In this episode with Schneps Media Publisher, Victoria Schneps, you’ll learn about…
“The power of our success is staying true to our neighborhoods and reporting the local news.”READ FULL TRANSCRIPT
Vicki, I’m so excited to be sitting down with you today, especially in your offices here in New York. This is our fifth season of the Brand Lab Series™. We’ve done a lot of different things this year. We’ve done some live studio taping. We’ve done some remote episodes. We did our first international episode, but it’s the first time we’re recording in a remote studio and I can’t think of anyone better to sit down with than you. I’ve had a lot of great guests on over the last several years, but you’re very unique in terms of the backstory because we serendipitously met five and a half years ago in Africa, Cape Town of all places, a beautiful international city. It was my first time out of the country and I was alone on a safari trip and you ended up being as well, and you’re a great travel companion and it’s been so great to stay networked and stay in touch all these years. So thank you for joining us on the Brand Lab Series™.
Well, I am thrilled to be here. You know it’s a very tender special thing to meet somebody in another world and come back and be connected again.
Yeah, and I think what’s even more exciting for our audience is your story is amazing. You have been at the helm of this media company for almost three decades, and when I think about how much media has changed over the last 10, 20, even 30 years, let alone the last five, it’s amazing. So could you share a little bit about your backstory and did you ever think that your media empire would be as big as it is today?
Well, I don’t call it an empire. We’re just piecing together local, local, local and then again local news, and I think for us as a company, it really all started in my living room. It’ll be 35 years, and that started because of a special need I had for my daughter who was born and turned blue in the nursery and was brain damaged, and she took me on a path that I never expected. I was gonna be a teacher because I adored being a teacher, and Lara turned my life around, and because of Lara and her needs, we found a place on Staten Island called Willowbrook. That was hoped to be a place to have her rehabbed with speech therapy and physical therapy because she was developmentally a three-month-old. And I started an organization and we were volunteers. It was the Women’s Organization for Retarded Children, which is now not a word we use, but we did start in my living room and we didn’t march and picket when budgets were slashed, and a young reporter by the name of Geraldo Rivera covered the story and really pushed the envelope to the public about what was happening there.
And at the same time, my husband was a lawyer. He pushed the envelope on the legal end and we filed a federal class action lawsuit. So we finally won that lawsuit. Willowbrook was closed down and Willowbrook is now the College of Staten Island, and my career went back to being a mother. I had three more children, and within a few years, I felt that I could do something more with my time. But I never forgot Geraldo’s power of the press pushing that envelope to allow people to know the horrors that were going on in Willowbrook and I said, “You know, I’d like to be in the news business someday.” So I started in my living room with a dream and a prayer and $250 and I did have a partner who was a Daily News man. He had retired and he was my mentor.
I know I jokingly referred to it as an empire, which I know as you said, it’s not. What I think is really great about though what you do is you’re using the news, you’re using journalism, you’re using events, a lot of things we’ll talk about in a few minutes, but you’re using the news to really connect communities, and I think in all the white noise of digital and social and national and even international politics today, it’s important to have that local voice a little bit. So talk about the journalism side if you will of all of the different publications in that you have and how it’s really impacting everyone’s lives at the community level.
Well, you know for me, everything is local. And for us as a company, I started wanting to advocate for the community I lived in. I’m a born and bred New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, moved to Queens and then to Long Island and I am of the community myself. And so I wanted to bring the stories of the people who live in the communities that I served, the people who make a difference every day, and the issues that affect the communities whether it be, right now, we’re in the throes of a war of the waters with the ferries and where the ferry stops go and how the ferries come and go. It’s an important story for us because that’s our beat. And the neighborhoods are really where things are happening that are easy for us to cover because we’re in the communities. We maintain an office in Queens, in Brooklyn, and in the Bronx, and we do that because we realize you’ve got to have your finger on the pulse of the neighborhoods in order to be real and to cover it, and each one of our media outlets will have the name the Bayside Times, the Queens Courier, the Brooklyn Paper, the Bronx Reporter, the Manhattan Express, The Villager.
Everything is a neighborhood, and I think that’s been our power of success is we stay true to our neighborhoods, and I laugh and then they say, “We’re the pothole newspaper.” Something so small as a pothole is what I have to cover because that’s why people read us.
I know we were talking for a second earlier about the current political climate we’re in and I know that one of the adages of politics is all politics is local, right? And when I think about living in Fulton Market in the West Loop of Chicago, more people complain about potholes and garbage trucks and roads that need to be repaired, especially potholes in Chicago winters than paying any attention to often what happens in City Hall. So, it is interesting how you’ve tapped into trying to be as relevant as possible in the different neighborhoods. But what I think is also unique when you think about the New York Metro area, there’s nothing small about it though. So you’re reaching millions and millions of people through all your different medias.
Four and a half million page views on our website.
Yes, and the circulation numbers have to be phenomenal as well, and we’ll talk about some of the emerging media that you’re involved with as well. But to me it’s interesting as you start to build those all on top of each other. It’s a vast number of people, and while a lot of local issues matter, I think it also is dependent upon good content and good journalism. What do you look for in terms of like a quality of a writer or a story?
