How to Build a Publishing Dream Team

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Four media executives share advice on hiring and employee retention in today’s cut-throat job market

In media, there are lots of question marks: What’s the next big platform? Should we go fully digital, and stop printing our publication entirely? Is programmatic advertising right for us? One thing’s for certain: No one will get ahead by following the rules, perhaps especially when it comes to hiring.

Such was the center of discussion during this year’s Folio Show session on “How to Build a Publishing Dream Team.”

During the panel, our CEO, Haj Carr, huddled with three other publishing execs—Gabrielle Korn, editor-in-chief of Nylon; Constance Sayers, president of Government Executive Media Group; and Jeffery Litvack, CEO of Adweek. They developed the following tips.

Cherish Culture

Take your time to find employees who are the right fit, especially when you’re a small company. Why? Well, when a new hire is not aligned with the values and approach of the company, he or she can become a distraction.

This can be hard advice to follow when you’re in a hurry to fill a position, but hiring the wrong person can cause more problems than you had before. Be honest about who you are as a company and about what type of people succeed, and don’t succeed, in your organization.

This also applies to your staff. If someone isn’t working, either find a way to fix it or part ways—there’s nothing more debilitating than a toxic team member.

And get creative with your vetting. As Gabrielle Korn shared: “Before I even interview someone I stalk them on social. I want to see how they define their own brand publicly—are they interested in engaging in a larger communal conversation or are they simply publishers? It’s a look into their lives you won’t get in a meeting room.”

Promote from Within

Your team is there for a reason, so look to those who crave growth and have the skills to serve it up—even if they aren’t quite ready for it. Your team will appreciate your belief in them and you’ll be surprised what can happen with a little nudge.

“When it comes time to fill a seat, don’t overlook your own people. Promote from within. Showing that you care and see potential in your staff builds loyalty.” – Constance Sayers

Provide Incentives

Support staff members with authentic buy-ins. Incentives could can be offered when goals are met or on a rolling basis. Here are some ideas:

  • Revenue sharing / profit sharing
  • Bonuses
  • Phantom stocks
  • Team parties and outings (wine tastings, happy hours, go-karting, trivia nights, etc.)
  • Work anniversary recognition
  • Birthday celebrations
  • Public recognition of goals reached

As Jeffery Litvack said: “Nearly 50% of work professionals worldwide believe that work friends are important to their overall happiness, and employers can use that to their advantage. While not every company can provide financial incentives, creating an environment where people feel wanted, appreciated and cared for is essential to hiring and retaining top talent. Plus, it’s fun!”

Show Appreciation

Every team has members who keep the gears turning. As a business leader, you need to hold those people near and dear. Value their contributions and potential, and reaffirm that they’re integral. If they were to leave, the organization would feel the hit. Much like in personal relationships, communication is essential.

“Company culture is defined by the people, and it starts at the top! Executive teams must communicate and work together towards a common goal—creating a culture of innovation and change.” – Haj Carr

Measure Results

In media, it’s hard to measure success. Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) takes the subjectivity out of the conversation, and allows both managers and their teams to understand their roles and what goals they are working towards.

As Constance Sayers shared: “I have 15 people that report directly to me, so having a KPI for each team member allows me to see where they are at and accurately evaluate our position. Sometimes we adjust the KPI, but that’s ok as long as we both understand the goal.”

Know What you Need

Writers need to be adept at writing. Designers need to be designers. Sales people need to sell. And yet, it helps immensely for all employees to have a baseline of skill, if you want to innovate in this hypercompetitive space.

Seek self-starters, as well as people who see obstacles as opportunities, not challenges. Look for entrepreneurs, and value individuals who are willing to learn and who will ask for help.

As our CEO said: “When hiring, I spend most of the interview time talking about the applicant’s hobbies and passions. What do they like to do? What would they be doing if they were financially independent? I’m looking for people who are driven, who want to win and will work their tails off to succeed. I’d take a national ping-pong champion with little applicable experience over someone with all the technical skills and no drive.”

Looking for more advice on how to build your team? We’re here to help! Contact us today at