I95 Business Founder & Publisher Vicki Franz Uses her Platform to Help Connect Businesses
Ask Vicki Franz what she does for a living and she might tell you she’s a plate spinner.
For those too young to recall, plate spinners entertain crowds by spinning plates horizontally on top of a stick. The more plates the artist can spin, the bigger the wow factor.
In Franz’s role as founder and publisher of I95 BUSINESS magazine, the Kentucky native balances multiple duties that requires skills for digital marketing and strategy, branding, event planning, sales, marketing, writing, printing, logistics, operations, accounting and management.
“When we started to do market research, there were a lot of people who said ‘What are you thinking? Print is dead!’” says Franz about launching a color magazine and online business news site. “It’s a miracle every time we publish an issue. But here we are, 12 years later, and have built a strong and powerful brand in the community we serve with a lot of reach and a lot of impact.”
The idea to start a magazine probably seemed slightly bonkers back in 2010. It was a time when newspapers and magazines across the country had drastically cut back staffing and resources.
“All the local media had been devastated by the recession,” says Franz, a former advertising executive at The Baltimore Sun who left the paper after 14 years in 1999. “The Business section at The Sun was cut along with dedicated business reporting. And what we did get was all bad news, all the time. We wanted to put a different spin on business that would help people connect and feel like there was hope. This was way before LinkedIn took hold. Most cities of our size have a business magazine. Since our city did not, we focused on developing a way to connect business people through feature stories. It seemed like a good idea to me.”
I95 BUSINESS was born, and since its inception, a core value of the magazine is to be a resource for business in the Baltimore Metropolitan corridor. Franz says the magazine uses an editorial calendar to focus on various business sectors in each of the six annual issues. I95 BUSINESS has highlighted everything from cyber to manufacturing from developers building communities to businesswomen and entrepreneurs. Over the course of the year, many topics and businesses are highlighted.
There is a mix of feature stories on businesses that align with the editorial calendar. Plus, content marketing profiles and expertise paid for by businesses who want the distribution and reach that’s been built. This unique content marketing business model allows companies to have control of their story and when it appears. Regardless of whether it’s an editorial story or paid profiles, all stories are assigned to I95 writers and approved by the client. “We want it to be correct,” says Franz. “It doesn’t help anyone if it has mistakes or misquotes. And it lives on i95business.com forever,” she adds.
“In today’s marketing, some companies prefer content marketing to display advertising,” Franz says. “They want to talk about what they know, share knowledge and expertise. When you read about a company or a column, we’re sharing knowledge and connections.”
Franz says she and her editorial team are mindful of being inclusive of women and people of color. The popular Women of Influence theme runs throughout the year, culminating with a special issue and event in April. The event brings all the women featured in the year’s issues to celebrate accomplishments and network. This past April featured women who run law firms – of the top 10 law firms in town, six are run by women.
I95 connects people through events where those featured in the magazine get a chance to meet each other and network. In addition to C-level social events, they recently hosted an event featuring local business book authors for a luncheon, with two keynote speakers. In fall, they will host a new event called “DISRUPTION” focused on how incorporating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategies help a business be more profitable.
“We don’t pretend to be a newspaper,” Franz says. “While we do publish press releases at no charge as a community service and share them across our channels, we don’t attend ribbon cuttings. As a features magazine, our focus is to talk about people and what people are doing to drive business success. Hopefully, those insights will help other people find solutions to do business better in some other way.”
Instead charging readers for a subscription to the magazine, I95 uses a controlled distribution model where it is mailed free of charge to area business owners and C-Level officers, economic development offices, Maryland legislators and influencers. New subscriber requests are vetted.
Unlike other publications online, I95Business.com is ungated, meaning readers aren’t required to subscribe for access to content on the site. That unfettered access, Franz says, helps people find and share information online and make connections more easily, which in turn, helps I95 become a valuable tool when businesses want to do business.
The other amazing part about all those spinning plates? It’s all self-funded. It’s a venture, she warns, that takes a lot of money, time and energy. And probably love – because storytelling is an art and Words Matter©, which is I95’s tagline.
“Even in a crowded media landscape, there is a need for what we do,” Franz says. “People want to know what’s happening in their own town, who is making a positive difference, who is succeeding and who are the people they should know. It’s exciting to write about all the things that impact our region. As a result, we want to go statewide. That’s what we’re working on next.”