• Posted by Claire McCray 23 Feb
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Growing Your State & Local Market Impact

At Government Executive Media Group (GEMG) our promise is simple—to build the best go to market strategies and bring the most influential leaders in government to our clients. Last year, GEMG announced the acquisition of The Atlas for Cities (The Atlas), a cutting edge online community and market intelligence platform for state and local government leaders. In January, we were excited to share our acquisition of City & State New York (CSNY), the premier media organization for state and local leaders in New York, and have already expanded the City & State model into Pennsylvania with City & State Pennsylvania.  

With these acquisitions, our state and local government portfolio now boasts more than 550,000 unique monthly engagers with only a 1% duplication rate between Route Fifty, CSNY, and The Atlas. 

With these three properties now in the fold, we believe we can help brands enhance their impact in the market with data that informs, media that connects, and marketing services that activate. What does the state and local landscape look like in 2021, and what strategies should be considered nationally and on a hyperlocal level? Constance Sayers, President of GEMG, recently met with Tom Allon, President and General Manager of City & State, and Hilery Sirpis, Vice President and Publisher of Route Fifty, to discuss these questions and more.  

 

Constance (Connie) Sayers: 

Tom, we’re excited to welcome CSNY to the GEMG family. What is CSNY, and how did it come to be? What value does it bring to the state and local ecosystem right now?

 

Tom Allon: 

Thanks for being so gracious in welcoming our company! So City & State is a media company that I created in 2006. It’s actually modeled on a business that I helped start in Washington, D.C. in the mid 90’s, called The Hill. When I saw that publication do really well in Washington, D.C., I thought, “why not start a New York City version of it?” We launched in 2006 with a monthly newspaper called City Hall, which covered city government. 

[During that time,] Andrew Cuomo, who was then running for attorney general, was in my office and noticed that we were doing a newspaper covering city government. He said, “it’s great that you’re covering city government, but all the money’s up in Albany.” So we started a publication then called The Capital in 2008. In 2011, we merged into one publication called City & State. 

We then launched a daily email called First Read, which has become our flagship, and then we started doing events. So right now, we kind of dominate the political coverage and political ecosystem in New York. Our morning email is really a must read. It convenes all the powerful people around New York State and sets the agenda for the day. We also do three other daily emails—First Read Tonight, Coronavirus Update, and one that’s geared to the nonprofit community. We also publish a weekly magazine which really focuses on policy, policy makers, and profiles. We also do about 50 events a year, many of them networking events for the powerful that coincide with our Power Lists, which have become a staple of our business. 

We’ve become sort of the go to place where people and advocacy groups and unions go if they want to get their message in front of the governor, the mayor, or the legislature. We’ve also been the convener of thought leader summits, thought leader dinners, and also networking events where the powerful and people that want to be around the powerful are able to convene.

 

Connie Sayers: 

You have a tremendous track record of engaging some of the most influential leaders and policymakers in New York. Who’s making a name for themselves presently, how do you organize your lists… What are you seeing?

 

Tom Allon: 

New York, obviously, has now the second most powerful person in the country as one of our senators, Chuck Schumer. He was on the cover of our magazine about two weeks ago, I think the headline was ‘Step up, Chuck.’ We also cover Andrew Cuomo, who’s become a national figure for a variety of reasons, but particularly because of his response to the pandemic. Letitia “Tish” James has been covered a number of times, including when she was a 40 Under 40, is now the Attorney General of New York and is leading the prosecution of the former president. So we’ve got some really, dynamic leaders in New York State, but we also recognize new talent. Melissa DeRosa, who’s the number two person to the governor, was one of our 40 Under 40’s years ago; Hakeem Jeffries, who is the heir apparent possibly to Nancy Pelosi was also 40 Under 40 about 10 years ago; so we’ve been really good at spotting talent when they’re in the beginning of their careers, and it’s been fun to watch those people rise and become the power brokers in the state.

 

Connie Sayers:

Talk a little bit about how you organize all of your lists, which are really great. I think you’re doing 38 this year?

