Spot.IM Contributor

Jul 17, 20183m read

“Partners, Not Vendors”: Inside Spot.IM’s Publisher-First Philosophy

By Derek Willie

“Partners, not vendors” isn’t the most catchy or aesthetically grabbing line to be printed on a laptop sticker. But despite its relatively bland prosody, Andrew Ahearn chooses to display the phrase daily on his Macbook, especially when meeting with potential partners. As one might have figured, “partners” is a keyword at Spot.IM, used to refer both to the company and the publishers we work with. Semantically, it’s designed to replace usual “SaaS” (Software as a Service) parlance with something that evokes a more personal relationship. Yet the word “partner” doesn’t just live in semantics; it also means working with publishers to develop a strategy that fits their individual needs.

“Every publisher is different, and has a unique user base,” Andrew tells me, providing a few scenarios to illustrate the amount of personalization that goes into each meeting between Spot.IM and publishers. “Take pharmaceutical companies, for example, who want community pages, but not comments’ sections. Or maybe local newscasters, who ask for email digests that they cater specifically to the communities they report on. Whatever the need is, we understand that publishers and users are never monolithic– and that the services we offer them shouldn’t be either.”

Beyond shaping a product that conforms to a publisher’s unique user base, the Spot.IM team works to address the company’s desires, needs and concerns at each level of business. Sometimes it’s a request from the editorial team to implement a better moderation system. Or maybe the revenue department is looking for a way to monetize their pages more effectively. Regardless, Andrew emphasizes, “we tailor our product to individual publishers, while always steering them towards a long-term goal.”

What allows Spot.IM and its partners to foster such a close– and personal– relationship? For Andrew, it has everything to do with communication. At Spot.IM, there’s no real “Sales” group– instead, the Publisher Development team (or Pub Dev, for short) is responsible for building relationships with publishers. Rather than making “one-off sales,” the Pub Dev and Account Management teams remain constantly “on call,” making any necessary tweaks and customizations. In order to maximize transparency between the company and each publisher, the Spot.IM team sets up a Slack group to manage individual partnerships, with key representatives from across the company taking an active role to participate in and monitor communications. COO Roee Goldberg reiterates the message of “partner, not vendor,” pointing to communication as the linchpin for any effective partnership.

“When communication is easy, it is possible to achieve a high engagement and transparency with our partners. Not only does [Slack] make our partners feel more comfortable, but it truly makes us feel that we are all working together to achieve the same goal– making our work all the more fulfilling.”

Naturally, close and fulfilling communication sets the conditions for a healthy relationship between Spot.IM and publishers– both in- and outside the workplace. Everyone on the Account Management team agrees that the work between the company and publishers looks a lot more like friendship than it does a more traditional, client-based model.

“There’s a big emphasis on being friends with our publishers,” says Sean Marchessault, who attests to grabbing coffee and drinks with the publishers he works with. “The point is to help them build their communities and to provide the necessary tools to help them engage users. That requires us to work as one team.”

Throughout the business, the notion of publisher-first partnerships serves as a guiding principle. And though the word “partner” might not have much semantic power, it resonates in every aspect of the relationship between Spot.IM and the publishers we serve. After all, it’s in coffee outings and happy hours where words like “partner” or “friend” truly come to life.

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