I learned this lesson while I was at Reader’s Digest many years ago. We were building the Reader’s Digest web business called “Reader’s Digest World,” which included content from the book division, the magazine and the search engine LookSmart (remember that!). The site looks a lot different now.
I was the lead editor responsible for bringing the US edition of the magazine online. Jack Smith, now the CMO at Medco Health, was in charge of the newly created TV and New Media Department and had ultimate oversight over RDWorld.
There were a lot of moving parts in this venture and most of us were just figuring it out as we went along. But I was having a tough time getting Jack’s approval on some original content for the magazine, specifically a monthly column by the movie critic Michael Medved. Days, weeks went by and I just couldn’t get on Jack’s calendar.
So I went ahead and negotiated a rate with Medved, with the total proposal coming in at upwards of $75,000 per year. I had a feeling that Jack wouldn’t go for it.
Nonetheless, I shot the details to him in an email. Mere minutes later—and I mean maybe 5 minutes—Jack walked down to my office and asked, “David, do you have a few minutes?”
The thing is...Asking for that money was my way of communicating that I was a serious person and I had serious ideas. I meant business.
During that meeting, Jack and I went over the content strategy for the magazine and how I planned to keep the site fresh over the course of the next year. Medved was out, but a lot of other stuff was in.
Jack listened and treated me with respect. He took my ideas and me seriously.
You can work in a place for a very long time before anyone notices. Try to spend someone’s money, though, and your phone will ring.
Thanks for the lesson Jack.