First of all, congratulations to TechFlash on their one-year anniversary. The blog has been a staple of my “Tech” folder in Google Reader for the better part of the past year and I’ve gotta say, there’s something nice about getting global tech news from a local brand.
Their anniversary got me to thinking about how “lesser” brands have the potential to eclipse their parents. This sounds bad, but it’s not necessarily (think of what all the third party apps have done for Twitter).
Quick history lesson: TechFlash originated at seattlepi.com, where current TechFlashers (uh, for lack of a better term) John Cook and Todd Bishop blogged. As I understand the story, the two of them went to P-I brass with a proposal to share in the revenue of their hugely successful blogs and when the P-I said no, Cook and Bishop took their proposal to the Puget Sound Business Journal—and thus TechFlash was born.
Obviously there’s a lesson to be learned there in retaining your talent. But there’s also something to be said for PSBJ’s acquisition of Cook and Bishop’s brand.
I’m not really familiar with the Journal’s reputation in terms of Seattle journalism sources, but I know they exist and I’d imagine they enjoy a respectable readership base among the Seattle business community. So acquiring TechFlash had to take some level of humility. Rather than simply offer Cook and Bishop jobs, PSBJ recognized the duo’s inherent talents and acknowledged that “maybe these guys can do something bigger than our brand” (and why not own a piece of that, rather than compete with it?). Where the Business Journal focuses solely on Puget Sound, TechFlash focuses on tech companies in and around Seattle—companies that concern millions of people all over the world. In other words, TechFlash’s niche is tech geeks; PSBJ’s niche is Seattle businesspeople … and guess which one has the opportunity to drive more traffic, more often?
The takeaway: Don’t be afriad to let some person or imprint of your brand be bigger than the brand itself. Art Thiel mentioned at the Future of News conference the other week that one of the reasons sports outperforms news on most sites is that sports appeals to more than just the local base (imagine the guy in Chicago who has Matt Hasselbeck as his fantasy QB). For the record, I don’t know that TechFlash outperforms PSBJ, but I’d be willing to bet it does. Whatever the case, PSBJ is advertising itself on all of TechFlash’s pages (see inset) and probably getting a nice little kick in traffic—that’s the idea.
While we’re at it, forget about acquiring a brand. Everything PSBJ has done with TechFlash works just as well for what you already have. Certain sections of your site outperform other sections, so reward those that perform well by giving them more exposure and a greater opportunity to germinate. If those “sub-brands” find success, use that to promote what you consider your flagships (re: the PSBJ bug on TechFlash).
One last thing that bears repeating: Recognize who your true talents are and do whatever you can to hang on to them. The cost to start publishing and charging for ads is virtually zero, so if you’re going to let someone walk, make sure the cost of competing with him is less than what it would cost to retain him.