I enjoyed meeting with Buddy Doebbler, publisher of a group of local Texas construction newspapers.
Our businesses, values, experiences and systems are both similar and different. We came up with the same concept — publishing regional construction news in independent local newspapers — quite independently, and about the same time, about two decades ago.
While we knew of each other’s initiatives, our paths never really crossed directly until today.
If you compare the businesses in an ecological sense, we both found our niche independently in quite distinctive environments. The story is interesting because, with most publishing businesses, surviving a year represents an accomplishment — staying in business for 20 to 25 years becomes exceptional (especially with changing technologies and advertising purchase patterns.)
The observations here may be helpful in looking at your own business or practice. Compare it to a counterpart that started about the same time in a different market? How have you evolved and where can you learn from your distinctiveness, or your similarities.
First, the similarities: We both publish regional construction publications.
Doebbler stays for now within Texas, with five titles, serving San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth and (his newest market) South Texas. We publish regional titles in Ottawa, Toronto, and northern Ontario, as well as North and South Carolina. (Doebbler I think has done better by focusing well in his market close to home — my spreading afield in an ill-managed U.S. expansion left me mostly with what I had at the beginning.)
We earn most of our income from print advertising. Both of us have an online presence and this helps generate sales leads. (We both provide access to our rate sheets online only to readers who provide email contact information, which turns into sales leads.) Doebbler’s website is certainly functional, but ours has evolved with more responsive and link-focused content (though I think major improvements are in the works at his end.)
We both have strong client and community-focused values.
There are differences, though.
While we both generate our own content, Doebbler avoids controversies. He focuses on positive business profiles for architectural, engineering and contracting businesses. You don’t need to advertise to have the profile written. There are some light features for sports, hunting and fishing. He does not publish supplier-supported features; and virtually all of his ads are sold in multiple issue quantities. Doebleer does not deviate from his rate schedule.
I research and develop stories on controversial issues, largely in conjunction with relevant industry associations. We earn a significant amount of our revenue from supplier-support features.
Our sales management system is very different. Doebbler expects all his salespeople to work from the San Antonio office and use either the phone or Internet to communicate with clients. (However he has writers/reporters in each of the local communities, who do not sell, but certainly can refer sales leads to the head office.) Our salespeople are encouraged to work independently, from their homes, and where possible, to spend time in the community and connect face-to-face with clients. Notably, however the compensation models and income expectations are quite similar, as are our base advertising rates.
Did I gain insights in our meeting that will change the way we do business? Probably not, with the understanding that there is much to be said for creating plenty of positive reader-focused content and delivering it consistently to the audience.
There are major differences in our life experiences and certainly our perceptions are different on things like gun control and government medical insurance but these differences should be expected, considering where we live.
The most important lesson I’ve learned today is that it is quite okay to follow your own systems and these can be different from others, which can be equally successful. The test of time helps determine which approach is best, and here, it seems, both of our quite independent approaches are successful.