The first thing is we always look for people who get it about community news. So we have editors. For every single one of our papers has their own editor so that they are the voice of the community. We don’t homogenize news and we use our team of reporters to cover each part. Let’s say in Queens, we’ll have the editor-in-chief but then we’ll have reporters covering the northwest, the northeast, the western, the southern part, so that we are able to get the stories and make sure we have reporters who get it about the importance of the community, the business community, because I believe that without a strong business community like we have on Bayside on Bell Boulevard. When you don’t have any empty stores, that means that’s a good neighborhood because that neighborhood is supporting the businesses. So I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses and then being able to know that we have them understand that you’ve gotta go to the community board meetings, and it’s not what’s on the agenda, it’s the people in the audience.
So we really train our reporters to be as grassroots as we are in terms of reaching out and getting stories, being exclusive with the story, being able to develop relationships with some of the political leaders that need to have their story told. We’re not a political newspaper, but we get it that we have to cover the politics of our borough. We just went through a crisis with Amazon in Queens, and the disaster of a few people who were very negative and left-wing about giving Amazon incentives, and that was a big story for us because it was local but yet it was also international and national.
One of the things I really like about marketing and journalism is they’re very similar and parallel to one another, and as you’re describing all the different publications and the way your editors and down to your reporters work, in many ways it’s Marketing 101. You know your audience, but within those audiences and segments that we were talking about before we taped, you seem to do a good job of understanding the personas within those audiences. Like what is really motivating people, what’s really happening in their lives and how can we be more relevant to them. And I think one of the things that marketers talk a lot about is this notion that content is king. Content is so important today. I think what they’re really trying to do is say like how do we create something that’s gonna get someone’s attention whether it’d be their eyeballs on a publication or on a website or their ears on something like this podcast. Talk about content. What makes good content and what do you think really helps grab readers and audiences’ attention?
Well we do believe content is king. We totally feel that people will listen to us or read us or see us online if their stories are interesting, and our digital division is geared up to be able to put things in a different context slightly than the print reporter does. And so, we have print writers and we have digital writers because we realize that it’s a slightly different audience. We’ve kind of analyzed that 40 and under, they live and die by their phone, but 40 and over, they read the newspapers and they want to see the content in print. So we’re being very sensitive about how to deliver the news and the content that we get. We are very in terms of… I’m a mother of four children, so of course I feel we’ve got to be covering children, and we feel that we’ve gotta be covering the news of what’s going on in the schools. It’s a big issue for us and for the communities.
So we are in there knowing the kinds of stories that are relevant for the people in our communities. So content is critical and gearing the content to the neighborhood has been, I think, our buy weather of making sure that the content is relevant to that community. We do have editorial meetings every Monday and all my editors from all the different media will share stories and see if there’s anything ’cause now we have a daily AM New York that might fit city-wide and there are some issues. You know we’re crazy in New York here with the bike lanes. So that becomes… Even though, there may have been a sad death in Brooklyn. Well, there were deaths in Queens and there were deaths in Manhattan. So this is a very city-wide issue, but we’ll give it a local hook.
Beyond content, one of the other things that I find really interesting about your company is that you’re creating a lot of experiences as well. It looks like you produce and host local events throughout your entire geographical reach. You’re producing a number of live events and community events and sponsorships and things like that. How do you make sure that those continue to provide a consistent brand experience and how do you make sure that that aligns with the type of stuff that you would also have in print or online?
So, our event division evolved with the Power Women events where we started recognizing women in the communities. And we keep it relevant by having the event. So we’ll have Power Women of Brooklyn, Power Women of Queens, Power Women of the Bronx, Power Women in Manhattan. So whatever we do, we do keep that local involvement with the people that we recognize and our event division serves the business community. It’s our B2B events, and then we also do community events like we just are doing a senior expo. We do camp fairs. We own New York Family magazines. So we do camp fairs all over the city, but we keep it local. So we don’t expect people from Manhattan to come to Queens. We bring the event to Queens and to Manhattan. And I think that’s one of the keys to our success is that we are local in our print, our digital, our events and now with our podcast.
Again, I think it what’s interesting is this, is Marketing 101. You really execute well on the marketing side which is knowing your audience, knowing what’s relevant, trying to create content and distribute it across different mediums of how he or she might consume it, whether it be online or offline, and you seem to really do that well. I happen to hear the backstory of how the women of power event came about, but I think that’s something that I think is really interesting and shows kind of you always seeing and being able to identify maybe a new marketing opportunity or a new business opportunity. Can you share that story that you shared with us before we taped?
I was at a Chamber of Commerce Annual Business Awards event, and at the dais, which extended the whole ballroom, I was looking from person to person being recognized, and I looked hard and found not one woman sitting on the dais. So I said then and there, “Uh-huh. I’m gonna start a Power Women event,” is that we recognize the women who have achieved great success in our borough. In that case, I started in Queens. Now we do it in every borough in New York City and we are doing it for 20 years and we’re constantly finding new women to be recognized because there are so many powerful people locally that don’t get the spotlight any place else but with us, and I think that’s also been a key to our success is that we are always looking for ways to recognize people. And so we began the women, but then the men came to us and said, “What about us?” And so we created the Kingston event and we do that in all the boroughs. So that’s really how things have evolved. It’s not a bad master plan here. It’s kind of been very organically grown and both of our events are organically grown and have been great successes.
