Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Politico’s managing editor, Bill Nichols, over a dinner hosted by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. (I was there to teach local and state school choice advocates how to develop nonprofit marketing strategies.)

Bill gave a fascinating presentation about the start-up of Politico, emphasizing many of the qualities that have turned it into one of the most popular and influential sources of national political news in just a couple of years.

Though the scale is obviously different, I see many parallels between Politico’s model and what I advocate that nonprofits do: become your own media mogul (or mini media mogul).

Define your niche. Decide what you want to be known for and good at. Politico focuses on Congress, lobbying, and the White House. They don’t cover state or local news or anything else happening in DC. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Be selective.

Hire and mentor smart people. Politico was launched by a handful of veterans who had been covering the national political scene for decades and were already very well-respected. But they also hired some great young journalists. The energy and Web 2.0 smarts of the younger staff combined with the savvy and experience of the  veterans creates a powerful team.  Never underestimate the value of your really good and really smart staff members, no matter how young or old they are.

Be transparent. Politico wants to be a trusted, non-partisan source of national political news, which strangely enough is no longer assumed for a media outlet. That means they need to be super-transparent, especially when they make mistakes. Bill described the day they had to retract a story as one of the worst of his life, but admitting the errors and being completely honest about how they happened was far more important than saving face. In today’s world, being transparent IS saving face. Hold integrity and truth in the highest esteem, and admit right away when you screw up.

Be willing to experiment. Politico’s website is its hub, but they also produce a profitable print edition and you’ll frequently see and hear Politico reporters on the radio and TV.  Play around with all the different media available to you and find the combinations that work best for your own media empire.

Get out there and update as you go. Bill said stories on the Politico website will often be updated multiple times during the day. What starts out as just a few lines will grow into several paragraphs, then pages. You don’t have to wait until you have all of the details to start conversations with your supporters.  That’s the beauty of the web and social media in particular.

Claire Meyerhoff and I are planning to create a series of guides and webinars on how to become your own media mogul in 2010. Stay tuned!

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