Mansueto's Sussman shares company's digital strategy

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Ed Sussman is a lucky man. He has $10 million to support Mansueto Ventures' plans for the online editions and spinoffs of Inc. and Fast Company magazines. Like his peers, Mr. Sussman is aware that readers and advertisers increasingly are moving to the Web and business publications have to meet them in the venue of their choice.

DM News spoke with the president of Mansueto Digital about his digital strategy including plans for Web sites FastCompany.com, Inc.com and IncTechnology.com. FastCompany.com was this year's EPpy winner for Best National Magazine Affiliated Web Site.

DM News: Why the emphasis on digital?

Ed Sussman: We view online and the magazine as having complementary missions that support each other exceedingly well.

With Inc., our readers look to the Web site for daily developments in the news which impact entrepreneurs, for our many blogs and columns covering every vertical topic within the world of business on a daily basis, for our vast library of articles and how-to-guides - most especially the dozens of new guides from IncTechnology.com - and for multimedia.

Our readers tend to turn to Inc. magazine, by contrast, for the longer-form feature journalism and for quality magazine writing. And they attend our conferences and soon will participate in our online community for personal interaction. Taken together, these three arms of the Inc. brand comprehensively serve the entrepreneurs' needs for inspiration, information and community.

With Fast Company, the Web site serves as a forum to almost 50 bloggers - soon to be 100 - writing every day on the key themes of Fast Company who are recognized experts within their fields, from design to technology to change management. We also give our professional writers a forum to expand and follow up on their monthly stories. This daily mission is a terrific complement to the monthly magazine journalism of Fast Company in print.

Because our readers have taken to our vision of the Web sites as the daily voice of the brands, we serve a very large audience - generally about 1.4 million unique visitors a month - and can also serve the needs of advertisers looking to capture the attention of the same demographic as the magazine via on an online experience.

Our online audience is 80 percent to 90 percent separate from the magazine and tends to use the Web sites at work as part of business-making decisions or information gathering. The result is a marketer's dream - whether buying the Web sites solo or in combination with print. Since the strategy is hot with advertisers and readers, we've ramped up digital investment to make the offerings even stronger going forward.

What are some examples of what you plan to do with Inc. and Fast Company online?

FastCompany.com was one of the first Web sites in the country to offer an online community in the form of a social network through its "Company of Friends" reader network. We've been running it for almost eight years and decided about a year ago to spend a huge amount of time and money to again lead the way in changing the model of community and social networking in the publishing space. The FC Experts Blog was our first foray into bringing a large number of community/reader voices into the Web site.

We will be following up with more and more community features rolled out over the next year, but in a way that more actively takes advantage of reader involvement than any traditional magazine publisher. I believe we'll be one of the leaders, if not the leader, in this new approach. Look for changes all during the fall and beyond.

Inc. is also creating a comprehensive Web site for private-company social networking and database information, to debut at our Inc. 500 conference Sept. 6, with additional features rolling out all during the year. We're investing heavily in the strategy, information architecture, design and technology platform for the network. But most importantly, we're investing in creating the community.

In large part, we are leveraging the companies we've discovered, Inc.com's first-ever Inc. 5000 - a tenfold expansion of the Inc. 500, our 27-year-old list of the fastest-growing companies in America. This joint effort with the magazine required three dozen people to spend more than six months searching for these companies, using everything from partnerships with entrepreneurial nonprofits like local chambers of commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, to several hundred thousand pieces of direct mail, thousands of phone calls and millions of e-mails. The Inc. 5000 will debut on Inc.com in late August.

IncTechnology.com rolled out about four months ago with about 100 up-to-date technology guides for small business owners and their technology staff. We're adding anywhere from 10 to 20 new guides every month, along with new bloggers, columnists, multimedia content. We intend to continue to grow this new site with more and more content. We recently crossed half a million page views per month for the site and intend to double it by the end of year.

Our investment in editorial staff is also allowing us to expand our new coverage on Inc.com, our creation of on-the-news features and to expand the number of high-visibility bloggers on the site. Some of the most beloved and well-respected entrepreneurs in the Inc. community will be debuting in 2007, including Norm Brodsky, the most well-known columnist of Inc. magazine.

At FastCompany.com, while the addition of community elements is the dominant theme on the Web sites for the next few months, we also have some spectacular new professional content ready to roll out. One of the best-known Web 2.0 bloggers, Robert Scoble of Scobelizer.com, is not only writing for Fast Company magazine but will also be doing video interviews and a link blog for FastCompany.com. Our video efforts, in general, will be picking up substantially.

How will these efforts drive subscription for the print magazines?

Over the past two years the number of print subscriptions driven by online has quadrupled. Having more readers online directly leads to more people buying subscriptions to the print magazines. There's a direct correlation.

How are Mansueto's online efforts different from those done by other business magazine publishers?

Almost four years ago, we started our staff blogs "FC Now" and "Fresh Inc." Other magazine Web sites didn't get around to putting up staff blogs until 2006 and 2007. Almost none of the traditional publishers have invited significant numbers of their community to contribute in meaningful ways to their blogs. We stepped up to do so in early 2007 with FC Experts, which will top 100 regular contributors from our community in short order.

And throughout the rest of this year, you'll see more and more tools for our general audience to participate very substantially in the idea-driven dialogue of FastCompany.com.

With Inc., our 27-year heritage gives us a unique advantage. We hire editors and writers to cover small business who are among the best business journalists in the nation. All too often, small business writing and advice on the Web especially is simply not as good as business journalism covering large-scale enterprises. Not so at Inc. magazine or Inc.com. And the advantage of having a loyal and active Inc. 500 - soon to be 5000 - community to go to for ideas cannot be overstated. These are the best and brightest in business and share all their acumen with us every day.

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