News from the Hip Publisher Stephanie Sandmeyer: Selling the Art of Belly Dance

| June 18, 2014

Stephanie Sandmeyer has been a belly dancer since she was eight years old, and has always dreamed of bringing belly dance out of the confines of “novelty acts” into the mainstream. Two years ago, she made that dream a reality by starting News from the Hip, a quarterly journal about the art of belly dance, complemented by a showcase of artists from Portland’s belly dance community. She knew she was taking a big risk: She was selling a little-understood art form, she knew nothing about publishing or marketing, and she was in it alone.

She succeeded anyway.

stephanie

 

 

 

 

News from the Hip is breaking even after two years, a rare feat for an independent, niche magazine at a time when even established publications are bleeding red ink. She says she has big plans for making News from the Hip profitable, helping it grow with a simple marketing formula: a combination of social media marketing, word-of-mouth, community brand building, and gallons of elbow grease.

Sandmeyer is a self-described “one-man band”, and the hardest working one in Portland, at that. Along with her husband, Ryan McPhaill, and a handful of volunteers, she edits, lays out and publishes the magazine, and produces the showcase, which is held four times a year at the Star Theatre, with the next scheduled for June 28. She markets both the magazine and the showcase to as wide an audience as possible – from belly dance aficionados to newcomers who have only seen the art form portrayed (badly) in movies. She does all of this while keeping up her day jobs as a freelance writer and an administrative assistant at Portland State University. Most people would be exhausted working the equivalent of four full-time jobs, but to hear Sandmeyer tell it, she hasn’t even hit her stride yet.

I sat down with her to talk about building a brand from nothing, reaching fans and making new ones, and selling the art of belly dance.

 

Q: What inspired you to start News from the Hip, and how did you get started?

STEPHANIE: I was working for Portland Community College as a grant financial aid technician, a job I despised; it was like being a bank manager and a social worker all rolled into one, and I got yelled at  daily. In January 2012, I decided to take the big plunge and quit my job. In June I started working on the journal, even though I don’t have a background in publishing. I do know a lot about dance – especially belly dance – and the performing arts, and it just seemed like the perfect fit. There wasn’t any publication in the world that was doing quite what I wanted to do, which was to focus on more than one particular type of belly dance. There’s the tribal fusion and the cabaret style, and I wanted to bring the two together and talk about performing arts in general in a more literary context. I decided that, since it’s a niche publication, the best way to sell it would be having shows, since I wasn’t going to make a lot of money from subscriptions and advertisers. They would be on sale and the dancers onstage would be featured in articles. At this point I’m breaking even because I’m selling a lot at shows.

Q: What would you say is the brand of News from the Hip?

STEPHANIE: It’s a thoughtful journal devoted to the art of belly dance. It has a very Portland vibe to it. It’s called “From the Hip” because Portland is the City of Roses, and that’s associated with the rosehip tattoo. It has an occasionally acidic punch to it, discussing issues that a lot of belly dancers are afraid to approach, like body size, age, and who makes decisions about what is beautiful and what art is.

Q: Take me through a day of running this magazine.

STEPHANIE: It depends on where I’m at in the production schedule. There are four journals a year and four shows a year, and both of those are full-time jobs. When I’m close to publication, I get up every day and work on the magazine for six to eight hours. I lay it out myself, I edit all the articles with help from a couple of volunteers, I deal with the printer and make sure that I get the magazines on time for publication, and then there’s a lot of what’s called “herding cats” – herding belly-dancers to the show. I get the music together, make sure the dancers and the venue know what’s going on, getting their music and putting it on an iPod, and so on. I generally start marketing about a month before a show, and the week before the show I’m posting on Facebook and Twitter every single day.

The fruits of her labor: News from the Hip Magazine

Q: Describe your marketing model.

STEPHANIE: I copy what other performance artists do in Portland. I don’t reinvent the wheel at all; I get the big posters and plaster them all over the city, and get some helpers to put up posters in return for getting into the show for free. I get the little postcards printed and put them any place where a belly dancer might possibly be. I go to a lot of belly dance events just to promote. And I try not to worry too much about what’s going to show up on my doorstep, because something always happens at the last minute. That’s the nature of being a one-man band. I have some help, but it’s up to me to make sure it turns out; if it doesn’t, I don’t make any money.

Q: How much does social media figure into your marketing strategy?

STEPHANIE: Hugely – the show wouldn’t work without it. Social media is a big part of the reason that the belly dance community has experienced a renaissance in the last seven or eight years. We all know what’s going on now because people post events on the belly dance community group on Facebook. This wouldn’t work without Facebook and Twitter.

Q: How do you reach out to the belly dance community with social media?

STEPHANIE: The journal has its own page. I tell all my belly dance compatriots to “Like” the page, and they know people in the industry all over the world. This time last year I had about 500 “Likes” on Facebook, and now I have about 1300. Of course, not everyone who “Likes” the page is buying the magazine, but they’re hearing about it. I also post on the Showcase Event page, in the Portland belly dance community pages, and on the 10 different belly dance groups I belong to in Portland. I also use MailChimp to mail out the newsletters, and that tells you how many times the newsletter was clicked.

