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Scott Omelianuk, Editor In Chief, Inc. To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “We Have This Audience That Still Sees Value In Print; Still Sees Value In Being On The Cover.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

March 30, 2021

“In general, we have an interesting audience in that they still value the print product. I mentioned Daymond John before. When I first started the job he called me and said he had a book coming out and asked if we would cover it. He’s been on our cover before; he’s spoken at our events. So I said certainly, we’ll look at it, but your publication date is March and our next issue that we could get it into wouldn’t be until May, so we’ll do something online. And he said no, he didn’t want that. It needed to be in print. And to me, I was like really? (Laughs) Why? And he said that anyone can stand up a website, not anyone can own a printing press. There’s value in that.” Scott Omelianuk…

“Unfortunately, as wonderful as the Internet is, in some respects it has cheapened and demeaned some things. And made us take them less seriously. That is still not the case for print.” Scott Omelianuk…

Scott Omelianuk spent almost a dozen years as editor of This Old House magazine and enjoyed a long history with the brand and its many platforms, developing his natural talent for multiplatform strategies and content. Today Scott continues his multiplatform expertise with the entrepreneurial business magazine and brand Inc.

I spoke with Scott recently and we talked about the mission of Inc. and the different roles of its many platforms. Supporting small business and growing companies, especially during a pandemic, is the number one goal for Inc., which has been the premiere voice of America’s entrepreneurs, owners and business builders via Inc.com, Inc. Magazine, the Inc. 5000, the Inc. Uncensored podcast and much more, since its founding in 1979. 

And talking to him about operating during a pandemic, which happened basically two weeks after he’d been hired as editor in chief, Scott said the first thing that needs to be realized is that all businesses are different and that he has absolutely no regrets. The pandemic has made it tough, but the brand has made it exciting and a remarkable opportunity for many reasons.

So please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief, Inc.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether he has any regrets about accepting his position as editor in chief of Inc. just two weeks before the pandemic hit: I have no regrets. It has been a remarkable opportunity, but it has been really difficult. One of the things that I was asked to do was to come in and energize the brand a little bit, which the brand had been described as a little rudderless and a little sleepy. I quickly learned, unlike my prior media jobs, how much harder that is to do when you haven’t had time to establish a rapport with people. 

On how he has taken his expertise for rebuilding and refurbishing homes from This Old House to his current business brand Inc.: I was always entrepreneurial, even in media traditionally. My success at This Old House in particular relied on a lot of first-to-market things that media brands didn’t do at the time and now are fairly common and I think the same is true for us here at Inc. At Inc. our brand purpose is supporting the American entrepreneur. And at one point that was a print magazine that just did stories, but the idea of supporting the American entrepreneur today can be so much broader than that.

On the role of each of Inc.’s platforms: First of all, you’re a father and grandfather, right? I would presume you love all of your children and grandchildren equally; so that’s the way I think about all of my platforms. I love them all equally. Sometimes some of them disappoint me more than other times; sometimes they surprise me and that’s wonderful.

On any future challenges he may face: I actually think a lot of our challenges are internal, not external. We’re hopeful that there’s a lot of pent-up demand that’s going to come and help us financially. We think that people are going to want to get back together face-to-face. We know this because we have conversations over Zoom with our audience all of the time. So we know they’re anxious to get back together. 

On the advice he would give small businesses when it comes to a balance between the pandemic, screen fatigue and returning in person: I think the first thing we have to realize is that all businesses are different. And that there are some businesses that remote work can make perfect sense for, and others it doesn’t. And I think that’s true of individuals as well. Some people perform better on their own and some need the office environment. I know I’ve been back to our office a handful of times to take some things or just to get out of the house and away from my family for a bit, who I love dearly, but enough is enough. (Laughs) And I find myself much more productive sitting at my desk in the office than I do sitting at my desk at home.

