Making Business Decisions Grounded in Empathy

Making Business Decisions Grounded in Empathy | Elizabeth Green | CEO Campfire Chat | The Sterling Woods Group

Elizabeth Green first had the idea to start her own company while in business school. After years of research, focus groups, and planning, Brief Media was born: a veterinary medicine publishing and media company.

What she couldn’t have predicted then—and what no course in business school taught—was what it’s like to lead through a pandemic.

Things prior to COVID had been going well in the world of veterinary medicine. The industry was experiencing four to five percent year-over-year growth. Brief Media was successfully providing peer-reviewed content for vets in hospitals and clinical settings across the globe and driving conversations around best practices in veterinary care.

The pandemic, of course, brought everything to a screeching halt. Veterinary offices were temporarily shuttered, and some even diverted their resources to human hospitals that were in desperate need of supplies.

But after a few weeks, once the US got its bearings and veterinary hospitals were declared essential businesses, vets leapt back into action treating their furry patients. And Elizabeth’s team was right there to learn what they needed most.

The first call Brief Media sales representatives made to clients contained two simple questions. They asked, “First and foremost, are you okay?” And then, “What can Brief Media do for you?” If the answer was, “Nothing,” the sales rep would follow up in a few weeks.

As time went on and vets got a better handle on what the future looked like, suddenly, their needs became clearer. They needed guidance on best practices more quickly than the typical peer-review process would allow, so Elizabeth’s team developed an algorithm that allowed for peer review processes to happen within days instead of months.

Brief Media’s advertising partners got their footing and realized that much of the messaging they had crafted pre-pandemic needed to be adjusted. The Brief Media team accommodated them and helped shape new campaigns.

For media partners who found their typical revenue streams disrupted, Elizabeth’s team was able to leverage Brief Media’s customer data to ensure their clients’ messaging was getting in front of the proper audience.

All of these decisions were rooted in calling their customers and asking the simple question: “What do you need?” By listening with care, Elizabeth’s team was able to deliver for customers across segments.

And Brief Media continues to evolve. The team is on track to launch several new products. For their vet audience, they’re launching a digital product that addresses the daily questions vets face about pharmaceuticals and dosing. And for their media clients, they’re creating a data program that helps them build out their databases and leverage Brief Media’s data to help sales teams find the right audience for each of their products.

Elizabeth also took important steps to ensure her team’s needs were met throughout the pandemic.

She began by instating mental health days; everyone was given Fridays off to take some extra space for self-care, family time, and adjusting to the new reality. Managers were also instructed to check in with their teams regularly to ask how each employee was doing.

The management team found ways to inject levity into the work routine. Their weekly happy hours became themed events, with colleagues dressing up and having fun.

Additionally, the business hosts a monthly awards ceremony. They encourage employees to celebrate peers who are going above and beyond. Elizabeth even created a slideshow trumpeting each employee’s biggest accomplishment for 2020. This kind of thoughtful recognition goes a long way—especially when you’re asking your team to be nimble and adapt to new strategies quickly.

Members of the studio audience echoed the importance of finding ways to keep their teams’ spirits high. One guest had a day designated each week to share cute or goofy pet photos. Another began each meeting with a funny or upbeat song. A third audience member was meeting up face-to-face (outside and at a safe social distance) with colleagues who lived nearby—not to talk shop, but to make sure everything in their personal and professional lives was going alright.

Finally, Elizabeth shared a bit about how Brief Media supports its clients’ customers: animals! The team is involved with the charity Mission Rabies, which aims to improve both human and animal health by vaccinating animals in developing countries.

The theme that shone through across all that Elizabeth does is the importance of compassion. Listening to others and truly meeting their needs is not just the kind or right thing to do, but a smart business decision as well.

Episode Transcript

Rob Ristagno: Leaders have a lot on their plate right now. They’re pedaling hard to keep revenues flowing. They’re trying to meet new customer needs and wants. And they’re searching for ways to keep their teams motivated and sane. Great leaders though don’t see these as competing priorities. They realize that caring for people is the best way forward. Elizabeth Green shares the strategies that she has put into place to keep brief media at the top of its games. Strategies rooted in empathy for everyone.

