We're not a blog, we're better

Two years ago, Convene’s corporate blog was floundering under the fractured stewardship of a busy marketing team. Company leaders wanted thoughtful, high-quality editorial content that showcased their hospitality expertise and featured their beautiful coworking and meeting spaces. To get it, they hired a managing editor that could turn a side project into a platform of its own.

“You need someone who is going to lose sleep over it,” says Andrew Littlefield, managing editor at Convene. “Someone who has that five-year vision that’s like, ‘Someday this is going to be great and I’m going to keep chipping away at it until it gets there.”

Littlefield has been chipping away for 18 months now, turning Catalyst by Convene into a thriving online publication that produces original journalism, video, podcasts and—as of January—a quarterly magazine. We talked to Andrew about what it took to move far beyond the corporate blog.

Q: So, is Convene the kind of person you’d want to spend time with?

A: I think so. It’s like the perfect party host, but instead of dinner parties, we host board meetings. When you think of like the best dinner party you've ever been to, the host is hospitable, they make sure everyone has their favorite drink, they introduce people to each other like. Our readers are our guests. We aim to produce content that is a mix of Harvard Business Review and HGTV, respected and aspirational. We want people to feel like they're getting something out of it and they're having a good time there.

“A lot of this is a sales job. I have to get buy-in from our head of marketing, our CEO, and our co-founders. You have to sell the vision.”

Q: Other than voice, what makes the difference between a “corporate blog” and a true brand publication?

A: For me it's visceral. We're not a blog, we're something better. It's funny because it's the same challenge we face with our product. We don't wanna call it coworking, and if you're here like you can feel it's different.  

A company blog is usually really inward focused—news and updates. It's usually sparsely updated. I take pride in us having a consistent, robust publishing schedule. People have to expect to hear from you frequently.

Quality is another big aspect. If you look at any other thing that we describe as a blog, a lot of it is very lightly researched. The sources are dubious. Even some really big blogs that people respect are like that. HubSpot's blog is widely read, but some of the stats they use are just garbage. They just pull infographics from other blogs.

So I make sure that if our writers are citing numbers, they need to find the original, peer-reviewed research study. I need an original quote in every single article. You need to reach out to a source on your own and we need original quotes that other people don't have.

Q: You mentioned resources. How many team members do you need to produce quality content?

A: I'm the only full-time employee working on Catalyst. But I have a fairly robust freelance budget. That helps that a lot. It’s not fair to expect somebody to do all the writing, plus all maintenance and political maneuvering you have to do to like keep something like this alive.

I also have a marketing coordinator helps Catalyst with photography, simple design tasks, newsletter writing, and social posting.

Q: But you’ve been doing this for a while. It’s not like they pulled in the junior marketing associates to run their blog. What kind point person do you need?

A: It takes someone who loves it. You can’t just make it a side project for certain marketing people. You need someone who is gonna make it their baby, and loves it, and believes in it.

Obviously, it’s helpful to have people skills. A lot of this is a sales job. I have to get buy-in from our head of marketing, our CEO and our co-founders. I want them to understand that what I’m doing is important because it takes a while to get a clear ROI on content. You need to have someone believe in you for 18 months at least without seeing much progress.

And you have to sell freelancers. If you want good writers, you kind of have to sell them a little bit. There are plenty of people that come to you and it's like, "Oh yeah, I'll write and I'm really cheap." But they kind of suck and you wanna find the people who actually have some chops and who have clips in real publications. You have to sell the vision.

Q: You recently finished a 3,000-copy run of your first print issue. Why did you decide to make that leap?

A: For one, everyone's on digital, and so doing something in print automatically helps you stand out. Number two, we have actual, physical real estate that we can distribute it at, which a lot of companies don't have. We have all these places where thousands of people come through, and it's a great advantage to just set out this thing reminds them who we are.

We also try to push Convene as an elevated experience. Not luxury, but just like very anticipatory and thoughtful. There are free snacks everywhere and everything is just really, really nice. So our strategy was to make it really high-quality. If we're going to use it as sales collateral when we’re asking people to sign a seven-figure deal, we don't want to send a link to our blog.

Q: What did you have to consider when publishing a magazine that you didn’t with the online publication?

A: A couple of things. You have to be much more thoughtful about the content because it's expensive. Online, I’ll say yes to a lot of things. There’s been stuff that I really loved that no one looked at, but it’s like ‘Alright, we tried it.’ You can’t do that with a magazine—once it’s in there, it’s in there.

It also has to be richer. Online, the format is feature image, headline, body, maybe a little graphic or something, but that would be a bonus. For the magazine, everything has original artwork. Every piece has a sidebar. It’s a lot.

And it takes a different kind of writer. There were some people who have done great blog work for us, very consistently, who weren't cut out to do magazine writing. It's a deeper level of research and there's a certain narrative format. You have it or you don't. It taught me to have a more critical eye in assessing where people's written strengths lie.

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