SIPA Member Profile: Jefferson’s ‘Family’ Branches Out

Donna Jefferson, Publisher, Jefferson Communications, Annapolis, Md.

SIPA: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
JEFFERSON: My first job out of college was working as a junior accountant for a CPA firm. During tax season we were expected to bill a minimum of 60 hours per week which meant that for days at a time, I didn’t get to see my baby while she was awake. I jumped at the opportunity to join the accounting department at the local newspaper. I was responsible for producing all of the financial statements. The CFO was great and taught me about the newspaper business although as my mom says, ink runs in my blood—my grandparents owned a weekly newspaper in Burgaw, N.C. I started “Chesapeake Family” on a dare from my husband. I was lamenting the lack of local parenting information in the Annapolis area, and my husband challenged me to do something about it. Starting a parenting publication combined my love of newspapers and children with my business experience. At the beginning I made a lot of mistakes on the publication end of things.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
I’ve been fortunate: the very first issue I published made enough money to pay the expenses. In fact I had three advertisers pay me for a year in advance without even seeing the publication. Plus, I was passionate about what I was doing.

In brief, describe your business/company?
Jefferson Communications is a multimedia company with a monthly publication, 4 annuals, three websites, multiple enewsletters and events. We focus on providing the parents of children from birth through high school age with quality, local information to help them raise their families. We also build websites for other publishers as well as for businesses.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
– Try to stay ahead of the curve while still being the best at what you currently do.
– Don’t be afraid to take a risk or make a mistake.
– Hire the best people you can afford.
– Be nice.

What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
For the past two years we have been learning how to build and manage our own websites and integrate them with our print products and events. Our print revenue has remained strong while online revenue has grown to add an additional 12-15% to revenue. Also, we have the freedom and capability to implement the programs we manage to dream up—and we have a very creative team.

Do you see a trend or path in 2010 that you have to lock onto for 2011?
We’ll keep working on our online and mobile presence but at the same time segment our print product offering specialized annual products.

What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
The first time I went to the SIPA conference I thought my head would explode with all the new information I was learning. It is refreshing to hear businesses share the results of their tested ideas. You never know when you might learn a little nugget of very important information that you picked up while eating lunch with a fellow SIPA member. Even though we don’t sell subscriptions, we have been able to translate some of the subscription renewal ideas we’ve learned at SIPA into a model that we use to get our advertisers to renew their annual ad agreements. The first year we tried this approach the revenue for the same advertisers, year over year, went up 28%.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in southern Maryland on a farm about 20 miles south of Annapolis and less than an hour east of Washington, D.C. It was a great place to grow up with lots of room for horseback and bike riding but a short trip into the city where we visited the museums and went to concerts and the theater.

What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
I graduated from University of North Carolina – Wilmington with a BS in accounting. I’ll never forget a professor telling me that you can make money doing anything as long as you run the numbers first. He may be right but I’d much rather do something I love versus just being in it to make money.

Are you married? Do you have children?
I’ve been married for 34 years and have two children. My daughter just finished her master’s degree in Environmental Science, and my son is a sophomore at College of Charleston trying to figure out what he wants to do.

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
I’ve always been happiest outside, and I enjoy hiking, kayaking, skiing and beachcombing. Right now I’m working with several nonprofit groups trying to make sure that kids are active outside and learn about the environment they live in so that they will take care of the natural resources that we all share.

Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
I recently read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. It’s written from a dog’s point of view and even though that sounds silly, turns out he was a very wise old dog.

Additional comments?
Thanks to SIPA for inviting me to participate in the profile. I can say without a doubt that my company has benefitted from SIPA membership by taking advantage of learning opportunities which subsequently helped us redefine and grow the business in a very competitive and hectic environment.

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