Intro: This is the CEO Campfire Chat, with your host Rob Ristagno, taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories from middle market companies just like yours. Sponsored by, the Sterling Woods Group.

Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat. This is Rob Ristagno, and we are recording live in front of a studio audience of senior executives. Today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing Elizabeth Green, the CEO of Brief Media, which she founded back in 2002. Brief Media is a leading veterinary company that develops practical, peer-reviewed educational content and point of care tools for more than 259,000 veterinary professionals worldwide. Elizabeth has been honored as a Folio top women in media, 2019 Gertrude Crane award winner, and 2020 Feather in Her Hat award winner. Welcome, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Green: Thank you, Rob. Nice to be here.

Rob Ristagno: And we’re really looking forward to hearing more about the success you’ve had at Brief Media, now and in the past. Let’s start by rewinding the clock though. What inspired you to start the company in the first place?

Elizabeth Green: I came up with the idea, actually I was working on my MBA and was beginning to see, I had worked previously for another veterinary publishing company. At that time we published a lot of long, peer-reviewed articles. And I began to see that there was a change in reading habits, worldwide, not just in veterinary medicine. And so I began to look at what that might look like, how we could take the information that we were providing and provide it in a much more succinct, meaningful format.

Elizabeth Green: So I also, I never really saw myself as an entrepreneur. I have always been a numbers geek and loved to problem solve, that probably came from having an engineer father, maybe, from that aspect. But it was when I married my husband who was actually an entrepreneur and had a software company who encouraged me and said you should do this, and you should do it on your own. And so that was all the encouragement I needed at the time. And so I dusted off an MBA paper that I put together on the idea, and when my youngest child got in first grade, decided to venture out and start the company.

Rob Ristagno: So you made that entrepreneurial leap, got a little bit of encouragement. Any thoughts you have for people that are listening, maybe I have this business idea, maybe I’ll quit my job, maybe I’ll jump in. How did you ultimately make that leap, besides getting that encouragement from family? What are some other things that went into that decision?

Elizabeth Green: It took a lot of time, I did. I worked on the concept probably for, gosh, a year and a half, did a lot of my own focus groups. I worked with somebody in the pediatric area who was doing something similar for pediatricians at the time. So I just did a lot of research, I tested the idea and more than anything, I was very close to a lot of veterinarians, and in fact at one time wanted to be a veterinarian and decided to take a different path. So really understanding the problems that they have and trying to keep up to date in a field that was becoming more and more sophisticated.

Rob Ristagno: It’s always great to go into a field that you’re interested in and passionate about. As we know, being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work and that passion can keep you going.

Rob Ristagno: For those of us not in the veterinary space here, just set the stage for us. How is the industry doing? How was it doing before COVID? How did COVID impact the industry?

Elizabeth Green: Our business had been fairly strong. And the veterinarian market had been growing about 4% year over year for the last four or five years. And then of course COVID hit in March and things came to a little bit of a halt those first couple of weeks. And then veterinary medicine was named obviously an essential business, so practices were still open.

Elizabeth Green: What happened those first several weeks was really a focus not only on what we need to do for emergencies and pet care, but also what needed to happen to support human hospitals. So there were a lot of specialty practices that were taking ventilators to human hospitals and volunteering their time. There was a little bit of time taken back to support other parts of healthcare initially.

Elizabeth Green: Anyway and so many hospitals at that time were only doing emergency work and not any wellness visits. Our staff of veterinarians that we have that work for us, all of them work in practice some. So that keeps their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in practice. And then that was a great advantage during that time because they immediately realized we’re not going to be able to accept pets in the hospital anymore, we’re going to have to do drop off. And in a company where it takes months and months and months to do a peer-reviewed article, we were able to do a peer-reviewed algorithm with our editor-in-chief in two days. And get it out to the field. It has been translated into seven languages within two days of that and then actually distributed worldwide. So we were able to have a really strong impact on what happened, the protocols that were developed in veterinary medicine.

