Giving Your Site or E-Zine a Winning Personality

Richard Ord. Does that name mean anything to you? Probably not. He’s fairly low profile.

But I’ll tell you something: If you want to find one site publisher worth emulating in this business, it would be Richard Ord.

He’s the guy who launched NewsLINX a number of years ago as well as InternetDay, which we affectionately refer to around here as “ClickZ Lite.” His progenies are now productive properties within the internet.com network.

He was doing HTML email way before it was cool. In fact, he was the one who convinced me that ClickZ should go in that direction which we did. He introduced me to the concept of the publisher’s letter, in which the publisher of a newsletter endorses a particular product or service to his or her readers, but on a very selective basis. He knows how to grow e-zine subscriptions faster than anybody in the biz.

Bottom line – he’s the guy I tip my cap to. I have learned more about profitable online publishing from Richard Ord than from anyone else in the biz.

So what is Richard up to these days?

He recently launched with zero outside investment a highly successful network of e-zines called the iEntry Network. iEntry is composed of some 35 to 40 (and growing daily) e-zines focused on various niches, such as web development, sports and entertainment, small-business advice, technology, and professional development.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s been a highly profitable operation from the day it was launched?

I would invite you to explore the iEntry Network at your leisure, as it’s an education in and of itself, but would like to point out a few things that Richard does that makes iEntry a winner.

First, he’s made iEntry e-zines a banner-free zone something I would dearly love to do at ClickZ. That’s right, no banners.

Take a look at the upper-right-hand corner of Design Newz for an example of how it approaches sponsorship. As of this writing, the ad is for Answers.com. It displays the Answers.com logo quite prominently with a brief text ad to the right of it. Quite similar to the way that, uh, ClickZ does it, now that I think of it. But the key is that the ad is noticeable while not detracting from the content. It blends in quite nicely, as a matter of fact.

Or take a look at the buy.com ad on FemmeJolie. More so than the Design Newz ad, it looks more like an ad, but it doesn’t – and this is key – look like a banner.

Golly gumdrops, you must be saying, it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to sell banners to the media buyers than these ads specifically designed for iEntry e-zines.

Richard would have three things to say in response:

  1. iEntry does the creative for the client at no charge. It has a vested interest in having an ad look great and perform well. It wants a good, long-term relationship with its advertisers and sponsors. So it goes the extra mile and does the creative for them.

  2. For the most part, iEntry doesn’t deal with media buyers or agencies. It develops relationships with marketing VPs and directors at companies that would likely benefit from long-term exposure to their respective audiences. iEntry employs 13 salespeople who initiate relationships with potential sponsors on a low-key basis. The placement, design, and messaging that ultimately appears on the type of ads you’ve seen are the fruits of a relationship that has been going on for some time before the buy was ever placed.
  3. Unlike most media properties, iEntry avoids the CPM/CPA model and offers fixed pricing. iEntry makes it incredibly easy for its sponsors to do business with it. No haggling over impressions served because the prices aren’t based on impressions. iEntry just stays focused on providing a great value for its clients and a steadily growing (10,000 new subscribers per day) reader base.

Beyond its unique approach to advertising and sponsorship, iEntry also uses an interesting method of developing its e-zines. I would call it something of a hybrid of ClickZ’s “Queen for a Day” model (wherein we showcase specialists within their areas of expertise) and About.com’s “Guide” model.

Each iEntry e-zine has its own editor who is responsible for attracting the writers, choosing the news stories, and, most important, establishing the personality for the publication.

You can get a strong sense of this by going to eZined, where you are immediately greeted with the young, sexy gal named Heather Kendall. When you read her articles, you get a clear sense of the single, twentysomething lifestyle she leads and the devil-may-care attitude she takes to life. You may or may not like her approach, but that’s the tone she has set for this particular e-zine.

Heather doesn’t do it for you? Try Matthew Lesko at ActivePro the daily newsletter to make your life more productive. No less than FOUR photos of Lesko grace the home page (wouldn’t Nick Usborne love THAT!), with a cartoon rendition thrown in.

In short, you are subscribing to an e-zine that has a pulse, a personality, and passion. The risk is that people may not like the personality you go with. The good part is that if they do, you are golden. And it isn’t too difficult to figure out who they like and who they don’t. It’s quite clear on the Internet.

Is this a model that is transferable? Is it something you could do?

Absolutely.

I had originally intended to write an article about anticipating problem areas you could build a site around. I was thinking about the oil-shortage problems, hoping that I could find a site that had great content about how you as a business or consumer could prepare for and/or deal with the problems this might bring about. So I typed in “energy.com” in my browser. It focuses on that issue, all right, but it’s about as dull, dry, and lacking in personality as a site could be.

Imagine energy.com with some energy, some personality, some passion. Heck, it might be worth subscribing to. At present, it’s not.

So here’s your assignment: Spend the next hour surfing through iEntry.com. Look at the ads. Read the articles. Note how many ways you can subscribe to its e-zines. Think of how you might be able to offer the kind of personalized service to your sponsors that it does. It may be different than the way Richard does it. Think of how you can breathe some life and personality into your site or e-zine. It may not be the Heather-centric approach you saw in eZined.com. It might just be something simple like adding the photos of your writers on to the articles they write. Or adding a little zing to their bios.

The key is to remember that this industry is still quite young way too young for us to adhere too firmly to “standard” ways of doing things. Experiment a little. Imitate with an added twist. Have some fun.

Who knows? You might join the emerging group of profitable online publishers.

Cooool…

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