I love that story ’cause one, as you know, I’m the father of a daughter. I think it’s always really important for her to see a lot of role models and I always tell her don’t ever let anyone tell you can’t do something.
I also love that story because it’s so typical of men and our egos to suddenly be like, “Well wait, We’re being left out.” Not realizing…
Not realizing that this whole thing started because there was too many of them on the stage to begin with. So I absolutely love that. We talked a little bit about obviously the growth of Schneps and your media company and the different publications in that that you’re in. I think simultaneously, the entire industry has evolved a lot. What has been something that has really kind of surprised you over the last decade or so in terms of big change, and how do you continue to try to stay, which you clearly do, ahead of a lot of the curves and the evolution?
Well I think I’m very blessed that I have my son in business with me, and he has his finger on the pulse of the various ways we deliver news. We find people are voracious readers. People want to get the news whether it’d be the pothole, why it’s not fixed, or it be some of the national issues. We choose to be on the platform of local news. And so we really see that the multi-platform approach to delivering the news is the way it has to be. And we’ve never been afraid. We’ve embraced the change. We get it that people want to get their news in different ways. So we reach them through the various platforms. So to us, it’s not such a big challenge. It’s okay. We can do that. So we started on the websites, then we started the podcast and now we’re going into videos of news coverage. So I think it’s the entrepreneurial spirit Brian, you know? This is… We’re very… I laugh and I sometimes say my son and I have attention deficit. We create one thing and we’re ready for the next.
Well, that’s a classic entrepreneur. I know that firsthand, and that’s just one of many reasons why I knew you’d be a good guest. As we start to wind down just a little bit, a couple of other things I wanted to make sure that we talk about because I think, again, you bring such a unique experience and expertise to some important conversations for people, not just in society but obviously to the lens of business and marketing as well. I think one of them is no question you have as you’ve just described this wealth of talent that is creating and telling and sharing stories to the local community. Simultaneously, there seems to be this national narrative going around that a lot of news is fake or there’s been a mistrust, if you will, sometimes in journalism. Sometimes that’s because people step in their own quicksand in terms of making some mistakes. But what do you think about and how do you kind of combat a little bit of this notion that there’s a bit of a mistrust in media today?
Well, I think we always come… We come as owners of these media outlets without an agenda so that we are apolitical. We cover the news as it comes to us. So we’ve never been accused of having fake news because our news is real of the neighborhoods, and I think because we don’t have a political agenda, we have a community advocacy agenda that that has held strong for us in terms of our readers and our advertisers who trust us and have put faith in us, because as you know, the whole newspaper industry is supported by advertising, and so how we can have the trust of both our readers and our businesses that use us as their media to deliver their business message. So I think by being on the ground, by being fair, we’re proud to have won number one digital presence in New York State by winning awards for our coverage. We’re proud of that, and it’s really a very kind of to me simple formula. Just tell the truth of the neighborhoods, and people get it. They get it and have never had a problem with anyone ever saying that was a fake news story.
You used the term that I love, and I even wrote it down, so I might steal it from you, this community advocacy, because I do think everyone needs an advocate or everyone needs a mentor. So, obviously you’ve been highly successful. I love hearing the backstory which I knew but wanted to hear again in terms of how you created this company, how it began by advocating for your daughter and trying to fix an injustice, and then you took that passion and created this big media company. So as we wind down in terms of this notion of an advocate, what kind of advice would you give for a future journalist or an entrepreneur?
Very simple: Work hard. Show up. Be on time. They are really basics to good business, and anyone who thinks that they don’t have to work hard to be successful will not be successful.
I don’t think I could have said that better myself. In fact, I almost would like to end the interview there, but I wanna make sure that for all of our audience that’s listening, how can they learn more about Schneps? How can they learn more about you?
Well, just go to schnepsmedia.com. We’re right there, and all of our products, we now are owning 70 different media outlets plus the AM New York, AM New York. We have that under our sleeve now as a daily newspaper. So they’re all found on schnepsmedia.com.
Well, I knew this would be a good conversation and there’s so many different things we could have talked about, but what I really wanted to make sure that we honed in on was really understanding how to be relevant today, and I think that’s so important. We’re in such a hyper-competitive attention deficit time of our lives, and you and your team have done a phenomenal job of covering the stories that need to be told and doing it at a level that resonates with your audience, something a lot of marketers struggle with. You seem to do that very well. So, I knew that you’d be full of some good wit and wisdom and some shared experiences. So, Vicki, I’m so excited that we could finally sit down in your offices here in New York, and thank you so much for being on the Brand Lab Series.
Thank you, Brian. It’s a treat to see you.
Tags: B2B, B2C, Technology, Brand and Marketing, Customer Experience, Entrepreneurship, Technology
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