Rob Ristagno: Wow, is that new streamlined process, something that was an exception because of the crisis situation or is there stuff you can learn from that, the industry can learn from that so that going forward getting things peer-reviewed is more streamlined?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, at the time it was definitely an anomaly. And as we look forward, taking that example and not that we are planning to do peer-reviewed content in two days going forward, but it did have us take a step back and look at the content that we were creating and realizing that maybe not all of the content that we’re doing needs to be peer-reviewed and how can we get information out faster in a non-peer reviewed format. But then what are some of the things that we can do within our peer review processes to speed up the processes.

Rob Ristagno: I see. So maybe there were just some rules of the road, some inertia, ways we’ve always done things and of course we do it that way. And then there’s this jolt and maybe that forces the organization to question some assumptions. And it sounds like you learned something from it.

Elizabeth Green: One of the impacts of COVID for us as an industry is everyone was staying at home and working remote. And so people who had pets were spending a lot more time with their pets. People who never had pets but wanted one were out adopting them at rates that were unprecedented. And so what we’ve seen is a huge uptick in the number of households that have pets right now. And people are taking them to the veterinarian at unprecedented rates as well. But anyway, practices right now are slammed. In fact right now, most of them are doing business at about 12% above where they were this time last year.

Rob Ristagno: Oh wow. Before we dive into questions about Brief Media specifically, any questions from the audience about what’s going on in the veterinary space?

Audience Member: I have a question. I have a friend who’s a horse vet. So I’m wondering what’s the relative size of the large vet market and the small vet market. And are there other segments? Or how is it segmented?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, it is segmented into small and large. And so we work in what we call companion animal, which is small, dogs, cats, exotics. So we don’t do work in equine or the horse market or large animals, cows, pigs, farm animals, et cetera. And then there are also zoo animals as well. So yeah definitely the companion animal market is the largest. And it’s getting close to about 69% I believe of all households are pet-owning households right now. So it’s definitely a growth market right now. And I think the human animal bond has become much more important during a pandemic and this type of crisis. You have a lot of elderly people who live alone and having an animal to provide that companionship.

Elizabeth Green: But then also we have, even at our office, a lot of young, single people in their 20’s who also have adopted pets in this time and are able to care for them. We also saw cats, there had been a trend over the last five years that cats were going to the veterinarian a lot less frequently than before. And now that people are spending more time with their cats at home this year, the number of cats that are going to the vet is dramatically up this year, so that’s been a huge change as well. Certainly a predominant part of the market is companion animal.

Audience Member: We’ve had people on our staff, several of them that have small children, adopt cats in the last couple of months. I think they just need another alternative to the television as a babysitter or entertainer or something. So everybody shares kitten pictures.

Elizabeth Green: Right. And there’s something about an animal. I was in Williams Sonoma last weekend to purchase something and there was somebody in there with a little long-haired dachshund and I probably would have never spoken to this couple had it not been for the dog. And then just happenstance, I ran into them at the park later on. So here are these people that I don’t know at all and I feel like we’re fast friends now because of their dog. So animals have a way of connecting people too and I think in a time when we’re all socially distant it’s been an emotional benefit as well.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, it sounds almost like a need or requirement to some extent. Let’s shift gears now and talk a little bit about your company, Brief Media specifically. You’re in growth mode going into 2020, lots of great ideas. I know you and your team were working on, COVID hits, what’s the first thing that happened? What’s going through your mind, how serious are you taking this? What do you want to plow forward on and what did you decide wait, we need to pause and rethink?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, it was definitely, we closed our office March 16th, and I know that varies depending on what part of, we’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So in the central part of the US. And so when that happened, we just saw that there was enough evidence to say that we needed to close down our office and begin working remote. A year earlier, we had gone to what we called a flexible work schedule. And so not every person had to be in the office every day anyway. We had started it out as a trial to see how that would work. We have a lot of young parents and parents with a lot of women with school age children. And allowing them the flexibility to work like that. And so as a result of that, we are already in the cloud.

