There’s a lot of work to do, of course, but the camaraderie of executing the two-day events together away from home in an interesting part of the country was just a gas! About 40 staff members travel to each fair.”
Editor’s Note: Bryan will be speaking about how to Create a Company Culture that Makes Real Dollars and Sense! at the Niche CEO Summit in Chicago in July. Join us!
More about Bryan: Bryan is currently CEO of B The Change Media, a startup in partnership with the B Corporations. He was formerly the Publisher and Editorial Director for Ogden Publications, owners of Mother Earth News and Utne Reader, (among many others) for the past 19 years. Bryan really knows reader engagement: Mother Earth News has been the fastest-growing major magazine in North America for 10 years running and it is most likely to be a reader’s favorite magazine.
Niche Media has created super niched-out events specifically for magazine publishers for over 12 years. We’ve helped pave the way for the era of boutique events that connect specific audiences and provide great educational, friendly and super-fun environments! Plus, Carl Landau – Niche Media’s Grand Poobah -also created a blog all about creating and marketing targeted events – blog.NicheEventNation.com Check it out!