Q: Give me an example of how you publicize the magazine and make new fans.

STEPHANIE: I’m a big proponent of exposing people to belly dance who would not otherwise know about it. It’s very grassroots. I talk to a lot of people about belly dance, and I’m putting butts in seats just through a lot of random conversations. I also try to bring in other types of performers to draw from a different performing arts communities. Right now, it’s mostly burlesque and vaudeville performers. I go on Facebook and post on other communities’ pages, as well.

Q: What’s your process for getting advertisers?

STEPHANIE: When I first started, I sent out emails to every business I could think of that would appeal to belly dancers, mostly woman-oriented clothing and products. I also got a bunch of women’s magazines from Powell’s to see who was advertising there. I basically copied from people who were successful. Right now, I have one main advertiser, Townsends Tea, but I need a lot more. I’ve had some paid ads, but a lot of it is trade; if advertisers publicize me, write an article, or give me a photograph, I give them an ad.

Q: You are now at the breaking even point, financially. What’s your strategy for becoming profitable?

STEPHANIE:  Getting as many belly dancers and belly dance connoisseurs aware of the journal as possible.  It just takes time.  I utilize Facebook, Twitter and just plain word of mouth to let people know News from the Hip exists.  My next goal is having all of the showcases on YouTube.  I also attend and have booths at belly dance festivals and events in the area, and if other dancers involved in the journal are traveling to an event farther away that I can’t make it to, I ask them to take promo materials and pass them out to whomever seems interested.  I also trade or pay for ads in other belly dance event programs.  And finally, I bring in internationally known headliners for the showcases, and that definitely boosts the journal’s notoriety.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone starting their own venture?

STEPHANIE: Don’t be intimidated by politely asking people who have a common interest in your enterprise for help.  The worst-case scenario is that they’ll say no; I was surprised at all of the emphatic ‘yes’s’ I got and am still getting.   Also, if you are terrified at points, I would say you’re probably doing something right.  And, obviously, unless you are independently wealthy, you’ll want to have some other means to meet living expenses, and expect to give up aspects of your past lifestyle if you once had a day job.  Lastly, have a plan and follow through with it – and remember that money isn’t always the ruler by which to gauge your success.

Category: Marketing Innovators Interview Series, TMMPDX

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http://www.tmmpdx.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/stephanie-150x150.jpg Michael Munkvold Marketing Innovators Interview SeriesTMMPDX

Stephanie Sandmeyer has been a belly dancer since she was eight years old, and has always dreamed of bringing belly dance out of the confines of “novelty acts” into the mainstream. Two years ago, she made that dream a reality by starting News from the Hip, a quarterly journal about the art of belly dance, complemented by a showcase of artists from Portland’s belly dance community. She knew she was taking a big risk: She was selling a little-understood art form, she knew nothing about publishing or marketing, and she was in it alone.

She succeeded anyway.

stephanie

 

 

 

 

News from the Hip is breaking even after two years, a rare feat for an independent, niche magazine at a time when even established publications are bleeding red ink. She says she has big plans for making News from the Hip profitable, helping it grow with a simple marketing formula: a combination of social media marketing, word-of-mouth, community brand building, and gallons of elbow grease.

Sandmeyer is a self-described “one-man band”, and the hardest working one in Portland, at that. Along with her husband, Ryan McPhaill, and a handful of volunteers, she edits, lays out and publishes the magazine, and produces the showcase, which is held four times a year at the Star Theatre, with the next scheduled for June 28. She markets both the magazine and the showcase to as wide an audience as possible – from belly dance aficionados to newcomers who have only seen the art form portrayed (badly) in movies. She does all of this while keeping up her day jobs as a freelance writer and an administrative assistant at Portland State University. Most people would be exhausted working the equivalent of four full-time jobs, but to hear Sandmeyer tell it, she hasn’t even hit her stride yet.

I sat down with her to talk about building a brand from nothing, reaching fans and making new ones, and selling the art of belly dance.

 

Q: What inspired you to start News from the Hip, and how did you get started?

STEPHANIE: I was working for Portland Community College as a grant financial aid technician, a job I despised; it was like being a bank manager and a social worker all rolled into one, and I got yelled at  daily. In January 2012, I decided to take the big plunge and quit my job. In June I started working on the journal, even though I don’t have a background in publishing. I do know a lot about dance – especially belly dance – and the performing arts, and it just seemed like the perfect fit. There wasn’t any publication in the world that was doing quite what I wanted to do, which was to focus on more than one particular type of belly dance. There’s the tribal fusion and the cabaret style, and I wanted to bring the two together and talk about performing arts in general in a more literary context. I decided that, since it’s a niche publication, the best way to sell it would be having shows, since I wasn’t going to make a lot of money from subscriptions and advertisers. They would be on sale and the dancers onstage would be featured in articles. At this point I’m breaking even because I’m selling a lot at shows.