Elizabeth Green: So it wasn’t a huge leap to go completely remote for us as a company. And then as a CEO, the first phone call I made was to board members that had previously been at Hanley Wood and had lived through the housing crisis. So I wanted to talk to people who had been through other crises. So talked with them immediately, worked out a plan, looking at what we were going to do, we were going to reserve cash, we were going to manage our AR, and by the way, we’re going to go ahead and make across the board salary cuts. And just because we didn’t know how deep that was going to be.

Elizabeth Green: And we did it very early on. And I remember even talking to some of the other people on our executive team, they said oh, we don’t understand, why are we doing this now? People are going to leave, they’re going to go work for other companies, et cetera. So I’m glad to say that was only a two week period, those salaries were reduced, we were able to get the PPP plan and reinstate those. And actually, really didn’t see a downturn beyond maybe those first couple of weeks in COVID. Didn’t really see a downturn in revenue. It took about four weeks where we did see a decline, in especially media revenue, but then our team was able to pivot very quickly and begin to look at where the opportunity was to do virtual events and things like that for people that weren’t going to be able to connect with buyers.

Elizabeth Green: And then the other thing that happened even in veterinary hospitals is sales representatives were no longer able to get into sales practices as well. So a new opportunity, in fact we created a new product for that group as well so that we could actually provide leads all the way down to a demo phase for companies who were no longer able to get their reps into veterinary hospitals.

Rob Ristagno: So you were able to during all this with a lot of uncertainty around, you’re working from a playbook, from a crisis management playbook, but you’re able to launch a new product. Tell us a little bit more about that process. How you spotted the opportunity, what it took to get the new product to market and how you got people to know about the product.

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, one of the other things that we did is we brought in a consultant who had a really proven track record in digital products. And began to look at where the opportunity was. So number one was virtual events. And we were doing webinars, but our team liked to do on demand ones, they didn’t really like to do live ones so much. So anyway, we’ve been doing a lot of virtual events this year around that. So I worked with the consultant to make sure we had those programs optimized as much as possible. Then we looked at where were the other opportunities and then launched what we called our hand raiser product. And again, just trying to fill that need of being able to for sales reps to be able to get demos and time spent with practices for their products, even when they weren’t allowed into practice.

Elizabeth Green: So yeah, the other thing that we did with our team is the very first thing they said to me, the sales team was should we be calling people? I don’t feel like we should be calling people and trying to sell, what do I do? So I said to them, I said I want you calling every single client we have and first you should find out are they safe, and are they okay? And second you should find out is there anything they need help with? And if the answer is no, you say thank you very much and you continue to call and check in with them.

Elizabeth Green: And so we followed that process and it took several weeks, right? For people to all of a sudden say wait a minute, I need help with this. Because you can imagine there were a lot of programs that were already in place where messaging was no longer appropriate, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic. So working with clients to change some of those campaigns and those products that were already scheduled. It took a little bit of time, but then what resulted as a result of that is we began doing record numbers of webinars, working with people that we hadn’t been working with at that level, but also being able to use our database to help them target the right person at the right time.

Rob Ristagno: The combination of getting a little bit of external inspiration from a consultant, but potentially more importantly, talking to your customers and finding out exactly what they wanted. All these ideas sound great, they also sound like a lot of work. How do you keep your team motivated? Maybe they’re secretly a little miffed that they had a two-week pay cut for totally understandable reasons, but maybe it still was a little hard for some people, but how do you keep people motivated to work on all these new things?

Elizabeth Green: Well, and I’m sure this is the same for many of you. I know there were several days that first week or two where I clocked a couple of six AM to midnight days. And you don’t have to do too many of those in a row to begin to feel a little bit of burnout. So one of the things that we did is providing mental health days. So we provided a couple of those where we just said everybody has Friday off, nobody’s working on Friday. And so we provided a couple of those. We also are giving a lot of direction to all of our managers too just to make sure that they are checking in with all of their people and how are you doing?

