News Innovators on the Frontline: CityBizList

Posted on 15. Jul, 2009 by in News Ecosystem, Revenue

CityBizList is a free email product sent to business people every morning in five metro areas—Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. Founded in 2005 by Edwin Warfield, CityBizList is aimed at the general business reader, but with an added emphasis on commercial real estate and the lawyers and bankers who serve that industry in each city. They also have a commercial real estate email for the state of Maryland.

Warfield and his partner, Jay Rickey, produce the emails for each market everyday, with production help from partners overseas. They see an opportunity to fill a void in local business journalism as both daily newspapers and business weeklies struggle with their print legacies and a sour advertising market. We spoke to Mr. Rickey late last week.
Can you describe the product and your editorial process?
Everyday is a grind. We’re generally running 35 to 40 headlines everyday in each of the five markets that we’re in. So, Edwin and I are buried in SEC filings. We get a lot of our news from public information that generally journalists don’t go get. We also post news from different sources, whether blogs and other news sites that allow us to reproduce their information or press releases we receive.

You have an outside contractor in India handling some of your production and editorial work. Can you tell us a bit more about that relationship?
They do a lot of work for us. We serve as the creativity behind all of the work, to make sure that it’s locally relevant. But as far as some of the manual labor, even some of the editorial judgment, there are companies over there formed by people who have earned their MBA in America and went back to India. They’re brilliant people, and the costs are lower.

Generally, they compile the information, post it to the site, and show it to us to make sure it reads properly. On top of that, if there’s an SEC filing that comes out, as I’m scouring an 8-K or 10-k, I pull the information I want them to summarize for me. I understand what’s newsworthy, I just don’t have time as I’m compiling 20 news stories everyday to actually do all of that work.

Your business is completely based on advertising and you sell some that advertising yourself. How do you feel about selling advertising as a journalist?
I was associate publisher and general manager of a real estate publishing group in Chicago and I think if you were to interview my former editorial team they will tell you that I’ve skated that line as well as any body they’d ever worked with.

Coming from journalism school, I understand the journalism side. But I also understand that companies need to make a profit. I’m fine with it because I’m an entrepreneur trying to create a business. I’m okay with it, but that’s just me. I think other people would not be comfortable with it.

Do you think journalists should work on becoming more comfortable with selling ads?
I think that sales people and journalists are two completely different personalities. Most of the journalists I’ve worked with would never ever want to be on the sales side, it’s just not in their personality. Whereas on the sales side most of these guys wouldn’t know how to write a sentence, but they’re great communicators, they love to go out and schmooze with people. There’s just not a whole lot of people that can do both sides.

How many markets do you plan to get into? What comes next?
We’d like to be in 10 markets by the end of the year. It would require that we get a little bit of VC funding. The staff would come through. We’d like to hire a managing editor and an outside sales person. Those would be our next two positions, but we would need a little bit of funding in order to get up to the next steps.

How do you identify those markets? Is it based more on advertising or editorial?
A lot of it is synergy based on locations we currently serve. It’s both advertising and editorial. For advertising, there’s a historical theater that’s being auctioned. The client, a local development corporation, is advertising in Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore. There’s a reason for them to be advertising in multiple markets.

Editorially, for instance, today I had a story about a new retailer coming on to the market in Prince Georges County in Maryland. That’s an interesting story to both the Baltimore and D.C. markets.

We broke the story this morning, before most other media markets had it, that Smith & Hawken was shutting its stores. The SEC filing came across last night. That ran in every single market because its pertinent in all of them, so that story got re-purposed. With a business-to-business crowd there’s some interesting things you can do.

What do you see as an obstacle to the growth of your company?
The primary thing is revenue, and it should be that way with anyone you talk to. Let’s say the Chicago Tribune went down. There are still 150 to 200 blog sites out there that get a pretty good audience. So, why couldn’t the Tribune be a central source of information from all of those blog sites? Then you could establish a sales force to represent those sites—it would have to be some sort of revenue sharing model.

I would think that an outsourced sales staff that someone launching a site like ours could turn to would certainly create an opportunity for people like Edwin and I to grow more quickly.

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