SIPA Member Profile: Krehbiel Is True Man of ‘Letters’

Greg Krehbiel, Director of Marketing Operations, The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Washington, D.C.

SIPA: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
KREHBIEL: In college I had my own business collecting information on natural gas pipeline rates. I sold that information to a couple different clients, and that turned into my first serious job out of college—as a junior editor at Thompson Publishing Group, working on their natural gas publications. I’ve always found it amusing that I got a job as an editor. I have a science degree. When I graduated college I couldn’t type or even spell very well. I spent my lunch breaks trying to catch up with a typing tutor program, and I kept Strunk and White [“The Elements of Style”] and the dictionary at my elbow. I’ve never taken a journalism class.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
During the dot-com boom, Richard Thompson tried a few internet ventures, and I moved from a comfy and stable position on the print side of things to senior editor of Thompson’s online efforts. That was the right decision because I got to take advantage of my technical background and knack for problem-solving. Eventually I was in charge of Thompson’s web publishing efforts, and that was tremendous fun.

In brief, describe your business/company?
Kiplinger is a revered name in the publishing world and continues to publish the longest lasting newsletter in print—The Kiplinger Letter, which is a business forecasting weekly. The company provides practical advice for businesses and consumers.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
* Focus on the thing that needs to be done now. The worst enemy of what has to get done is the hundred things that don’t really matter.
* Think of the solution nobody else has considered.
* Try to get along with people. Everybody’s a jerk some time. Get over it.

What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
Aside from surviving a lousy economy, I’d say continuing to make a living on a weekly letter that’s … honestly … kinda hard to pigeon hole. It’s not about any particular topic. It’s “what you need to know.” That’s such a large and somewhat vague concept that it’s hard to make a simple case for why customers need it. But they do. Our subscribers love us.

Do you see a trend or path in 2010 that you have to lock onto for 2011?
Actually, I’m going to be a contrarian and say it’s dangerous to pay too much attention to trends. For years and years we’ve heard that print is dead and everybody’s going to be online. Baloney. Now it’s social media this and mobile that. Yes, but don’t let it distract you from your core business. Publishers should focus on meeting their subscribers’ needs—giving them information that makes their life easier. If you do that, you can print it on paper towels.

What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
It’s very nice to have a community of people that is focused on similar issues and willing to share what they know. If you need an idea or aren’t sure how to approach some issue, SIPA members are happy to help. The main benefit for me personally is the occasional reminder of something that I’ve forgotten to emphasize. “Oh yeah, I really ought to be doing that.”

Where did you grow up?
New Carrollton, Md. My dad was a NASA engineer, and my family emphasized science quite a lot. For my 12th birthday, I asked to go to a Louis Leakey foundation meeting and got a plaster cast of a Neanderthal skull. I went to a science and tech high school in Greenbelt, Md.

What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
I studied geology at the University of Maryland. I paid the rent and collected my beer money by summarizing natural gas information for a few clients. That gave me a bit of an entrepreneurial focus and taught me that you can make money doing all kinds of weird things.

Are you married? Do you have children?
Married for 24 years. Five kids: two boys and three girls.

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
Fishing and home brewing. My dad used to take me fishing, and I love being out on the Chesapeake. I got into homebrewing back when beer selection was pretty poor. People don’t realize how good they have it today. This is probably the best time in the history of the world to be a beer drinker!

Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
I’m fascinated by books about how the brain works, and ways we can use it to our advantage. Titles might include “Yes!” “Nudge,” “The Science of Influence.” That sort of thing. One thing I read recently that I found interesting: If you’re working on a hard problem, sometimes the best thing to do is consider the problem carefully for a while, then go and play Sudoku for 20 minutes, then come back to the problem. That way your subconscious mind—which is the quiet, smart guy who sits in the corner and watches everything—gets to work on the problem while your conscious mind—the loud and obnoxious guy who talks more than he thinks—is distracted.

Comments:
If I were to add a question and an answer, it would be this:
How would you advise a specialized publisher for 2011?
Aside from sticking to your knitting and getting fundamentals right, the most obvious thing is changes in the way people read. Mobile devices and e-Readers should be addressed. In addition to that, I would love to see full-scale adoption of what we already know. Any SIPA member—including Kiplinger–could make a list of five dumb things they’re doing now, that they know they shouldn’t be doing, but that they continue to do for some bad reason. It’s time to stop.
There are lots of emerging opportunities. There’s simply too much information out there, so it’s never been more necessary to cut through the clutter and deliver information people need. That’s what specialized publishing is all about—carving out niches. So I would say publishers should try even harder to get ultra-specific, add genuine value and charge a fair rate for that service.
There’s also a lot to be done with user-generated content. That seems like the big prize. Somebody needs to figure out the right way to monetize user-generated content so it’s fair for the content creator, useful for the subscriber and profitable for the publisher.

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