Elizabeth Green: We did some fun happy hours. We always have weekly coffee talk on Thursday mornings, and so we would have themes. And so sometimes it was sports theme, sometimes it was dress as your favorite TV character. And then the other thing we did is one time we cut everyone a check, because we knew that people were having to spend money on things at home, right? To get their offices in place. We allowed people to come in and get monitors and furniture and all those kinds of things to help support them from that standpoint.

Elizabeth Green: And we do monthly monarch awards, so we have people recognize people who are going above and beyond the call of duty and calling that out and recognizing all of those people. So trying to give recognition, trying to give support, but more than anything, making sure that we knew that everyone was okay.

Elizabeth Green: In the middle of all that, we had a tipping point on systemic racism in our country too, which in veterinary medicine, veterinary medicine is 90% white, so one of the least diverse professions. And so having to deal with that and how it impacted people on our staff as well. So a lot of conversation.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, a lot of external factors and a lot on people’s minds. And it sounds like you did use a mix of different things, incentives, financial, motivational, even just space—the mental health days. Other people in the audience, other things they’ve tried with their teams to it’s been tough world out there? Other ideas that worked with your teams to keep them engaged and motivated, despite all the things that are going on in the world around us?

Audience Member: I’ll say one thing which is just kind of a cute thing that goes along with the veterinary theme too, and Suzanne kind of referenced it, we have Furry Friday where everybody posts pictures of their animals. Which has now evolved into Crustacean Wednesday and Turtle Tuesday. So there’s basically just random animals on our group chat all the time. But people seem to love it, it just makes everybody happy.

Elizabeth Green: We see a lot of them on Zoom too, when people are on Zoom, the cats walking across the computer, the dogs barking, hopefully mine won’t bark while we’re on this call.

Audience Member: Just prior to our call, I was working on an agenda for a meeting tomorrow morning. And we try to go around the room and I always ask everyone to tell me what’s something that made them feel good. And I thought okay, feel good. James Brown, “I Feel Good.” So I found a video on YouTube of this little boy running around singing “I Feel Good” from Home Alone. So it’s like a 40 second thing that I’m going to just start the meeting with and try to do things like that to bring the joy out, if you can.

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, I did last week, unbeknownst to everyone, I had asked them to give me their greatest achievements for this year. And so it helped them to focus on their achievements but then I had them all put it into a video. And it starts out to a different kind of a music, but it tells the whole story of this year and what happened with COVID and you see it moving from pictures of people to Zoom pictures. And then we used We Are the Champions for that background. So yeah, it evoked a lot of tears last week as people were watching it and really connecting with the emotion of what happened this year.

Audience Member: As a manager, I’ve taken an opportunity to meet with the people that are at least close enough to do so, in a place outside where we can sit six feet apart and have a drink and have a talk about really just what’s going on with their kids. I don’t have kids, so that part of my life, I don’t have some of the same demands as the people on my team. And that’s where they’ve needed a lot of support and allowance and freedom and flexibility. But for me personally, I’m an extrovert. They’re all introverts. But I need to see them. I miss seeing them. And so I’ve done that in pairs, or just with me and one person. I’m thinking about having a driveway moment before it gets too cold. So again, there are five of us on the team that I think could easily spread out at my fire pit or whatever.

But we were lamenting as a group the other day because the holidays are coming and we typically have a big holiday party that’s a whole lot of fun. And I think everybody’s already starting to think about how they’re going to really miss that. So Stephanie’s stewing around with ideas on how to make something happen there. But I think it’s important to maintain your culture around these things.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, these are all great suggestions and I know it’s come up in several CEO Campfire Chats in the past that everybody appreciates the hard work during a crisis period and people have said stuff like never waste a good crisis or something along the lines of that. But burnout and keeping people motivated and remembering that we’re all human beings, we can never forget that. So I really appreciate all of the great ideas that have been suggested by the group here today.

Rob Ristagno: Go with your gut, follow your heart, trust your intuition. We’ve heard this kind of advice before, and sometimes it works. Like when you’re trying to decide what movie to binge tonight, or you’re on the fence of asking her out for that second date. Or you have a sneaking suspicion about which neighborhood dog keeps digging up your lawn. But it’s not the way to make major business decisions. When you’re facing challenges with growing your revenue, it’s not enough to rely on instinct.

