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Growing a media startup through content: Q&A with MedCity News founder Chris Seper

NewsCred Blog   |  

Genevieve Walker / Staff Writer -

Chris Seper is the CEO of MedCity media and co-founder of MedCity News, the Cleveland, Ohio-based startup covering life science innovation and the B2B medical health community. Since its founding in 2008, MedCity News has seen tremendous growth. Last year alone the site went from attracting 100 thousand people each month to 300 thousand. The site began by publishing all original content focusing on B2B innovation in healthcare and written by a handful of contributors. They now license content as well as supplement it with syndicated material. MedCity serves as a prime example of what’s possible when a publisher has a solid understanding of the power in content, embracing its brand over a platform.

We talked to Chris over the phone about how MedCity came to be, gauging his audience, and what source mix – original versus syndicated – works best for his site. As the architect of a media startup with a background in traditional journalism, Chris had a lot to tell us about the current brand–publisher landscape, the monetization of good content and the future of journalism.

Where did the idea to launch MedCity News come from?

I live in Cleveland. You could say it’s one of the 15 Silicon Valleys in healthcare in this country among Boston, San Diego, New York, the Twin Cities, and so on. I was working at the daily paper where I was the online medical editor coordinating coverage of innovation. I realized that this kind of innovation was happening all over the country and there needed to be one place where people in the business of healthcare could go to read about all of it.

Can you break down the demographics of your audience?

I would say that we get the startups and we get the health systems and the devices. We get the buyers and the sellers. About one third of MedCity’s audience online is from the c-suite of healthcare. Another 25 percent of that audience is executive level, probably VP and higher. About two thirds of them have some kind of high-budget responsibility. Their average budget for tech alone is a half million.

How do you know what content to provide for this diverse yet niche audience?

We do what unfortunately a lot of news media doesn’t do anymore, which is ask what the readers want to have done. And that’s been our first question since day one of founding the company: "what’s the job to be done?" The job that our audience wanted done was to be provided with unique, independent, often provocative and opinion-driven news coverage of their sector that would give actionable intel. As MedCity grew our audience started asking us to do another job for them. They said, “We love your coverage and we can’t get it anywhere else. But we have to go elsewhere to read the other stuff we want. We wish there was one place we could get it all.” We realized that with MedCity’s growth we had the opportunity to go from a niche innovation site to a B2B portal for the industry. We weren’t going to be able to do that alone. So what we did was we worked with NewsCred and other partners to bring in aggregated content: Reuters, VentureBeat, Kaiser Health News, as well as columns from John Halamka, Lisa Suennen and so on. Thanks to NewsCred we have, for example, much more information about new products launching in pharma. And thanks to NewsCred we have more content that speaks to our health IT and digital health audience. Because they want to know about security or what Apple is doing. Mapping out 2013, MedCity will continue to grow both arms – adding original content as well as content from partners.

How do you keep track of who your core audience is, and how much to cater to that core versus the niches?

We are insane on metrics. We have a secret sauce for metrics – there are certain measurements that matter more to us than others, but generally we are at any one time using four different kinds of metrics. We also regularly survey. Most importantly, we continue what launched MedCity News, which is personal conversations. We’re talking to our readers. The more you know your readers, the better. And in fact for most people at MedCity our readers are not an anonymous thing. When I close my eyes I see a physical representation of the MedCity reader: whether it is a man or a woman, how this person smiles, what their likes and dislikes are, what they eat. I want to know my readers as well as I know my spouse. You know, you have those moments within your personal relationship where you give your significant other a gift and they say, “Oh my god. How did you know I wanted that? I could never have thought of that!” Because you know them so well, almost better than they know themselves, you are able to give them that gift. That’s the level of intimacy that we aspire to with our readership. Every story is simply somebody hiring us to give them something.

What’s your distribution like?

We have an e-newsletter, we have every social stream you can imagine and a social media strategy. We have search engine optimization and we build strong relationships with distribution partners. I want people to come to MedCity but I really want MedCity to be ubiquitous. I’m just as excited when somebody finds us on MedPage Today or LinkedIn as I am if they were to come to our site through a search.

What will it take for other traditional news outlets to take steps toward content innovation?

I am really an ex ink-stained wretch. I have this romanticized view of how great the traditional media is because that’s where I grew up. My cherished career moments are getting my byline in The Washington PostThe Christian Science MonitorThe Plain Dealer, and so on. But the problem is that traditional media only look to innovation that comes from within their sandbox. We need a physical break with the way content has been published, which means selling the printing presses, outsourcing satellite trucks, cutting away from core business distribution. Until you sell the means of distribution you’re going to have people inside your company whose careers are tied to that one platform. I don’t care what platform it it is – iPad, newspaper, television screen, augmented reality – that’s not the win. In the end any content company’s value is in the content, the ability to attract the right audience to that content, and then monetize that audience. You serve and monetize your audience as best you can. That’s why MedCity’s mission isn’t to be the best B2B website in the country, it’s to connect and serve the B2B side of healthcare through content. The only thing that tightens and focuses our mission is content. We do content-like events, we do content on our website, we resell our content though NewsCred and other partners.

Where do you see journalism fitting into the future publishing landscape?

I say this all the time and I believe it – I think this is the greatest time to be in media and in journalism. There are more means now than ever to do what journalism was meant to do, which is to inform and empower the public.

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