On how Inc. deals with diversity and equality: For us, we had always done quite a good job of covering a very diverse group of entrepreneurs. The traditional trope of an entrepreneur is a white guy who went to Stanford and launched a business with their college roommate. We try to be much broader than that and  far more inclusive. One thing we realized during the social protests this past summer was that as a staff we were not integrated at all. It was almost an entirely white staff. A gender split, fine, but largely white. And so we’ve made a significant effort since then to change that.

On what he thinks the role of print is in this digital age: The print business is a lot like the vinyl record business to some extent in that it had a moment and it was an incredibly powerful one, but the consumers’ tastes and advertisers’ interests have shifted somewhat. And like vinyl records, that doesn’t mean it has to go away, but it has a more particular audience now.

On what makes him tick and click: This morning I got up and I was excited about the emails I didn’t get to send yesterday because they represented opportunity. And for me the opportunity was I’m connecting with a man who owned a company called Big Ass Fans, which was an industrial fan company that he has sold, hundreds of millions of dollars, and now he’s an accelerator. And he’s a wonderful storyteller. I was excited about engaging him on the potential of hosting a podcast called Office Hours, where he would help entrepreneurs.

On how he unwinds in the evenings: I used to go to the gym every day, but I stopped doing that with the pandemic. So I actually installed one in my basement and I use that. And when I’m done with that, I do have a glass of wine or a cocktail and I’m right now embedded in the NCAA tournament. When that goes away, baseball season is around the corner. My son and I like to watch a lot of sports together. I also have to sit around and watch him play Fortnite because that’s a thing too in this house. (Laughs)

On what keeps him up at night: I worry about things that as an individual I have little control over, but as a society we could change. I do worry about the social inequality that we have; I worry about climate change. I actually worry about all of those geo-political things that I can’t do. I worry less about business, because I know we have an absolutely terrific mission and a very strong brand purpose and people who care about that. And as long as we deliver on that mission, we’ll be successful.

And now the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief, Inc.

Samir Husni: After you took an oath that you wouldn’t come back to the media world after more than a decade at This Old House, you just celebrated your first anniversary at Inc. And two weeks after you took the job the pandemic happened. Any regrets?

Scott Omelianuk: First, I don’t think those two things were related; they were coincidental. I have no regrets. It has been a remarkable opportunity, but it has been really difficult. One of the things that I was asked to do was to come in and energize the brand a little bit, which the brand had been described as a little rudderless and a little sleepy. 

I quickly learned, unlike my prior media jobs, how much harder that is to do when you haven’t had time to establish a rapport with people. A physical rapport that’s in the same place, so they know that once you have a difficult conversation on Zoom, you don’t turn off the machine and grow horns. (Laughs) In the office they see you and you can have a difficult conversation, interact later in the day, and understand that you’re both two people who ultimately want the same thing, but just have different ideas about how to get there. 

That has been, I wouldn’t say a regret at all, but a remarkable challenge. And I think that we’ve worked through a lot of it, but it wasn’t easy.

Samir Husni: With This Old House, you were an expert in rebuilding and refurbishing homes. Now with Inc., which is a magazine for growing companies, how do you apply your talents for rebuilding something toward one of the worst economic crises we’ve ever had, the pandemic, in terms of small businesses closing and vanishing?

Scott Omelianuk: It hasn’t been easy for our audience. There are some interesting things for me, parallels actually between these two brands. One is that when I ran This Old House we had this audience that maybe grew up watching the television show with their parents and then they were watching it with their children. There was this enormous reservoir of trust and goodwill for the brand that made the audience part of the brand, made them our marketers, not just consumers. 

And I found that the same thing is true of Inc. We have people like Daymond John, Mark Cuban, Keith Ferrazzi, and Seth Godin, who are all famous marketers, and who believe that Inc. was responsible for their own success as entrepreneurs or marketers and educators. They feel the same way about Inc. as This Old House’s audience felt about it, and they’re willing to do anything for the brand. So having that as a secret weapon is really useful. 

