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5 Content Domination Lessons From a Furniture Maker Turned Publisher

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I am about to share an incredible story about how a small furniture company’s in-house publication in the 1920s became a national magazine that is still recognized to this day. And within this story, you will discover five content creation lessons that can help you to dominate your industry.


How a small furniture publication became a national magazine

The Shaw-Walker Furniture Co. of Chicago created System magazine for its employees. Now, most in-house publications aren’t that great. In fact, most employees don’t even take the time to read them. But there was something special about System. Employees liked it so much that they shared it with people outside of the company who loved what they read.

Arch Wilkinson Shaw saw System as a new source of revenue. The magazine evolved to become System, The Magazine of Business with a broader appeal, and Shaw founded a publishing business, A.W. Shaw Company.

His idea worked. People subscribed to his new magazine and his circulation continued growing. But Shaw believed he could reach more people if he focused on unique groups of readers, so he broke his magazine into two monthly titles. System focused on office management-related information. The Magazine of Business focused on big business. Shaw did so well that his publishing company attracted the attention of McGraw-Hill, which purchased A.W. Shaw Company in 1928.

Two months before Black Friday in 1929, The Magazine of Business was relaunched as a weekly magazine called The Business Week (later known simply as BusinessWeek). BusinessWeek’s unique brand of journalism would eventually alter the way in which the subjects of business and economics were written about.

BusinessWeek continued to grow, thrive, and pivot its strategy, allowing it to thrive for 80 years over a time during which many other business publications came and went. Bloomberg LP acquired the publication in 2009 and renamed it Bloomberg Businessweek, which continues today to be a popular source for news about business and the economy.

It’s incredible to think that it all started as a small publication for a furniture company. But its growth and dominance didn’t happen by accident or luck. Shaw implemented important strategies in the beginning and McGraw-Hill added some important ones, which all resulted in this lasting success.

Lessons to dominate your industry and beyond

1. Produce top quality content

If A.W. Shaw had just put out another “so-so” in-house publication, BusinessWeek would never have existed. Instead, he focused on creating excellent content that was so great he was able to create a new revenue stream.

As I have said over and over, content is a commodity these days. People can find pages and pages on just about any topic from search engines. That’s why you can’t be satisfied with creating generic, “me-too” content. If you do, it will be ignored and will never produce the ROI you want. Instead, set a standard to create content so great that you could literally sell it.

2. Think like a publisher

You have probably heard this advice, but have you actually implemented it? If A.W. Shaw only thought like a furniture store owner, he never would have been able to develop his magazine into something that was valuable not only to his audience, but ultimately to McGraw-Hill.

If you want your content to dominate in your industry, then it can’t be an afterthought. You must be deliberate about it, knowing the needs of your audience, the type of competing content, etc.

3. Focus on niches

One of the most important ways to think like a publisher is to obsess about your audience. You must always know the answer to these questions:

  • What specific group within your industry will read your content? How would you describe them and their needs?
  • How can you tweak your content to specifically appeal to and help this group?
  • What new audiences are emerging that you can and should reach?

Shaw focused on niches when he first broke System into two magazines, one for office management and one for big business. In the 1970s, McGraw-Hill did the same thing when it expanded the magazine’s strategy to focus on business managers and consumers outside of the business world. The result? Since 1975, BusinessWeek has carried more annual advertising pages than any other magazine in the United States. By focusing on the right niche, its content gained traction and value.

4. Develop your own style

Not only did McGraw-Hill focus on specific audiences, but it also focused on developing its own style. It didn’t try to copy other contemporary publications such as Forbes. And this focus paid off. The unique way that BusinessWeek created its content redefined what it meant to be a business journalist.

I am sure there are publications you enjoy and appreciate. That’s great. Learn their underlying principles in creating content, but never directly copy their style. Why? You won’t stand out. Your best bet always is to create content in your (or your publication’s) own voice and style. You can evolve that voice and style, but your own style always wins over copycat content.

5. Have a clear point of view and an opinion

McGraw-Hill President Malcolm Muir, who helped create BusinessWeek, described the magazine this way, “BusinessWeek always has a point of view, and usually a strong opinion, both of which it does not hesitate to express.” He also explained, “BusinessWeek will never be content to be a mere chronicle of events. It aims always to interpret their significance.”

This might be the most important lesson for you to learn and it might be the most frightening lesson to implement. Why? We’ve been taught to not make waves and to keep our opinion to ourselves.

But that doesn’t work when it comes to content creation. Think about it. The people who succeed have stand-out personalities. Here are some examples of content creators who stand out:

  • Oprah – Magazine publisher, television network owner
  • Rush Limbaugh – Radio talk show host and writer (recently expanding his work to author of children’s books)
  • Jon Stewart – TV show host, writer, political satirist, producer
  • Glenn Beck – TV and radio host, commentator, author, filmmaker
  • Martha Stewart – TV show host, writer, founder of media company
  • Donald Trump – Real estate developer, television personality, author, founder of entertainment company, president of global business

You might not like all of these people. That’s not my point. They are successful because they have a unique perspective and aren’t afraid to let their personalities show. None of these people sat around thinking, “How can I stifle my opinion and blend in?” They all decided early on to clearly express their point of view. They boldly state their opinion. And that’s what has made them stand out.

Don’t just think that this only worked because they are individual brands. Their approach can be applied to any company. In fact, having a clear point of view and opinion is the bedrock of what a powerful brand is. It’s impossible to have a strong brand if your business doesn’t have a “personality.” In fact, a business without a unique personality probably doesn’t even have a brand at all.

Now you obviously don’t want to offend your target audience. Sure, some of these content creators offend people, but they make sure not to offend their core audience. They make sure that their opinions and points of view match their audience. You should do the same to create content that stands out for your audience.

Domination doesn’t happen instantly

If you want to create content that dominates in your industry it won’t be an easy thing to accomplish. If it was, then everyone would do it. And it definitely won’t happen overnight. But it’s not an impossible task. It just takes consistency, creativity, and the ability to implement these five lessons from A.W. Shaw and BusinessWeek magazine.

Want more expert advice on addressing content marketing’s biggest challenges? Check out all the fantastic CMW sessions that are available through our Video on Demand portal and register for CMW 2015 today.

Cover image by Liam Andrew Cura via pixabay