Paul Slavin Of Open Road Integrated Media: How To Take Your Company From Good To Great

An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski

Jerome Knyszewski
Authority Magazine


Allow yourself to fail; if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. Learning from your mistakes is important.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Slavin.

Paul Slavin is the CEO of Open Road Integrated Media, a prestige content marketing brand delivering digital experiences that entertain and inform readers around the world. Slavin joined Open Road after 30 years of experience at Everyday Health, the Walt Disney Company and ABC News. An award winning journalist, Slavin also has extensive experience in data-driven marketing solutions, and is known for leading efficient and impactful audience-development and content-generation teams.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Prior to moving into digital media, I was a journalist for many years. I covered defense and intelligence issues, wars, hurricanes — anything unpleasant. I was then offered an opportunity to work for Disney running parts of their digital and cable operations and that’s when I discovered I really enjoyed the business of content.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

At no time did I ever consider giving up. At one point, I was responsible for all international reporting and I began questioning my career as a journalist during the Iraq war. One of our convoys was attacked and a number of folks were severely injured. Having to talk to the families over a span of a few weeks and arranging to get the injured to Germany was very difficult.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I can’t say I have made many funny mistakes, but I have made many, many mistakes. I try to learn from my mistakes by talking about them with my peers. Honesty, self-reflection, and humility are the keys to success.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Open Road Integrated Media stands out because we are fanatically committed to doing right by our partners and readers. We always speak with both our partners and our readers to ensure what we are doing is good for them. It is successful because of our strong relationships with our community.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Work is not life. On your deathbed you will not look back and say: ‘I wish I’d taken more meetings.’

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Besides my wife, I would say my long and tumultuous relationship with Peter Jennings helped define my professional approach to business. He held all of us to the highest of standards and cared deeply for what he did and what we could achieve as a team.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

I would define a good company as one that grows revenue and profit year after year. A great company cares for its employees, partners, and consumers. Often these companies redefine a segment or a whole business and do it better than any other business. Rarely is there a ‘big’ idea that transforms a company, but rather excellence is achieved every day in a thousand small ways.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Honesty. You may not know the answer to every problem, so don’t fake it. Let all of your partners know the truth. 2. Clarity of a mission is important — everyone should know what you stand for and what your company goals are so they can align together. 3. Clarity of communication. Communicating is at its best when it is simple, direct, and pointed. 4. Allow yourself to fail; if you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. Learning from your mistakes is important. 5. Repetition. Repeat your goals and missions again and again and again.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Although they may not know it, all businesses are purpose-driven and have a social impact. More importantly, it is about the articulation of the mission or the message than the idea. Understanding the impact you can have and prioritizing this will help a company be successful.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

This is a tough one. A culture that has seen success for a time is much harder to change than one in crisis. Resistance to change is a human trait. These businesses can be fixed with new strategies clearly articulated with a step-by-step approach to the future. However, this can lead to slow failure. I have always preferred a simple galvanizing message, explained over and over. Add to that, persistent small group ‘brainstorming’ and clear achievable goals and a company can shift in a new direction.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I have found that difficult economic times are actually the best time to focus a company and make changes. Having an external danger brings folks together and makes them willing to try new things that can lead to success.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

The aspect of running a company that tends to be the most underestimated is building effective teams. Personnel selection and management are my major concerns after establishing a clear strategy. A strong team can be the difference between failure and success.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

A quality product, well displayed at a good price shown to a relevant customer at the right time is the best strategy a business can use to increase conversion rates.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Creating a community that trusts your company and your product can also increase conversion rates. Consumers want to relate to and feel part of a community when supporting a business.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

To create a great customer experience, it is important to listen to your customers and partners. Solving their problems and ensuring their happiness with your products or services can help create a great customer service experience.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The strength of an entrepreneur is that they have an unquenchable vision applied with drive and persistence. The biggest weakness of an entrepreneur is that they don’t always know when they need to listen to others and pivot.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, I would say we need to listen and respect each other and see the things that are all around us. We are not atomized individuals; we are part of an organic entity that is both smaller and larger than ourselves. Everything is connected.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can find my Linkedin here.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!