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Rob Ristagno: Elizabeth, you’re not slowing down though, you have lots of ambitious plans. Tell us a little bit about what you’re working on and what’s the future of Brief Media?

Elizabeth Green: So it’s probably been, I think it was 2013 when I realized that no matter how great our content was with the clinician’s brief, that it wasn’t content that veterinarians needed to engage with every single day to do their job. And so we began to look and say what is that information? What kind of information do veterinarians need every day? And so it took us very quickly to a veterinary drug reference. And the leading veterinary drug reference was used by 94% of small animal veterinarians at the time. And it was in a book that came out once every three years.

Elizabeth Green: So I got an introduction to the pharmacist who had put that together, Dr. Plumb was his name and convinced him that we should build this into a digital product that would be continuously updated and not once every three years and that people could access on their phones instead of having to run around the hospital looking for the book. And I remember one of his very important questions to me was exactly how many digital platforms like this have you built before? And I had to answer none. But I have obviously some inspiring reason and passion that he couldn’t curb. So he decided to partner with us.

Elizabeth Green: And we built that program. We did not own the content until the end of 2018, bought the content. And so that product has continued to grow, even this year it’s still growing, the individual subscriptions, it’s recurring monthly revenue, but it’s growing at the rate of 30% month over month on average. So even in a pandemic, it’s continuing to grow.

Elizabeth Green: So as we began to look at what the future was, we said hey, this is really great. We are now in the middle of every critical decision making about what dose we should be using from a therapeutic. So then we did the research and we said what are the other questions that veterinarians are asking and looking up every single day in medicine? So now we’re building a platform that will be launching in Q1 of next year. And it answers the rest of those questions and all integrated into workflow. It will be, again, focused on then a different kind of revenue model. And you don’t have to go very many years back, probably 2013 when we were first looking at that. I would venture to say that 80-something percent of our revenue was probably print advertising.

Elizabeth Green: And so like all of you in print media, you woke up one day and said wow … I found out we were in the second-most disrupted category business behind travel and home when we saw that print advertising was going away and we were going to be competing against the likes of Google and Facebook and those kinds of people.

Elizabeth Green: And so we made the decision actually back in 2012 when we launched a website to begin gating all of our websites. So we’ve been collecting data on all of our audience members for the last eight years. And so being able to actually transform our company from a media company to an information company and realizing that data is the foundation for everything that we do now.

Rob Ristagno: It sounds like you’re collecting great first-party data. So you have all the data about dosage and things, you’ve tapped into the daily habits of veterinary physicians and you have more ideas how to expand that product. What I’m interested about, it sounds like you’ve been collecting lots of data about your customers, and is there a product to be had there? Or are you using that data just to inform your business decisions?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, we’re launching actually we’re rolling out a new data product for our media clients to share data match, data append, and data accelerate programs. So we’re helping them build their databases as well and utilizing our data to help them do that, but also identify who are the right audience members that they need for each individual model. So sometimes it may be a practice manager that may be the target for them, it may be a practice owner, maybe it’s a veterinary nurse. And so it varies from practice to practice and from product to product. So figuring out who that is and how we can use our data to connect them with the right person and optimize all of those conversion rates.

Rob Ristagno: You’re pushing ahead, making investments, making bold moves, a lot of other CEOs out there are a little bit worried, they’re talking to their board and they’re coming out of the 2008 playbook, conserving cash, not making any major investments, keeping the lights on until “this thing goes away.” What’s giving you the confidence to move ahead and making the investments?

Elizabeth Green: I think looking, again, I think it always goes back to what is the problem that we’re solving? And either on our media side or even with our audience, I think both of our products are really geared at the problems that those audience members or clients are facing immediately right now. And I think it has, we’ve all experienced this year, that agility is a really important characteristic and being able to adapt and pivot.