And it’s one of the reasons I was interested in the job because as you know as a professor, having a passionate audience to connect with is incredibly rewarding and really useful. 

I was always entrepreneurial, even in media traditionally. My success at This Old House in particular relied on a lot of first-to-market things that media brands didn’t do at the time and now are fairly common and I think the same is true for us here at Inc. At This Old House we realized that our brand purpose wasn’t about remodeling, it was actually about making a safe home for your family. And when you recognize that, suddenly a whole other world of opportunity opens up to you. 

At Inc. our brand purpose is supporting the American entrepreneur. And at one point that was a print magazine that just did stories, but the idea of supporting the American entrepreneur today can be so much broader than that. So I feel like, in this pandemic in particular, we have the opportunity certainly to bring attention to people who were struggling. We were able to give away free advertising to businesses, because we didn’t have any of our own, by the way, it had dried up. (Laughs) 

So we were able to give it to small businesses and we were able to help educate them in ways of the PPP by doing partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce and things like that. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s just the start of it. We have a lot more work to do in that, which might include things that aren’t traditionally considered journalistic at all, like data products that come from our intimate knowledge of the businesses that we speak to. Or advocacy on behalf of small businesses. 

I interviewed Senator Amy Klobuchar recently who is on the Senate Commerce Committee and the Antitrust Sub-Committee. And Big Tech puts a big squeeze on small business. I can see us engaged in conversation on an ongoing basis because of that. So you look for your opportunities.

And we learned a lot from our consumer too; really smart entrepreneurs. They have an idea and then they know how to get things done. They know how to find a way forward even when people tell them no. And they know how to pivot when they hit an obstruction. So we have lots of people in our audience who have actually had successful years because they found a different way of connecting with their own audience and that’s what we’ve tried to do as well.

Samir Husni: You’ve been using multiplatform way before anyone else thought about using it. With This Old House, there was the television show and the magazine, so you know about working within a multiplatform brand. Now with Inc. as you mentioned, there are a lot of big-named marketers who credit Inc. with their success. How are you implementing this platform agnostic Inc. brand? Because even during the pandemic, last year you redesigned the print product; you expanded the events segment of the brand. Tell me more about the role of each of the platforms.

Scott Omelianuk: Sure. First of all, you’re a father and grandfather, right? I would presume you love all of your children and grandchildren equally; so that’s the way I think about all of my platforms. I love them all equally. Sometimes some of them disappoint me more than other times; sometimes they surprise me and that’s wonderful. 

I think about it in a very agnostic way. And that is how do we reach the consumer where they are now? Not in a way that’s going to cripple our business, I’m not going to move Inc. entirely onto the Clubhouse platform, which is a very popular and hot place to be and has no monetization. We’ve been down that road before and lost with Facebook and lots of other places. But I do think it’s incumbent upon us to take advantage of those opportunities and help use that to drive people back to us. 

So in general, we have an interesting audience in that they still value the print product. I mentioned Daymond John before. When I first started the job he called me and said he had a book coming out and asked if we would cover it. He’s been on our cover before; he’s spoken at our events. So I said certainly, we’ll look at it, but your publication date is March and our next issue that we could get it into wouldn’t be until May, so we’ll do something online. And he said no, he didn’t want that. It needed to be in print. And to me, I was like really? (Laughs) Why? And he said that anyone can stand up a website, not anyone can own a printing press. There’s value in that. 

So we have this audience that still sees value in print; still sees value in being on the cover. We have advertisers who aren’t as enthusiastic about that, but we have other homes for them. We see the magazine still as a bit of a loss-leading luxury object, not that it’s a loss-leader per se, but it’s not a gross business. And yet it still has tremendous value. 

And we think that way about each platform. What is the opportunity; who do we reach; what is the ultimate ROI when we get passed an initial growth stage? And that’s true of the website; true for the communities we’re building out, that are paid to enter communities for entrepreneurs where they can interact with each other; true for podcasts and video. We’re building a marketplace right now and we’ll see if it’s successful or not.

