Melissa Chowning is the Founder and CEO of Twenty-First Digital.
WHAT LED YOU TO START WORKING IN DIGITAL/MEDIA PUBLISHING?
I started my career in publishing in 2005, right after graduating college. So, I’ve mostly evolved with the industry toward an increased focus on digital publishing. Digital was always fascinating to me so I was always exploring the latest trends, technology, and opportunities that came about over the last 13 years. I like to think that I grew up with the digital publishing industry.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I start the day with two crazy kiddos, ages 5 and 3. But once they are at school for the day, I start each workday with a dive into what’s happening in the industry. I’m an avid newsletter consumer and I keep up with what’s happening that way. TheSkimm, Digiday, and Ad Age, you name it. After that, it’s client work, meetings, calls, Slack chats, and more. My most productive part of the day tends to be late at night. After the kids go to sleep my brain turns on again and I usually use that time to really think in depth about the business, my clients, and where I can drive the most change.
WHAT’S YOUR WORK SETUP LOOK LIKE? (YOUR APPS, PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS, ETC.)
Mac Mail, Slack, Google Analytics, HubSpot, and social media are always open on my computer. I think that’s part of the reason I work so well at night. The chatter slows down and I can focus a little more.
WHAT DO YOU TO GET INSPIRED?
I look at what I call my “media crushes’ are doing. TheSkimm, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. I watch publishers like them closely for inspiration, to watch their evolution and see if I can spot the underlying strategies in the public facing moves.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF WRITING OR QUOTE?
I wish I was more of an inspirational quote connoisseur than I am because I’d always be ready to answer questions like these. I tend to get more inspired by facts, predictions or data. A few years ago a stat came out that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. That statistic lingered in my brain for a while and it really makes sense.
The brands I do business with or support make my life easier, they provide something that someone else isn’t providing. My experience with them is a very positive one. For me, that translates into every area of digital publishing. What’s the user experience on your website? What’s your newsletter products? The consumer is less forgiving than they’ve ever been and brands have to step up their game to ensure they are providing a positive and relevant experience to their consumers.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING/INNOVATIVE THING YOU HAVE SEEN ON ANOTHER OUTLET OTHER THAN YOUR OWN?
I think TheSkimm has done an excellent job building their brand into their readers’ daily habits and I loved the extension into their app. It was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?!” moments. I also love what The Information is doing with its subscription model. I think if a media brand can be the catalyst for the creation of communities, that is a powerful thing.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM THAT YOU’RE PASSIONATELY TACKLING AT THE MOMENT?
Honing in on the difference between having traffic or eyeballs and having an audience. Traffic is passive and fleeting. Attention span is short. A member of your audience is engaged and captivated by your content. So the challenge of turning passive traffic into an audience is a something I’m really digging at the moment.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS DIGITAL PUBLISHING AND MEDIA PROFESSIONALS WHO ARE JUST STARTING OUT?
Be curious and pay attention. Most of what I’ve learned in this industry has been through my own personal curiosity and my often annoying habit of asking a lot of questions, and that includes being curious about things that are happening outside of the industry. There are disruptions happening across the globe right now in just about every segment imaginable including transportation, retail, hospitality, and finance. I think there are lessons to be learned and applied to the publishing world in all of them.