 

Tom Allon: 

We’re actually doing one one a week, so 48! We’ve carved up the state in four different ways. We do Power Lists by geography—the 100 Most Powerful People in Manhattan, the 100 Most Powerful People in Long Island, and various parts of the state. We also do them by industry—the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare and the 100 Most Powerful People in Real Estate for example. Another segment is by demography, such as the 100 Most Powerful Black Leaders in New York State or the 100 Most Powerful LGBTQ Leaders. Finally, we do it by age—we do a number of 40 Under 40 lists by industry. We also do a fun event we started a couple years ago in January called 50 Under 50, which arose because people over 50 were saying, ‘Hey, it’s not fair. You’re not recognizing people like us, people who’ve been in government for 20, 30 years who’ve won Lifetime Achievement Awards.’  

 

Connie Sayers: 

Absolutely something I can relate to! The rest of the story is a little different. Hilery, tell us a little bit about Route Fifty and what you’re doing there?

 

Hilery Sirpis: 

It is a little bit different. While we do talk to a lot of the influencers and the leaders in state and local government that Tom mentioned, we really focus on the practitioner—the people running the day-to-day business of government. In addition to agency leadership, like governors and mayors, we reach the city planners, the finance directors, the CIOs, procurement officials, program managers… really anyone running government and the business of government. 

Our goal, even when we started Government Executive 50-something years ago, is to reach everyone seated around the conference room table. Now it’s a virtual conference room table, but when there’s any big procurement or any big program being discussed or fulfilled, that’s who we reach. We write and cover what goes into those decisions. So again, the business of government. We also reach that audience on a very national level. Where City & State’s content is concentrated in New York, We do that across the country. So, all 50 states, the big cities, the big counties—it’s a very nationwide reach.

 

Connie Sayers:

I think that’s something that you and I have heard. When you have somebody planning their marketing budget, oftentimes they may have some hotspots that are important to them, some cities or some states that are important, but they also have BD people spread regionally and throughout the country. They really do need to spread their marketing dollars and their business development dollars nationwide. So sometimes we do find that, and I think you would agree with that.

 

Hilery Sirpis:

Absolutely. Budgets are finite, right? They don’t have a limited budget so they have to really focus where the opportunities are in specific states and in specific cities.

 

Connie Sayers: 

What are the top five trends that you’re seeing across the country right now in terms of that nationwide reach? 

 

Hilery Sirpis: 

When we look at 2020, what’s emerged from that, and a continuation of that into 2021, there are five key trends. First and foremost, and probably the most immersive and the one that influences everything the government is doing right now is COVID, and everything that the pandemic has done to impact our communities. Think about things like digital citizen services, vaccines, COVID tracking, and then all the finance woes that city and state governments are dealing with right now as a result of the pandemic.

The next two trends also align with the pandemic, and that’s remote work and modernization. When you think about remote work, you think about cybersecurity and all the new access points that bad actors can hack into. Then you also think about workforce training and morale, teaching people how to work differently. And then modernization. We hear this all the time, but I think what the pandemic really did was force cities and states to modernize in minutes, to modernize very quickly so that they could deliver their services to citizens in a remote way. 

Emerging technology is another trend. We’re really seeing it pick up in the civic tech space—AI, robotics, data driven applications—we’re seeing a lot of that. Finally, and most importantly for our readers, are the social issues. They’re running a business, but they’re also really dealing with social issues in their communities. This includes policing and public safety, homelessness, and trying to bridge that digital divide. Those social issues aren’t going anywhere, so our readers, our practitioners, are dealing with them on a day-to-day basis and constantly trying to solve them for their communities. I know New York is doing a huge push to address the homelessness issue right now, and I think we’re seeing a lot of folks really focus on that.

 

Connie Sayers:

Tom, does that resonate with what you’re seeing in New York? 

 

Tom Allon: 

Like the rest of the country, New York is focused on getting the COVID vaccine distributed. That’s a number one priority. We’re tracking every day in our newsletters how many people have gotten COVID in the last day, how many people, unfortunately, have died, and how many people have gotten the first injection and second injection? I think that’s story number one that we see. 