I know one of the things that would help support American entrepreneurs is having some sort of rating system and access to the right kind of sass products, the right kind of tools that they need to be successful. So if we were to wade into that world and help them in that way, that’s an opportunity for us. 

So I think it’s journalistic and still caring about who you’re talking to and still trying to deliver them value. It’s just not always in a story. There are other ways to do it. Or that story may take many different forms.

Samir Husni: As we are hopefully coming out from this pandemic, what do you think will be the biggest challenge you’ll face and what are your plans to overcome that challenge?

Scott Omelianuk: I actually think a lot of our challenges are internal, not external. We’re hopeful that there’s a lot of pent-up demand that’s going to come and help us financially. We think that people are going to want to get back together face-to-face. We know this because we have conversations over Zoom with our audience all of the time. So we know they’re anxious to get back together.

I think internally the challenge might be a little more difficult. People have been running; we’ve turned it up to 11 to survive this last year. Not even to survive, but to thrive. And also take care of our consumer; to serve them. I have a staff in which I find it absolutely critical for some people to be in the office, who might not want to return to the office and what do we do about that. 

I spoke to a class of EMBA’s recently, largely from Pfizer, so I think they might be doing well enough with their vaccine sales to have sent everybody back to school. But I said, I’m not sure why you’re getting your MBA, you should be getting your social worker’s degree right now because that is part of the challenge of leaders in media and also leaders in any business where the human resources’ component has changed from less resource to more human. 

And we have to pay much more attention to what folks are going through outside of the office and outside of our traditional interactions. It has changed the dynamic because people have questioned a lot of the old ways of doing things. And the value of spending time at work even.

Samir Husni: What advice would you give small businesses that have been operating virtually when it comes to a balance between the pandemic, screen fatigue, and coming back in person?

Scott Omelianuk: I think the first thing we have to realize is that all businesses are different. And that there are some businesses that remote work can make perfect sense for, and others it doesn’t. And I think that’s true of individuals as well. Some people perform better on their own and some need the office environment. I know I’ve been back to our office a handful of times to take some things or just to get out of the house and away from my family for a bit, who I love dearly, but enough is enough. (Laughs) And I find myself much more productive sitting at my desk in the office than I do sitting at my desk at home. 

Anyone who makes a blanket prediction about how work will change; about how the workforce will change; about what people expect and what managers have to deliver, they’re snake oil salesmen basically. This is a thing that we are going to have to figure out overtime. 

I do know that one thing that seems clear is that having the understanding as a small business owner that there are going to be people, at least in the short term, who feel safer at home than they do in the office. For whatever reason, it doesn’t matter. The fact that they do is important. Or who may have childcare issues that they haven’t resolved yet because school might be interrupted or their daycare person might not be available anymore. 

All of these things require an enormous amount of flexibility on the part of business owners. And also being flexible will help them enormously with their workforce. Being non-transactional with their consumer and treating their consumer just as I’m suggesting they treat their workforce as humans not just cash registers will go a long way as well. We’ve seen that time and again. 

There’s someone who made the Inc. 5,000 this year, which is the list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies, and he made the list by giving away entirely his services for the first handful of months during the pandemic, because no one could afford what he did. As people started to recalibrate their business models and could afford it, they gave the gratitude and the payback was manifold what it cost him to begin with. So I think that’s a really important thing, understanding us as non-transactional in all sorts of respects. In every engagement we have with each other, I think it’s important. 

Samir Husni: As we move into 2021 and reflect upon 2020, we had more issues than just the pandemic. We had social unrest, social injustices, equality and diversity; how are you dealing with that at Inc.?

Scott Omelianuk: For us, we had always done quite a good job of covering a very diverse group of entrepreneurs. The traditional trope of an entrepreneur is a white guy who went to Stanford and launched a business with their college roommate. We try to be much broader than that and  far more inclusive. 