Q: What would you say is the brand of News from the Hip?

STEPHANIE: It’s a thoughtful journal devoted to the art of belly dance. It has a very Portland vibe to it. It’s called “From the Hip” because Portland is the City of Roses, and that’s associated with the rosehip tattoo. It has an occasionally acidic punch to it, discussing issues that a lot of belly dancers are afraid to approach, like body size, age, and who makes decisions about what is beautiful and what art is.

Q: Take me through a day of running this magazine.

STEPHANIE: It depends on where I’m at in the production schedule. There are four journals a year and four shows a year, and both of those are full-time jobs. When I’m close to publication, I get up every day and work on the magazine for six to eight hours. I lay it out myself, I edit all the articles with help from a couple of volunteers, I deal with the printer and make sure that I get the magazines on time for publication, and then there’s a lot of what’s called “herding cats” – herding belly-dancers to the show. I get the music together, make sure the dancers and the venue know what’s going on, getting their music and putting it on an iPod, and so on. I generally start marketing about a month before a show, and the week before the show I’m posting on Facebook and Twitter every single day.

The fruits of her labor: News from the Hip Magazine

Q: Describe your marketing model.

STEPHANIE: I copy what other performance artists do in Portland. I don’t reinvent the wheel at all; I get the big posters and plaster them all over the city, and get some helpers to put up posters in return for getting into the show for free. I get the little postcards printed and put them any place where a belly dancer might possibly be. I go to a lot of belly dance events just to promote. And I try not to worry too much about what’s going to show up on my doorstep, because something always happens at the last minute. That’s the nature of being a one-man band. I have some help, but it’s up to me to make sure it turns out; if it doesn’t, I don’t make any money.

Q: How much does social media figure into your marketing strategy?

STEPHANIE: Hugely – the show wouldn’t work without it. Social media is a big part of the reason that the belly dance community has experienced a renaissance in the last seven or eight years. We all know what’s going on now because people post events on the belly dance community group on Facebook. This wouldn’t work without Facebook and Twitter.

Q: How do you reach out to the belly dance community with social media?

STEPHANIE: The journal has its own page. I tell all my belly dance compatriots to “Like” the page, and they know people in the industry all over the world. This time last year I had about 500 “Likes” on Facebook, and now I have about 1300. Of course, not everyone who “Likes” the page is buying the magazine, but they’re hearing about it. I also post on the Showcase Event page, in the Portland belly dance community pages, and on the 10 different belly dance groups I belong to in Portland. I also use MailChimp to mail out the newsletters, and that tells you how many times the newsletter was clicked.

Q: Give me an example of how you publicize the magazine and make new fans.

STEPHANIE: I’m a big proponent of exposing people to belly dance who would not otherwise know about it. It’s very grassroots. I talk to a lot of people about belly dance, and I’m putting butts in seats just through a lot of random conversations. I also try to bring in other types of performers to draw from a different performing arts communities. Right now, it’s mostly burlesque and vaudeville performers. I go on Facebook and post on other communities’ pages, as well.

Q: What’s your process for getting advertisers?

STEPHANIE: When I first started, I sent out emails to every business I could think of that would appeal to belly dancers, mostly woman-oriented clothing and products. I also got a bunch of women’s magazines from Powell’s to see who was advertising there. I basically copied from people who were successful. Right now, I have one main advertiser, Townsends Tea, but I need a lot more. I’ve had some paid ads, but a lot of it is trade; if advertisers publicize me, write an article, or give me a photograph, I give them an ad.

Q: You are now at the breaking even point, financially. What’s your strategy for becoming profitable?

STEPHANIE:  Getting as many belly dancers and belly dance connoisseurs aware of the journal as possible.  It just takes time.  I utilize Facebook, Twitter and just plain word of mouth to let people know News from the Hip exists.  My next goal is having all of the showcases on YouTube.  I also attend and have booths at belly dance festivals and events in the area, and if other dancers involved in the journal are traveling to an event farther away that I can’t make it to, I ask them to take promo materials and pass them out to whomever seems interested.  I also trade or pay for ads in other belly dance event programs.  And finally, I bring in internationally known headliners for the showcases, and that definitely boosts the journal’s notoriety.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone starting their own venture?

STEPHANIE: Don’t be intimidated by politely asking people who have a common interest in your enterprise for help.  The worst-case scenario is that they’ll say no; I was surprised at all of the emphatic ‘yes’s’ I got and am still getting.   Also, if you are terrified at points, I would say you’re probably doing something right.  And, obviously, unless you are independently wealthy, you’ll want to have some other means to meet living expenses, and expect to give up aspects of your past lifestyle if you once had a day job.  Lastly, have a plan and follow through with it – and remember that money isn’t always the ruler by which to gauge your success.