SIPA Member Profile: Ossoff’s Career Took Off Quickly

Richard Ossoff, President & CEO, Strafford Publications, Inc., Atlanta

SIPA: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
RICHARD: My first job was with the now defunct Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal anti-poverty agency. I worked in the Addiction Services Division, part of the agency’s extensive health program. After just three months as a federal employee, at the age of 22, I was responsible for 14 heroin-addiction treatment programs around the country. It was perhaps a startling public administration decision by our national government but an extraordinary experience on many levels. I had a long-standing interest in the publishing industry and, after leaving McKinsey & Company to try my hand at entrepreneurship, Strafford was the second business I formed and operated in parallel with the first.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
There have been several but the one most relevant to Strafford was my realization after some years with McKinsey that, while I enjoyed consulting tremendously, I really wanted to start my own business.

In brief, describe your business/company.
Strafford began as a traditional newsletter publishing company and over the years specialized mainly in the legal and accounting markets. In 2006, we committed to a fundamental strategy change calling for a gradual exit from the traditional publishing business and entry into teleconference-based (now webinar-based) continuing education programming for lawyers, accountants and tax executives. While we still publish 17 newsletters, this year we’ll conduct nearly 500 webinars.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
– Without question, finding and retaining outstanding staff is utterly crucial to success;
– Second, in a small business environment, conservative financial management assures you’ll have a chance to fight another day when something hasn’t worked as planned;
– Next, and this is not original (I saw it on a billboard): “Hope is not a strategy.” While it is important to be opportunistic, formulating a sound and disciplined plan radically improves the prospects of success.
– Finally, nothing matters if execution isn’t superior. The best plan, the deepest resources and the most talented staff all mean nothing without an unyielding commitment to disciplined execution.

What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
Today, Strafford is predominantly a webinar company, and email is the core marketing channel. Making email work and making it work better and better over time is central to our ability to continue to grow and prosper. We’re devoting tremendous energy and resources to intensively granular analysis and management of our email marketing, and to building automated tools to utilize the output of that analysis in support of our growth. The investment has been significant but so has the ROI.

Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto as we look to 2012?
We need to be incredibly protective of the email channel. It is not, as too many think, an inexpensive marketing vehicle. Actual transmission of email is inexpensive, but doing so in a way that damages its impact and sustainability is incredibly costly.

What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
SIPA has been a great resource throughout the development of the company. In addition to some great programming, the network it offers is invaluable. And SIPA’s hallmark tradition of information sharing is a unique benefit.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New England, briefly in Durham, N.H., but mostly on the North Shore of Massachusetts, just north of Boston.

What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
I got my undergraduate degree, a B.A. in government, from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and MBA at the Harvard Business School. One moment does stand out. It derived from a conversation with a professor I’d gotten to know very well who persuaded me, during the first semester of my junior year, that my total focus on flying airplanes (and working full-time to raise money to continue accumulating ratings), combined with being on academic probation with a 0.75 cumulative average, was probably not the best path to be following. He was right, and I changed course.

Are you married? Do you have children?
I am married to Heather and we have one son, Jonathan, who works on Capitol Hill [in Washington, D.C.].

What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
I have several hobbies. I can’t pick one favorite but, on reflection (and I didn’t anticipate this questionnaire would prompt reflection), perhaps a consistent theme among them is that each demands commitment and each entails risk which can be mitigated by preparation or training. I got my private pilot’s license during my freshman year in college and my commercial license the next year and have been flying now for (inconceivable though it is) 44 years. In the last six or seven years, I’ve developed a deep interest in offshore boating and in the last several years we’ve cruised our trawler from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to the Exumas and back to Maine (where I’m writing this). Two other long-standing and continuing interests are backpacking and SCUBA diving.

Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
Last night I finished the updated 2nd edition (2011) of “Rogue Bookseller” by Andy Laties (my cousin). It’s an interesting commentary on the role of the community bookstore, what it means to be an independent bookseller and what it takes to try to survive as an independent in the era of Amazon and the now-fading era of Barnes & Noble and the late Borders.

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Take advantage of what Richard calls
“SIPA’s hallmark tradition of information sharing”
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SIPA’s 28th Annual Marketing Conference
Wednesday-Friday, December 7-9, 2011
Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida
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Unbelievable SIPA room price of $199
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