Elizabeth Green: And I keep telling my team it’s an iterative move. We’re trying to transform our company, but it’s not a deep dive into the deep end, it’s an iterative move and keeping your finger on the pulse of what clients want and need at every point and then trying to develop a cadenced approach to how you move your resources as well. It’s maybe part art and part science.

Rob Ristagno: Sounds like it’s all grounded in knowing exactly what the customer wants and how we can best give it to them.

Elizabeth Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Ristagno: What about other people on the line? How are you making decisions between playing it safe yet confidently moving into things that you know you need to move into for the future of your company?

Audience Member: We’ve done a few things that were new for us. You mentioned live webinars, we tried one of those. Well more than one. We’ve tried two. Had kind of mixed results. Came up with what we think is a next iteration, better plan. Not only on the delivery and content side of the live webinar event itself, but also on the backend to try to get better legion and conversions, revenues, sales. So we’ve experimented in that way.

Audience Member: We have through joint provider-ship co-sponsored a conference which we’ve done in the past, but we’ve simply charged for being the CME accreditation arm. And this experimental environment, we said you know what, you can’t afford to pay up front for that, let’s see how it goes. And these three co-sponsors, we’ll just divide by three at the end. We already know that we’re going to make way more money than we would have if we just charged for those original services, so that’s been a pleasant surprise and maybe something that we’ll be able to use as a model going forward.

Audience Member: Like you, we had to do some things very quickly that we had not done before. And it proved that we could do it if we had to. And also gave us some of those process improvements. But I love what I hear you describing Elizabeth. That’s great.

Elizabeth Green: Yeah and it’s interesting with those virtual events and the webinars. A lot of these people that we’ve done for, they’ve been so successful. But now we’re signing them up in series. We just had a client that we had never done a webinar with us before. We did a webinar, we’ve built other products around it, so it was a bit more of a campaign if you will, but they just signed up to do 10 more next year. So we’re getting them renewing at higher frequency. I think the concern is what happens when people get burnt out on digital zooms and webinars? And in fact, that’s something that I want to start offering my team is a Zoom-free day at least one day a week where there’s no Zoom meetings.

Rob Ristagno: Only crustaceans, no Zoom. Other questions for Elizabeth?

Audience Member: Elizabeth, one of the things we do in our twice a week meetings here in the US, is there’s 14 people, these are basically managerial types. And every beginning of every meeting is those that have a pet can sign up and do a pet discussion and video and show what their dog, cat, goat, we have people that have goats in their house, for God’s sake.

Audience Member: It has created a bit of a tension relaxer to see what their dogs and cats do that are different and unique. And there’s two or three websites, I can’t remember the names, but I’ll get them and send them to you. Where you have 15, 30, and 45 second videos of unusual activities of a dog or a cat. And they’re mostly humorous in that regard. They had the one this morning which made me think about it has a small Beagle-type dog that the owner wanted to make sure that they got proper exercise. So they tried to train the dog to be on a treadmill. And the dog just really had a tough time getting it over. He kept going off the end of the runway. And after about three months, he shared a video where the dog stood next to the treadmill and just pushed their paw on it. They didn’t get on it, they just moved their paw down.

Audience Member: So we found it to be an interesting common theme. Just because as you said earlier, there are more pets in the home when people are living there. So it’s been some of them are so funny, that you can’t imagine a normal person spending the amount of time they have to do to train their dog to do this. But one other question, sorry to take this, but we’re a multi-pet family. And we have the same vet that takes care of all of our various dogs and cats and things. And I notice because we can’t go inside the vet clinic anymore, the vet that takes care of our German Shepherds, came outside, and it’s a young man, 45 years old. And he looked like he’d been ridden hard and put up wet. And I said, “Jonathan, how are you doing?” He said, “You can’t imagine the stress we’re under, not for our pets, but for our people.”

Audience: And so we had a ten minute conversation where I realized that here I was thinking that his business was just the pet-oriented, he’s a manager, he’s an entrepreneur. He’s a financial guy, et cetera. So your industry specialty, it’s got to be very hot to help these people, not just in technical information or product, but just the human relations kind of stuff. It was very interesting.

