PR Vibes Q&A with Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, Light Reading



Welcome to PR Vibes, created by Calysto Communications to provide you with insight into the thought leaders, publications and events in the communications industry.


Today we visit with Stephen Saunders, the original founder and returning CEO of Light Reading, who shares his thoughts on why he believes you really can go home again, the ROI from hiring top editors and writers, and what trends he’s keeping his eye on. Enjoy!


You founded Light Reading in 2000, sold it to UBM in 2005, and then bought it back in 2014. They say you can’t go home again, yet here you are. Why?


I missed it! 


Light Reading has always been known for being at the forefront of innovation on both the editorial (Light Reading) and analyst (Heavy Reading) side. The audience’s awareness of the brand is much stronger than when I originally left, which is great. The amount of time people spend on the site is great. All of those things are fantastic, but I thought there was a lot missing in terms of how it was being run as an online community. Nothing new had been added. It’s not easy to see one of your creations sort of languishing, so that brought a certain amount of pressure and made me want to get back in the game. And, UBM is refocusing its portfolio and made me a very attractive offer for the publication. They’ve stayed involved as partners as well, so that was also a factor in my decision and is making it possible for us to do some exciting things.


Many media companies today are cutting staff, yet you’ve added staff since your return.


Our value is really only as good as the content that we produce. In a sense, it’s a next generation publishing model and in another sense, it’s very traditional, isn’t it? We produce huge amounts of content, both on the media side in Light Reading and in the research division, Heavy Reading.


We’re very conservative in our hiring, but we were definitely understaffed when I returned so we’re comfortable with bringing in new editors and analysts. We’ve just hired Jason Meyers, who was formerly the editor-in-chief of Telephony, and we’ve managed to get some of the people who had left Light Reading while I was away to come back, including Carol Wilson. I don’t think there’s anybody who does a better job than Carol in covering the service provider industry. Period.


Really, it’s all about knowledge being power and turning power into revenue. We have an incredibly highly qualified, difficult-to-reach audience and if we don’t have the content to attract them and keep them engaged on the website, I’ll find I don’t have a business. I do see a financial benefit to hiring the right editors; it’s not something I have to guess at. I can actually see the numbers increase in relation to the quality of the people I’m hiring. That’s good for me.


Has your editorial focus changed?


Yes, definitely. Number one is the nature of the market that we’re covering. While I was at Light Reading in its first iteration, service providers were focused on how to build these big networks and make them fast and make them reliable. That’s what people were doing in the first decade of the 21st century. This decade, it’s all about how to make money from those networks, so that has definitely changed. Our audience is not interested in the same thing that we were writing about in 2005. The network is reliable, how do I make money from it? How do I keep it secure? Those are the main preoccupations right now.


What about the impact of social media?


It hasn’t turned out to be as big a factor as everybody thought it was going to be. When I left, one of our specialties was using social media to amplify content across the Internet and get people engaged in our website. Social media has not turned out to be a great way to do that. In order of importance –LinkedIn has been pretty useful, Twitter has been barely useful and Facebook has not been useful at all. If I hadn’t done any Twitter activity at all, it probably would not have made a difference.


Any industry trends on the horizon that you’re keeping an eye on?


I think there is a very interesting set of trends, which are meeting now. The Internet of Things (IoT)/machine-to-machine (M2M) networking space is becoming real and is now finding its first applications in industries like automotive. We recently added the Internet of Things as a dedicated section on Light Reading. It brings together our coverage of the key industry developments.


Also, I think the area of analytics is incredibly important in the telecom market right now because service providers need to work on how to make money from the networks that they’ve already built.


Any advice, based on your experience returning to a company that you founded and then left?


They say you can’t have more than one successful career in America. I’ve had five. I think it’s really important to ignore what people say and just get on and do it. If it looks good, then it probably is good.


There are some things about the state of the business that I wish I had known before I bought it back, but nothing that would have stopped me from buying it. I’m really happy and it’s going really, really well. That was a good decision for me. I’m having fun, and the staff tell me they’re happy. That’s the main thing, right?


What’s next?


We have a brand new event this year in June, the Big Telecom Event, that we designed from the ground up with service providers in mind. We looked at it as an information challenge – what is the format that service providers want in order to digest information? What sort of information do they want?


And then we did a survey of the service providers and the key theme that emerged was the need to understand how to monetize their networks. To do that, they need to have detailed conversations. We aren’t running a technology conference; we’re running a business-of-technology conference.


What’s interesting about our survey is that we found the number one thing service providers really hate about events is booths! In fact, they think it’s the worst possible way for them to get information. Service providers don’t go to a show to buy a product. There’s no sales cycle in telecom that goes on for a month or six weeks; it goes on for a year, or four years. So really, why are the service providers there? They’re there to get information. What’s the most comfortable way for them to get information? Either during a networking conversation or by being demoed the technology and being able to ask questions at leisure. Sitting in a conference room or a private space and being able to really delve in to the details of what they need to understand in order to formulate a business case and understand what they should be doing on their networks is what they want.


That’s why we did away with the conventional tradeshow format with the expo hall and booths. We want to lock in our reputation as the underwriter of the intelligent conversation about monetizing next generation networks. That’s what BTE is all about. We believe if we serve the end user -- the service provider -- and their informational needs, the business will follow. And that’s been true for the past 13 years since Light Reading was founded in 2000.   


Light Reading’s Big Telecom Event (BTE) 

June 17-18, 2014, Chicago



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