Publishers Finding Success With Tech Niches Within Their Local Markets

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It was 2009, and two Bostonians were annoyed. They had a product — a cool one, maybe cooler than Facebook, but not timed quite right — and no one would cover it in the news.

In Boston in 2009, the tech startup scene was still discovering itself, and the major local news outlets didn’t have their finger on the pulse of entrepreneurs. So these Bostonians, entrepreneurs Chase Garbarino and Kevin McCarthy, just started blogging about their product themselves.

“They struck a nerve in the local community,” said Reid Snyder, publisher at what is now Streetwise Media. “They wrote with an authentic voice with an entirely digital focus; kind of an insider’s take on technology in Boston.”

Streetwise is the adaptation of that original idea, one that offers a local voice connecting the technology community in the form of news sites BostInno, DCInno, ChicagoInno, and AustinInno – short for “innovation,” of course. This local coverage strategy has the power to attract huge audiences in the tech community with thoughtful, real-time coverage of the startup ecosystem, and by cross pollinating its readers, business owners, and job hunters.

“Traditional media has national reach because if something has a big enough dollar sign next to it, it will get covered,” Snyder said. “We have national reach because we have this narrow and deep knowledge of local markets.”

VentureFizz is another Boston-area online publication that leads with job postings and employment branding. The company is growing and Keith Cline, founder, expects to hire a few people this year to support sales and marketing. The publication’s concept could easily be expanded into any tech hub, but Cline isn’t quite ready to start up a new publication in a new city – Boston’s audience is still growing steadily.

“It hasn’t been a hockey stick-type growth, where all of a sudden everyone knows what VentureFizz is and we’ve tapped out, exhausted every person in the tech scene,” Cline said. “I’ve washed away that type of thinking and realized there’s a lot more to growing an audience in a local area.”

Cline said he and his team – only three full-timers – have been meticulous about job listings, which cost $99 each. By ensuring that the positions are quality, local jobs and complemented by news postings and featured business information, VentureFizz has built a reputation in Boston. Cline noticed that businesses that post videos or slideshows with images of their offices drive more traffic, indicating that job seekers are looking for details on that culture component.

“That’s the thing about Boston,” Cline said. “It’s a trait I admire; it’s a very humble crowd. Everyone has their heads down, building great companies. There are not a lot of people shouting from the rooftops. I saw that as an opportunity to build out the new BizzPages product, where audiences can do a tour of the companies.”

BizzPages is how VentureFizz monetizes its content; a product that helps businesses create and distribute their employment brands via “shingles” on the website. Cline said these company shingles can also feature products, job openings, social media, thought leadership, etc. As of this spring, VentureFizz was adding two or three new businesses every week.

“Every company wants to hire the best and the brightest, but it’s scaling and value where it’s a challenge for companies to keep up,” Cline said. “If you build a mobile app, our audience is the type that would try it out or buy it. Exposure on VentureFizz allows companies to find new and especially early adopters.”

The site also does not use any display advertising, a dying trend that some say causes more harm than good.

“Display ads can be intrusive to the readers’ experiences,” Cline said. “I think it’s important to keep it clean, focus on the content, and I don’t think they’re as effective and useful with the majority of our readers. People in the tech scene have a trained eye to just ignore [display ads].”

Streetwise agrees that display ads are declining in terms of value and how much money publications can make with it.

“That can’t be the main source of income,” Snyder said. “Unless you’re getting tens of millions of unique visitors, it’s only going to last for so long even with huge traffic numbers.”

The Inno websites drive their main sources of revenue through events and with a brand publication platform that allows companies to directly distribute their content on their local Inno site.

“It’s authentic, it gets high engagement rates, it showcases the brand and the messaging in way that’s useful to the reader,” Snyder said. “Display ads are not terribly useful, but if you’re talking about a law firm, tech companies, the steps you need to take to set up an LLC for example, those are incredibly valuable, they’re searchable, and they get high engagement.”

Streetwise events are promoted with digital content that brings communities together in person, a flexible option that is especially valuable to some clients.

“Those events range from 25-person meetings to 2,500-person conferences that bring together thought leaders, business leaders, professionals,” Snyder said. “There’s so much synergy between on and offline content, we view events as content. There are panels and keynote speakers, but we also have different competitions, awards, we create videos with the companies we’re working with. For companies to have engaged online with job postings, and then couple that with being in person and showcasing their brand at events, it’s a really unique vibe and unique exposure in terms of recruiting.”

Snyder mentioned an event where a local university brought a car with whiteboard-type paneling on it, and encouraged attendees to write and draw their ideas on the car. An online campaign leading up to the event drew extra eyes.

“Being able to put a physical presence in a unique way was really effective for that particular client,” Snyder said.

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.