Though she’ll cop to practically “ignoring” her own site for the first couple of years, Touby’s hands-off approach to Mediabistro.com was nullified once she saw its fiscal potential. “By ’99, I realized that maybe there was a little money to be made in these job listings,” Touby recalls. “So I sent an email out to my customers, these HR people who were posting for free…for years. I said, ‘If you’re happy—and only if you’re happy—send a $100 check to this PO Box.’
“In April of 1999, I went to that PO Box and I opened it up, and out poured 8 checks. Next month, I did it again, and out poured sixteen checks, then out poured 25 the next month, then 35 and 45. So I was making more money on the Internet at home than I ever made in my career as a writer. So I literally called up all my editors who were assigning me pieces and said, ‘I’m leaving the business for a while. I’m going to try this Internet thing and see where it takes me.’ I started writing my business plan the next day.”
Judging by the end result, her bold plan seems to have worked.
Since receiving those job listings checks as well as initial VC funding in March of 2000, Mediabistro.com — according to its CEO & “Cyberhostess” – has become an ideal platform for ad buys, which have been placed by media big-wigs like the Wall Street Journal, among others. Touby deduces, “If you have a new product, a new service, a new campaign that you want to get out there, who better to advertise to than the media people themselves?”
But the real secret to Mediabistro.com’s success could be chalked up to one simple thing: its strong community, which is bound tightly by its events and website. So to keep dialogue flowing amongst industry folks, Touby & Co. have not only continued to offer site visitors an extensive number of high-profile job listings (everything from PR to graphic design), but they have also added pay-service features to their offerings. Among them are AvantGuild, which provides users with higher-level content (for example, online seminars that teach budding journalists how to pitch articles to agents), and the Freelance Marketplace, which creates a forum and many career-breaking opportunities for those writers going through exactly what Touby experienced a decade ago—though now, thanks to Touby, they can find many of their solutions online.
Not one to forget her roots, however, the feathered lady insists that MediaBistro events remain the real backbone of her brainchild. From LA to Berlin, and everywhere in between, the gatherings- which usually consist of cash bars, hors d’oeuvres and hundreds of name-tagged revelers – have become the choice setting to schmooze amongst media acolytes. And for Touby, the MB events also offer numerous chances for their host to stay in touch, personally, with her guests.
“I see the parties as critical to the business,” she says. “The parties keep us in touch with the customers, the people who make this a living, breathing website. Honestly, they are the heart and soul of this business, so you have to keep in touch with them as much as possible. So what better way than see your customers face-to-face and ask them, ‘How’s it going? What do you need? What are we doing wrong?’ It’s like a breathing organism that we’ve created and the food is the ideas, the love, the energy and the people. I truly believe that this is a community effort. Without the community, we are nothing.”
To broaden this community and expand MediaBistro’s reach, Touby’s also unlocking the velvet rope and opening the doors to advertising agencies through her exclusive All-Agency fetes. “The advertising community is huge and growing,” she explains. “If you look in terms of growth areas, journalists are going down and advertising is going up. Think about it. The newspapers are having problems. The magazines are having problems. Who’s not having a problem? Ad agencies from interactive and online. So we want to help them meet each other and get that same feeling of connectedness we’ve been helping the media people do for all these years.”
Connecting people is still the x-factor when it comes to Laurel Touby’s work and luckily, she’s managed to preserve her zeal for clasping the arms of total strangers and bringing them together, feather boa ever aloft.
“I like to think of myself as a catalyst, which is more like the chemical process of mixing things together and creating something fresh.”
So much for being alone and disenchanted in the big city sprawl.