At home, it always seemed as though there was so much to do and so little money. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and my dad worked in a foundry, earning an income that supported a family of five. In those days, Levi’s and Baby Jane shirts were the bomb, but we couldn’t afford those luxuries unless my parents saved up for a gift for a birthday or another special occasion. I knew what I wanted and I knew that I was on my own to achieve my goals, so I proceeded to apply for jobs at basically any business that would consider hiring a child of 12. Delivering papers, collecting pop bottles, picking up groceries for the elderly and selling magazines over the phone were just a few of my early gigs.
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I experienced my first real position in sales. I was hired for a summer job to sell advertising space to local businesses in a community sports program. I was a star! Number one in sales every week. That came with (what I considered at the time) huge financial gains. I was getting bonuses on top of my minimum wage that almost doubled my salary. It was the perfect fit for me, and the beginning of a long career in media.
I landed my first “big girl job” in sales, as a senior account executive with Yellow Pages, which back then was known as Tele-Direct. I loved influencing the buying decisions of a well known brand, and having an impact on people’s lives with my recommendations. I would often have the same clients year over year, and looked forward to their success stories. It was deeply satisfying watching small business owners grow, open new locations, hire more staff, build their brand and reputations, and of course, spend more of their budgets with me. It was all so rewarding, this era when print budgets were huge and digital was non-existent. (Much more simplified when it came to revenue streams, I must say.)
My next career move was into a sales management role, with a leader in the credit collection and credit reporting industry. I wanted to have more influence on the overall numbers, not just my own. I found opportunities to drive revenue in everything I did, and wanted to share those wins and vision with others. I thrived on growth and the bottom line, building new business portfolios and relationships. Coaching and mentoring became a part of my everyday accomplishments; building a strong team came naturally to me.
But I missed the media world, and now, with management experience, I ventured back to where my passion was: in advertising. I wanted more; more responsibility, challenges, control, and accountability. Along came a publishing opportunity that ticked off all of those boxes.
Still in my twenties, I was offered a senior role with Auto Trader Magazines. It meant more responsibility, bigger challenges, and a higher degree of control and accountability. I jumped at the chance to “own” something, and that particular something was the launch of a magazine that’s now known as Auto Mart. I would have full autonomy to build the business from scratch, hiring every role required, building out the pricing model, marketing plan, editorial content, distribution channels and more. It was a dream come true, with one caveat: a cut in pay that represented half of what I’d been earning previously, with a large opportunity to earn 4 times my earnings, should I be successful in this new role. I took the risk, jumped in with both feet, and kicked off my publishing career.
While with Auto Trader, I had many different roles, including senior director, director of dealer services and group publisher. I launched numerous magazines, some of which are still in publication today. Walk along any street in Toronto, and you can still see the original yellow Auto Mart boxes, now reused by other titles. Auto Mart was launched in seven different markets across Ontario, reaching sales (at peak) of $21-million. It was a true success story.
While I was at Auto Trader, the digital world emerged. To me, it felt like a lion in a cage, desperately wanting to break out! I made it my goal to learn everything about this exciting new media (and revenue) opportunity. I was involved in every senior management meeting from the very beginning of autotrader.ca’s inception. I saw it grow from the early days when each webpage was a PDF with no functionality or search ability to where the website is today.
We were one of the first to adapt the print business to a digital platform, and in the process, successfully transferring print revenue to digital revenue without taking a huge bath along the way. It was a very exciting time in my career, and I was lucky to have been mentored by the best: John Francis, owner and president of Auto Trader. John inspired me to take strategic risks, innovate without fear of failure, and to work harder than I’ve ever worked, while still having fun. I live by those philosophies and I try to create that same culture today.
After Trader, I dabbled in a couple of other digital and print media ventures that came my way (4Rent.ca, CarandTruckClassified.ca, MediaClassified.ca), mainly on the consulting side, helping build business plans and successful launches. I owned the projects until stability was met within the business unit and then moved on to the next challenge.
Along this journey, I met an entrepreneur who owned (and was continuing to amass) local community newspapers. I started off as a consultant but he quickly recruited me as a full-time employee, overseeing 10 local community newspapers as publisher and VP of sales. It was an uphill battle. Each paper was a different size, with different rates, a different printer and inadequacies that proved detrimental to the success of the business. It was clear that change was needed, and over the next three years, we completely transformed those papers, launching automotive and real estate supplements, developing partnerships and synergies within the community and bringing the business to scale. We doubled overall sales within those three years, and with that mission accomplished, my work there was done. It was time to begin another chapter.
That chapter turned out to be a wonderful opportunity with Reader’s Digest, as publisher for Canada. The brand resonated with me, having vivid, fond memories of the magazine from my childhood. I knew that there would be challenges with the brand, as it’s a Canadian icon as a print magazine. How could we develop a digital strategy to reach a different audience while leveraging the brand’s unassailable reputation for truth and engaging storytelling?
We made significant changes to the brand websites and content deliverables to meet the needs of a younger demographic, while ensuring the quality of our content remained at Reader’s Digest’s legendary standards. We built a strong programmatic & Ad Ops team, and partnerships within this segment, that would deliver a revenue opportunity that was nonexistent in past years. We hired a new sales team that has proven to be passionate about their contribution and willing to share each other’s assets to bring in team wins. Last but not least, our marketing solutions team is the best I have ever worked with. Their creativity and innovative ideas have brought on new clients who had never imagined we have the capabilities to do the things that we do. It’s been a challenge, but we feel confident with where we are today and with what the future holds.
I feel fortunate and privileged to have worked with some of the best in the industry, to have had the opportunity to steer well-known brands and to have helped the underdog find success along the way. It’s been a great ride.
Karin Rossi is the publisher of Reader's Digest Brands, Canada