5 questions: Dan Levy of Sparksheet

November 26, 2010

At this year’s Canadian Online Publishing Awards, I overheard “who’s Sparksheet?” several times as they proceeded to take home four COPAs, including best online-only website in the B to B division. Turns out they’re an engaging and well-designed website covering “good ideas about content, media & marketing” that I linked to several months ago (oh, my aging memory). I asked editor Dan Levy to tell us more about the site.

Tell me about your site.

Sparksheet is Spafax’s online media and marketing magazine. We launched about a year and a half ago and our mission is to cover the ongoing convergence of content, media and marketing in the online space.

I think we’re living in a world where media outlets are becoming more like brands and brands are becoming more like publishers. I mean, the New Yorker has a pet photo contest and the biggest viral YouTube sensation of the year – Double Rainbow notwithstanding– was an Old Spice campaign!

So we’re trying to help media and marketing professionals make sense of these changes and also spark some new ideas for how brands can tell their stories and engage people in a more human and compelling way. We’re particularly interested in stories that revolve around what we call the consumer in transit, the moving target. So you’ll see lots of stuff about travel and mobile apps and the media that we consume when we’re
on the go.

Unlike other Spafax publications, we’re not published on behalf of a client and we don’t have any advertising on the site. So we’re committed to being an independent, transparent and forward-thinking industry magazine. There seems to be a lot of chest-thumping going on in the agency world so rather than launch a typical corporate blog, we felt it was high time to create some real conversation among media and marketing professionals.

What’s your average traffic, and what part of your site is the most popular?

Since we don’t have advertising on our site, traffic isn’t something we worry too much about. Besides, lots of our readers access our content through our monthly e-newsletter and our mobile app, both of which won COPAs this fall and neither of which is reflected in our traffic numbers.

As an agency-to-agency publication, we’re really concerned with quality over quantity – both in terms of our content and our audience. Our newsletter goes out to travel and entertainment industry clients, to select advertising executives, to publishers and content creators, and to new media thought leaders the world over. Those are the people we’re trying to reach. Of course, if my cousin’s boyfriend stumbles upon the site
through Google or a link on Facebook, then that’s great too.

As for our most popular content, I’d say our Q&As seem to connect on a regular basis. For example, the COPA we won for Best Article or series was for our interview with Blake Eskin, The New Yorker’s online editor. That’s a notoriously conservative and tight-lipped organization and he really opened up about how the magazine is still trying to figure out how to embrace new media without jeopardizing its brand.

We’ve also had some great, candid conversations with big names like Seth Godin, Roger Ebert and Bob Garfield.

What feature of your site are you proudest of and why?

We have this ongoing feature called “Engagement Checkup” where we look at how businesses are using social media to interact with customers in a more human and helpful way.

Last year, we were one of the first sites to really delve into the whole “airlines on Twitter” phenomenon and kept close tabs on how they handled the ash cloud debacle. We’re also lucky enough to have contributors in Brazil and China who keep us informed on what’s going on in those rapidly emerging economies. We’re proud Canadians, but our outlook is truly international.

In the end, it’s always the posts and ideas that readers can pluck out and apply to their own businesses that I’m most proud of.

You suddenly have an unlimited budget. What’s the first thing you spend it on?

Staff! Right now, I’m the only one working on Sparksheet full time. We have a really talented Web Director who works on lots of other Spafax projects as well, and we have a part-time community manager who takes care of our Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages. But as far as content is concerned, it’s pretty much me and our trusty roster of freelance contributors.

Right now, we’re putting out two to three articles a week, but eventually we’d love to update the site every day. To get there, we’d really need more hands on deck.

What websites and social media tools can’t you live without?

When it comes to spreading our content, engaging with our audience and connecting with potential contributors and other interesting people, Twitter has truly been indispensable. I can’t tell you how many great friendships and collaborations have come out it.

LinkedIn has also been very good to us when it comes to meeting people and having really targeted, in-depth conversations. We also use Delicious for sharing and compiling links for our Best of the Web roundups, and we’re just getting into YouTube with our SparksheetTV platform, which we plan to expand in the coming months.

There are so many great websites that we read every day. It’s impossible to name them all, but we really like RunwayGirl and The Cranky Flier for airline stuff, NewTeeVee and Televisual for branded entertainment and television content, and sites like MediaPost, Nieman Lab and, of course, Masthead to stay tuned to the ongoing media revolution.

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