One thing we realized during the social protests this past summer was that as a staff we were not integrated at all. It was almost an entirely white staff. A gender split, fine, but largely white. And so we’ve made a significant effort since then to change that. I’ve learned this from prior roles and prior bosses, a diverse workforce is able to more authentically create a diverse product and form of communication. And that ultimately leads to a better business result. So not only is there a social obligation I feel to do that, there’s the bonus of a good business obligation. And that’s an important thing. 

We and the management team at our sister company Fast Company made a vow that we would not lay anyone off during the pandemic, that it would be a cruel thing to do, particularly here in the United States where your healthcare relies on your employment. 

Samir Husni: In your opinion, what’s the role of print in this digital age?

Scott Omelianuk: The print business is a lot like the vinyl record business to some extent in that it had a moment and it was an incredibly powerful one, but the consumers’ tastes and advertisers’ interests have shifted somewhat. And like vinyl records, that doesn’t mean it has to go away, but it has a more particular audience now. 

It can also have a lot more power in that particular audience. We can think about how a print product is structured and used differently than it traditionally has been. We can think about new business models for a print product. And we can think about the reduced number of print products, not only with our own world and fewer copies of Inc., but fewer magazines altogether and harder to get to because the newsstands don’t really exist in the way they did.

We can see value in that scarcity. Not that magazines are Bitcoin, but Bitcoin has its speculative value because of scarcity. The print product has value because of scarcity too. In the case of Inc. anyway, there is still a recognition factor for the people who are part of our consumer base. It’s important to them to be seen in print.

We also have a set of recognition programs like Inc. 5,000, Best in Business, which recognizes not growth in finances, but what social impact you’ve had. Those programs are much more successful with a print component to them because people value them more.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the Internet is, in some respects it has cheapened and demeaned some things. And made us take them less seriously. That is still not the case for print.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Scott Omelianuk: This morning I got up and I was excited about the emails I didn’t get to send yesterday because they represented opportunity. And for me the opportunity was I’m connecting with a man who owned a company called Big Ass Fans, which was an industrial fan company that he has sold, hundreds of millions of dollars, and now he’s an accelerator. And he’s a wonderful storyteller. I was excited about engaging him on the potential of hosting a podcast called Office Hours, where he would help entrepreneurs. 

I interviewed Amy Klobuchar recently as I mentioned, and I’m excited to pick up the dialogue with her policy people again. There’s something interesting about the idea of when we’re in a moment like this where everything seems so fragile and things are actually destroyed, there’s also a moment where there’s infinite possibilities. Anything is possible right now because so many things that we’ve done before haven’t worked. And so it’s thinking about what those are and my excitement in talking to my staff about what else can we do. 

On the list of things that I posted on LinkedIn that we’ve done in the last year, what are the next 12 things that we’re going to do that are going to be just as interesting and just as useful?

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Scott Omelianuk: I used to go to the gym every day, but I stopped doing that with the pandemic. So I actually installed one in my basement and I use that. And when I’m done with that, I do have a glass of wine or a cocktail and I’m right now embedded in the NCAA tournament. When that goes away, baseball season is around the corner. My son and I like to watch a lot of sports together. I also have to sit around and watch him play Fortnite because that’s a thing too in this house. (Laughs) 

That’s basically my life. I look forward to going back to the office and going out and meeting people after work and continuing these fascinating conversations that sometimes we’re able to have via Zoom, but are far too rare in the appointment era that we live in right now. So I’m looking forward to just randomly meeting for a cocktail somewhere with someone.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Scott Omelianuk: I worry about things that as an individual I have little control over, but as a society we could change. I do worry about the social inequality that we have; I worry about climate change. I actually worry about all of those geo-political things that I can’t do. I worry less about business, because I know we have an absolutely terrific mission and a very strong brand purpose and people who care about that. And as long as we deliver on that mission, we’ll be successful.

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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