Michelle Cox evolved from tech vendor to publisher at major company. (Publisher Profile).
She began as marketing director at Compupower. For readers too young to remember, Compupower was an "outside service bureau," a computer firm which in the pre-personal computer days handled fulfillment and record-keeping functions for a large number of newsletter publishers.
Cox laughed and agreed with me that--having had the rather unique vantage point of watching subscribers ebb and flow for many publishers--perhaps she should have known better than to get into the business herself.
But she accepted an offer from Allie Ash and Brian Smith to join what was then KCI Communications. Cox directed Prescom, which was formed as a captive vendor to provide fulfillment services on an "inside of house" basis.
"I had admired Allie and Brian's operations while I was at Compupower, and I enjoyed the position from the start, but I suppose you could say I had some difficulty with commitment in that I commuted between the New York City area and Alexandria, Virginia for the next eight years."
Then, in 1991, Cox moved (still with Ash and Smith) to the start-up of the Louis Rukeyser newsletter--certainly one of the most successful launches in newsletter history. She was in charge of retention systems and customer services.
In 1995 Cox became publisher and president of the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM), which was still another part of Allie Ash's empire. NIBM published a number of general business titles, the basis of which had come from the acquisition of the Research Institute of America, including Research Recommendation and You and the Law.
In October of 1999 Cox left NIBM to become executive vice president of Wicks Business Information LLC, then a new company formed by investors to enter the newsletter business through acquisitions.
At the time Wicks was publishing four titles headed by Communication Briefings founded by Don Bagin in New Jersey. But a number of acquisitions have followed during the past three-plus years--including three from Aspen Publishers, five from Georgetown Publishing House, and "many" from Economics Press in New Jersey, including First Rate Customer Service.
Some of the acquired newsletters continue to be published while others were merged with other titles, so that today Wicks' Briefings Publishing Group publishes 11 periodicals but a total of 75 active titles that include special reports, tip sheets, and--somewhat unusual for newsletter publishers--vidoes.
Reasonably bullish about 2003
Cox is reasonably bullish about 2003 prospects. Most encouraging to her is seeing "list sizes coming back."
"The availability of good names is most important to us, she said, "publishing quasi-consumer-business titles. I saw the decline beginning in the months prior to 9/11 as consumer confidence was down. Then came 9/11 and then the anthrax scare, but now things appear to be returning."
Cox remains confident that with sufficient names available, they can sell newsletters. "We have a variety of good packages we can use, sample issues, tear sheets, and the post-it note.
(When Wicks acquired Georgetown Publishing, its famous post-it technique came with it:
"Fred Try this It's really good J")
They also use three-way match personalized packages (envelope, letter, order form).
"We tested all sorts of things," Cox said. "One idea we took on from Georgetown was a rigid discipline of insuring that every mailing includes some test list segments."
Cox said, "We don't publish 'have to have' information and our titles are not timely, not something you need to read on your computer screen. I travel a good deal and tend to save issues to read while I'm on the road. I know many of our readers do the same."
"The only woman in the meeting"
I asked Michelle if she had ever felt that being a woman in the newsletter business had been an obstacle for her. "After thinking about it," she answered, "I'd have to say no, it's never been an obstacle, and I can't say it's been a help either. Women seem to be broadly represented in the business, although among the firms which are still individually owned by founders there are few women, but there is certainly no bar to them.
"Although," she added, "after 20 years, I do realize that as often as not I'm still 'the only woman in the meeting,' but that might well be true because these days I spend a lot of time meeting with bankers and private equity firms and so on."
Briefings Publishing Group, a division of Wicks Business Information, 1101 King St.. #110. Alexandria, VA 22314, 703-548-3800, fax 703-684-2136, www.briefings.com