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, there is a high stress and burnout right now in veterinary medicine. They’re having to work so much harder. It’s difficult to find veterinarians. There’s a shortage right now of veterinarians out in the market. I was just at a summit two weeks ago and this was a big topic of that. And then we also have a very high suicide rate in veterinary medicine. So it’s higher than most of the other medical professions. So it’s at least [inaudible] right now.

Elizabeth Green: So there is a movement, Not One More Vet, in veterinary medicine. And that movement is to help provide help and wellbeing to veterinarians to prevent suicide.

Audience Member: I had a quick question for you, Elizabeth, Brent Diamond, I spent the bulk of my career in the media space and information database products. And I’m just curious back in I think you said 2013 advertising revenue was the bulk of your revenue, how many revenue streams do you have now? And is it divided pretty evenly or is there still one area that’s the bulk of your revenue?

Elizabeth Green: The number one revenue stream right now actually comes … well, let me divide it this way. 70% of our revenue right now comes from media. And within media, and this will be the first year that this is true. The number one line item is actually marketing services. So print advertising will be number two behind that. And digital is now number three, even though a lot of our marketing services is digital. And then the fourth is just audience data.

Elizabeth Green: And we’ll see that change continue. We believe there’s a lot of growth right now in our marketing services area, and again, that’s where a lot of these virtual events are falling. We had gotten into the event business, about 2017 we had signed a partnership with a company actually out of the UK and we launched several new veterinary events in the US. And then decided actually to get out of that partnership at the end of last year. So events were a part of that mix and then for other reasons, we decided that as a company, we wanted to focus on these data products that we were building, this new product that we’re about to launch. And to get out of events. And so I mean that ended up being, I’ll just say, a lucky decision at the time.

Elizabeth Green: So yeah, for 2020 I have a non-compete, can’t even do a live event. So anyway.

Rob Ristagno: You’re a true visionary.

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, I’d love to claim that. But the truth is we were just doubling down and focusing. And I do think that events will be a part of our organization going forward. But it will be very different, it will be more like user group meetings and very tied to the products that we have and not big, large trade shows.

Audience Member: Tell us about the competitive landscape, are there a lot of competitors in your market doing something similar or that they would claim is similar or serving that audience with continuing education and resources?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, if you would have asked me who our competitors were three years ago, it would have been all the traditional media companies, right? And that’s really changed a lot. I think who we’re looking at going forward are competitors that are in the information subscription landscape. So substantially different than what it’s been. So yeah, it has changed dramatically who they are. And then we also see a lot of digital-only companies that are popping up and coming out of nowhere and keeping our eye on those people as competitors. But yeah, I think the competitive landscape has really broadened on who our competitors are, but in different ways depending on the competitor.

Rob Ristagno: Elizabeth, thank you so much for your time, what can the group do to help you out?

Elizabeth Green: Well first of all, any inspiring ideas that you have about how to continue to manage and keep our employees looking forward and engaged in the business I think would be good. There is a passion project that we as a company have been involved with, it’s called Mission Rabies. You may or may not know, but there are anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people that die every year of rabies in Africa and India alone. And most of them are children. And you can imagine as a parent what it would be like to see a child dying from rabies.

Elizabeth Green: So I was actually in India last October and vaccinating dogs. And we know when we can go into these villages and vaccinate at least 70% of the dog population that we can reduce the mortality rate from rabies by 95%. We’ve been sending teams of veterinarians down for the last three years to both Africa and India. We were set to do Cambodia this year too, and so both of those trips have been halted because of COVID, but that’s a passion project for us, Mission Rabies. And what I love about it is they can take a dollar and do so much good with every single dollar that we donate to them.

Rob Ristagno: So if listeners want to get involved, donate time or money, what’s the best way to get in touch with Mission Rabies?

Elizabeth Green: Yeah, it’s

Rob Ristagno: All right. Thanks to Elizabeth Green and thanks to our studio audience. This has been the CEO Campfire Chat. To listen to more episodes, subscribe to our email companion or take a two minute business growth assessment. Visit This is Rob Ristagno, and I’ll see you again next time, around the fire.

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