Number two, right behind that, is the economic recovery. Our restaurants are opening again, at 25% capacity, starting today. Our venues for sports events and some concerts are going to open on February 23 at 10% capacity. Everyone’s really focused on how we make a comeback. A lot of people have left New York, there’s been countless stories about that, and we’re in the middle of a mayoral election right now, which is going to determine who the next leader of our city is in June. Everyone’s really focused now on how does New York make a comeback. 

I think everybody thinks New York will come back. It’s not a question of “if,” but it’s a question of “when,” and “how.” What will that new city look like? Will it be a more equitable city?  Will it be a more racially inclusive city? Will it be a city where police reform is incorporated into that? Also, I think very, very much on people’s minds is public safety, and the balance now between police reform and keeping the streets safe is something that the next mayor is going to have a very tough time accomplishing because crime has ticked up in our city the past year. We hope it’s an aberration, but unfortunately it’s going in the wrong direction.

 

Connie Sayers:

You both work a lot with brands and companies trying to increase their impact in the state and local government market. We talk about the need to both pair, or couple, the national visibility with local influence. What is working for brands in terms of reaching and engaging state and local leaders across the nation? 

 

Hilery Sirpis:

I have been in this role for five years now, previously working in federal marketing, and I think while the tactics have changed, particularly this year we moved to more content and more digital events, the most successful strategies I’ve seen in state and local government marketing really haven’t changed. When I started five years ago, and till today, I would say it’s really the same thing. It’s creating a national strategy and creating a targeted, or account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, and then figuring out and using data and insights to inform that strategy. 

What I hear from clients, as I mentioned earlier, they have finite budgets, they can’t be everywhere for every opportunity. You use a national strategy to build brand awareness—you come to someone like a Route Fifty to help you cover the country and cover all the opportunities there are—and then you use the ABM or the targeted strategy. That’s where I think City & State New York plays really well with Route Fifty. You use that targeted strategy to identify five “must wins.” I always tell my marketing clients to figure out the three to five “must wins” because we don’t have budgets or they don’t have budgets to identify 20, so what are the five in New York you need to win, then let’s really target New York—whether it’s through advertising, through City & State New York, or through event. It’s that national strategy, then a more targeted ABM strategy, and then data and insights. The Atlas is a great compliment to help us do that along with our own research, but the data and the insights to help inform that strategy. I think that’s what’s always worked, and I think it will continue to work as we move forward, which is why it’s exciting to have someone like City & State with us now. 

 

Connie Sayers:

One of the nice things about an ABM strategy is that you can have a limited amount of budget dollars, but a good strategy like that makes your campaign look like it’s five times or 10 times larger because the people that you need to be reaching are seeing your message again and again, as though you had an infinite budget. 

 

Hilery Sirpis: 

I think we’ve also invested in technology  inside our company to help companies target specific areas, or specific personas. In addition to someone like City & State, we as a national brand can also target those specific targeted areas for certain companies.

 

Connie Sayers:

Definitely. In addition to New York, we’re always hearing about needing to reach California, Texas… there are some places that we do hear from clients again and again. As we are building our larger network, we’re definitely able to service those requests as well, because we know where some of the biggest requests are from clients. I think that’s a great point, Hilery. 

Tom, I am going to pivot into how you develop local influence. What are you seeing brands do differently and effectively to build influence locally in New York? And do you think those principles would work in some of these other states I mentioned, like Texas and California? 

 

Tom Allon: 

We’re seeing three different components in New York. The first is advocacy, which is a big part of our advertising base. They’re becoming much more sophisticated, whether it’s through use of video, takeovers of our website, or other ideas to really stand out and to get in front of the governor, the mayor, or their staff.

