January 9, 1998 Volume 9, Number 7
Ann Handley, Editor Andy Bourland, Publisher

 

   Today's Column    Spotlight

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ClickZ Q&A:

Andrew Bourland
Publisher
ClickZ

We know him, but what do you really know about him?

Andy Bourland is the publisher of ClickZ and has written a few articles here and there. But until today, most of us knew little about what led up to ClickZ's launch or where it goes from here. Andy gives us the real reasons he started ClickZ and what his company's next move will be.

Over the past year and a half, Andy has served as VP Online Business Development for Andover Advanced Technologies, which he transformed from Software Publisher to Web Site Publisher -- now boasting 15 technology sites and growing. Prior to Andover, Andy headed up a small internet startup called InfoSpark, which developed an online reader service program for
magazine publishers. That technology tracked leads, and emailed them out nightly. His technology roots date back to the early '80s, when he sold PCs retail in the greater Boston area. He also served in sales and management roles at Farallon Communications (now
Netopia, Inc.) and Global Village Communications.

It was a seminar in 1995 on the World Wide Web which he attended at the Boston offices of Apple Computer that convinced Andy to move on to the internet. He hasn't looked back.

Andy lives in Andover, Massachusetts, with his wife and three kids (ages 17, 9 and 3). He claims his only vices are Bombay Martinis (extra dry with olives), watching pro football on Sunday afternoons, and a bizarre fascination with professional wrestling.

Monday nights at 9, he can be found stretched out on his sofa channel surfing between Monday Night Football, Monday Night Raw (WWF) and Monday Night Nitro (WCW). Other than that, he appears normal to most people.

CLICKZ: So why are we interviewing you this week? You're the Publisher of ClickZ. You can write a column any time you want.

BOURLAND: Maybe I have a few items of interest for our friends and neighbors...

CLICKZ: Let's talk about why you launched ClickZ in the first place.

BOURLAND: It goes back to the fall of '96. I had persuaded my employers at Andover Advanced Technologies, which was then a software publisher, to do a "skunkworks" with the web site publishing model. They gave me the green light to go ahead with the project, and from that evolved Dave Central, which is one of the better collections of internet-related software on the web.

In any case, for an emerging web site publisher looking to base their revenues on an ad-supported business model, information was sparse. A couple of books, perhaps. Ralph Wilson had his site. Mark Welch had a site. The best information came from my participation in Richard Hoy's Online Advertising List. Not much else. I was starved for information and couldn't find a good source for it anywhere. Most of what I found had some sort of an angle to it -- someone was trying to sell me something.

Even without that resource, we were able to make a go of it with Dave Central, and by January of '97 Andover decided to bail out of the software publishing business and become a web site publisher. Andover is up to 15 technology sites now and growing like crazy.

CLICKZ: So how did that create ClickZ?

BOURLAND: It didn't really, but it provides the overall context. Truth be told, the biggest motivator for the launch of ClickZ was the IRS. Last April, I got a huge tax bill that I had no idea how to pay. Andover was in startup mode, so I couldn't exactly ask the company for a raise. I  considered working nights at the 7-11, but ultimately decided to apply my site publishing skills in some way.

Mark Grimes of eyescream interactive and I kicked around some ideas for a site -- in fact, it was Mark who suggested the name ClickZ. But I ended up taking it in a different direction from what he and I discussed.

I noticed that on the Online Ads list, there were many well-informed and quite eloquent voices within this industry. But most of what they were saying was in response to what someone else said. "What if these guys could put the subject matter THEY specialized into play?" I thought to myself. What if we could hear from people who are just like me trying to make sense of this business, speaking from their own vantage point?

And so I decided that ClickZ should offer a new column every day written by the kind of people who regularly participated in Online Ads. I wrote many of them, and subsequently solicited a bunch of volunteers to write.

So within a two to three week time frame of getting my tax bill, I conceived, designed and launched ClickZ without spending a dime. During that time, I was fortunate to recruit my good friend and journalist Ann Handley, who has managed the day-to-day editorial operations and freed me up to focus on building the business. Ann and I had worked together sporadically on a variety of other projects -- sort of earlier generations of our current site.

CLICKZ: How many people receive ClickZ Today?

BOURLAND: Roughly 5000.

CLICKZ: Have you ever considered charging for subscriptions? Why haven't you gone the subscription route?

BOURLAND: I am considering it. The problem is that there is so much that is FREE on the internet, that people don't want to pay for anything, even though it's good stuff. The HTML version of ClickZ Today is paid for by the sponsors. I either have to get a sponsor or two for a text email version of ClickZ Today, or charge a subscription for it. And when I talk about sponsoring, I am looking for someone who would commit to three to six months at a time. I haven't noticed that level of commitment from the
sponsors at Online Ads or i-Advertising, which is why I've been hesitant to do an all-text version.

CLICKZ: So what's the next step for the company?

BOURLAND: ClickZ recently acquired Microscope, one of the original sites on the net focused on internet advertising.

CLICKZ: What was it that attracted you to that site?

BOURLAND: It had personality. A quirkiness about it that I liked. Rich Paschall -- Microscope's founder -- and I had
developed a friendship over the past six months, and he told me that he had decided he couldn't handle Microscope and his job at Henderson Advertising. I couldn't imagine letting it go by the wayside, so we talked about how ClickZ could buy it. We're both happy.

CLICKZ: What are your specific plans for it? How will the Microscope differ from when Rich managed it?

BOURLAND: Microscope has been doing weekly banner reviews. Right now, I think the banner review space is well-handled by our friends over at ChannelSeven.com and a few others. I saw Jane Weaver at MSNBC is now doing banner reviews. I don't think there is much I can contribute that isn't already being done. And frankly, it's not my area of expertise.

Banners don't exist in a vacuum, either. It's one thing to judge a banner from a creative standpoint, and that's useful to a certain extent. But I am more interested in the execution of a banner campaign. How can a media buyer take a set of creative and execute a campaign based on a particular set of objectives, whether that means branding, traffic building, sales, etc. How do they select sites, targeting and filtering criteria, etc? What is the decision- making process?

That's the area which the new Microscope will focus on: the art of the buy, excellence in execution. We'll have a guest media buyer every week who will execute upon an actual ad campaign. We'll tap their brains and find out how they make the decisions they do and see what kind of results come of it. Visitors to the site can then discuss their thoughts about how that campaign could or should have been conducted.

I hope to bring the art and science of interactive media buying and planning out of the back room and into the forefront. And I hope to raise the overall knowledge and awareness level of the entire industry as a result. Things that are "wowee zowee" today will be standard operating procedure this time next year.

CLICKZ: And what's the launch date?

BOURLAND: We'll run the Top Ten Award issue next Monday (January 12th), then have our inaugural issue for the new Microscope on January 19th.

CLICKZ: Still at PSCENTRAL.COM?

BOURLAND: No.... I also purchased the domain "microscope.com". I figured it might be a bit more memorable for people than pscentral.

CLICKZ: What's the profile of the next ClickZ-affiliated site?

BOURLAND: I've got a few ideas I'm kicking around. You'll probably see another one or two before the end of the quarter. I guess the profile would be great information served up fresh on a regular basis. Irreverent. A bit of an attitude. And fun. Ann and I try not to take ourselves too seriously. I frankly find myself hilarious. (Editor's note: Then again, Andy, looks aren't everything!)

CLICKZ: Don't you consider a profile of yourself on a site you own to be shameless self-promotion?

BOURLAND: Absolutely! I was just too lazy to write a press release....



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