Steve Smith's advertising and marketing business in Sarasota teetered on implosion halfway through 2009.
The days of having enough clients to justify a big office and a significant payroll were over. The firm, Stephen A. Smith and Associates, had seen a 60% drop in billings. Clients took work in-house, which turned Smith's internal art and media departments into near ghost towns.
“The business model we established was no longer sustainable,” says Smith. “I knew I had to recalibrate the business.”
It's a challenge hundreds of Gulf Coast entrepreneurs have faced or might face soon because the recession continues to force business owners to rethink survival efforts.
Smith's answer is Consonant Custom Media. The company, which Smith officially launched in January, focuses on publishing magazines and other materials strictly for health care and medical research institutions. It's a niche industry, says Smith, where most of the big players bring cookie-cutter templates to magazines.
“We want to put the custom back in custom publishing,” says Smith. “Recent studies confirm that organizations are shifting dollars away from traditional advertising to new forms such as custom content that are more measurable and sustainable.”
There's also a distinct advantage for Smith, in that health care publishing generally runs on a two-year contract system, with issues coming out quarterly. Says Smith: “There is recurring revenue here.”
Smith declines to discuss specific revenue projections for the new firm. But he does say Consonant Custom Media is poised to bring in three times as much in 2011 billings as his more traditional firm did in custom publishing 2010. That firm is still active, while Smith focuses on the new venture.
Consonant Custom Media has already brought on two clients: The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute and Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. For USF Health, CCM is now in charge of producing Brain Research Discoveries magazine, a seasonal publication. At Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, meanwhile, the firm will create a publication entitled Better!
Smith plans to pick up more clients in 2011 through a heavy marketing and promotions strategy, including going to hospital and health-care trade shows on both Florida coasts. He will also work with sales reps in Louisville, Ky. and New York, to boost the company's reach outside the Sunshine State.
The model for all clients, says Smith, is to meet with the administrators of each facility regularly to build an issue around the needs of that specific client. The firm will also add an online content component for each publication.
Smith has partnered with John Wark, a former daily newspaper reporter and editor in Tallahassee and Orlando, to supervise the editorial content. Don Adamec, a onetime creative director for Ladies Home Journal, who is now a Sarasota-based freelance art director, also works with Smith at CCM.
Wark says his goal is to produce publications that are vivid and colorful with top-notch reporting that conveys information like a national magazine.
“We are not just talking about ink on paper,” says Wark. “We don't want to crank out magazines like sausage factories.”