The other is that a lot of our clients—we have more local clients, although we do have some tech clients that are national as well— are really trying to brand some of the individuals that work at their firms or the parts of their company, as opposed to the leader of the company. We’re seeing a lot more of that, especially in our Power Lists since they’re so broad. For example, we’ll have somebody who’s a healthcare expert in their consultancy, and if that person gets on one of our Power Lists, they’ll use that to brand them as well. 

And then we’re seeing a lot more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), too. We’re seeing a lot of our clients, trying to make sure that people know that they’re good corporate citizens, that they’re doing great stuff in the community. We have an event, it’s one of our signature events, every year at the end of the year called the CSR 100 where we profile and select 100 people that have done great corporate social responsibility over the past year, and that’s become a bigger and bigger part of what we do.

 

Connie Sayers: 

We’ve talked a little bit about this separately, but the best example is when you can actually marry these two strategies together. Hilery, do you have an example of how you can roll this all up together into one cohesive strategy?

 

Hilery Sirpis: 

Right now if you look at a big national event, in our world it’s our State of the State event or Future Cities event, we’re pulling in a big audience for an extended period of time, maybe three days, maybe it’s a week. Looking at involvement in a big event, like one of those two events, and then following it with a more of a micro-targeted event, like a workshop or roundtable to target a region, a group of people, or just one state, and then from that micro-event creating content with the event learnings and then distributing that back out to a national audience. 

For example, if you’re talking to firefighters, you then distribute the content back to all firefighters as lessons learned so they can hear what their peers are thinking. So I think it’s pretty easy to think about a national presence, a targeted presence, and then wrapping it with content.

 

Connie Sayers:

That’s really great. I want to close our conversation with an eye on what’s next for both of you. So Tom, I’m going to start with you. What is on the horizon for you in both the near term and also in product development priorities? Can you give us a sneak peek, both short term and long term, and what to expect?

 

Tom Allon:

We’re excited! We’re developing a new product that we hope to roll out this spring, probably closer to May, which will be a daily email covering the New York delegation in Congress called D.C. First Read. There are so many important New Yorkers in D.C. now, not just in Congress, but also in the new administration. And again, because Chuck Schumer is going to be sitting at the helm in the Senate and deciding so many budget issues, we believe that product that him and his staff and the whole congressional delegation reads will be something very appealing to advertisers and sponsors who want to get in front of them. That’s one thing that we’re working on in the short term.

We’re about to roll out a new state in about a week or two. We made a commitment when we joined GEMG that we were going to try this in other states. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly, but we’re going to make an announcement next week about a new state. And we’re looking at some of the states you’ve mentioned earlier, Texas, California, and Florida. We think we’re very bullish on the business model and editorial model that we have, we think it’s very replicable, and we’re excited to take it on the road.

 

Connie Sayers: 

Hilery, tell us what’s new in Route Fifty. This year, both in organic and other growth, as well as coverage and insights. What are you seeing? 

 

Hilery Sirpis: 

In business there are always two ways to grow—through acquisitions and through organic growth in your core. So City & State is one of our acquisitions. The Atlas, at the end of last year, was a second acquisition. And those are just increasing our footprints and our offerings in state local government, which is really exciting. I think we’ll see more of that in the years to come as we grow. 

Secondly is organic growth in our core. In the coming months, I think you’ll hear announcements about growth in our newsroom so we can continue to cover technology. Technology, as we all know, is an important element for government leaders to reach their citizens and to do what they do every day. We’re gonna continue to cover technology, and hopefully increase our technology coverage in the coming months. I would say we’re not finished yet, so just stay tuned.

 

Connie Sayers: 

One thing I love about Route Fifty is as we have grown organically, the database that we have now continues to have the highest engagement rate of any of our newsletters at Government Executive, and that hasn’t changed. The more people we keep adding, it still continues to be such an engaging audience which I think is so powerful, and that’s something that’s been really exciting to me since we launched this brand in 2015. 

I want to thank Tom and I want to thank Hilery for joining me today. Obviously a lot of really interesting stuff coming down the pike. It’s new, exciting things, all designed to help our clients reach the engaged state and local market this year. Thank you both so much for joining me today.

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