They weren’t even thinking of associations when they started out, but the founders of MultiView Inc. found the right market for their communication products that now include online buyer’s guides and newsletter services that cater solely to the association community.
For being one of the most prolific revenue generators for associations, we salute MultiView Inc. and its cofounder and CEO W. Scott Bedford as the TRENDS 2014 Association Partner of the Year.
“Scott is an unmistakable pick for this award,” TRENDS publisher Joel Poznansky said. “His background in digital media and advertising took off in ’80s, when he led the industry years before people were on the Internet. Since MultiView’s founding over a decade ago, Scott has created 350 buyer’s guides and more than 700 newsletters, all while partnering with more than 1,200 associations.”
Bedford started his career as an engineer with Texas Instruments in 1980. In 1988 he cofounded Source Media, a company later listed on NASDAQ. A pioneering company in interactive electronic advertising, Source Media provided technology and sales services to hundreds of major newspapers across the U.S. Bedford spearheaded a roll-up strategy that led to Source Media owning a 90 percent market share in the pre-Internet, interactive advertising space.
In 2000, Bedford joined forces with Dan Maitland, a colleague at Source Media, to start MultiView, their vision of a state-of-the-art digital media solutions and publishing company. They created a product that placed a database or a catalog on a PC that compared current and new information and made any changes. Their first clients were in the hotel industry: Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn. This led to lodging directories for consumers, in which current information was downloaded to CDs so consumers could always have a current version of where to stay. They then branched out to the auto parts industry.
This product eventually gave way to directories. “The primary driver at the time was to save money to offset rising costs of directories, and that’s how we began to offer our service to associations,” Bedford said.
MultiView’s first association customer was the National Marine Manufacturers Association. NMMA EVP Ben Wold wanted to distribute directories on CDs at boat shows so consumers would have the information all year. The question was how to fund such a product, and the answer lay in advertising.
“We didn’t know anything about selling that kind of advertising,” Bedford said. “Dan and I had a background in digital media, but we said, ‘We’ll do it!’”
Eventually the Irving, Texas-based company created what it is now known for – online buyer’s guides – and its first customer was the National Association of Church Business Administration. In 2002, it was daring of them to begin to sell “web products right in the middle of the web crash, but people started to use the Internet differently than before. Computers became a part of life. In 2004 we just focused on buyer’s guides and divested from the tech company,” he said.
In 2008 they added the news brief newsletter service, a product that was created because of demand by the company’s association customers. MultiView now has more than 1,800 relationships with associations. The company creates 350 association buyer’s guides and more than 700 weekly news brief newsletters. And it makes 26,000 phone calls on behalf of associations a month. It is a leading provider of nondues revenue to the association community, with more than $13 million to the association marketplace in royalties. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I remember in the early days we’d send a royalty check in [to an association] and they’d say, ‘What’s this?’” he mused, noting that expectations starting out were not high (some of those checks were for amounts as small as $90, he remembered).
But he has seen that change since 2000. “There we were in dial-up mode. Very few had high-speed access. The electronic world was not in the forefront of everyone’s thought, particularly associations. There was a lot of push back, replacing print with electronic.”
Since then, Bedford has seen associations become very sophisticated in their approach to technology. “Associations have learned to appreciate that technology is not something for a few, it permeates everything we do….As you reinforce the association’s position [on the web], it further cements the bond between associations and members and vendors. The relationship helps maintain tradeshows, it drives enthusiasm for face-to-face.”
The success of MultiView in the association space is two-pronged: the buyer’s guide model is an enhanced general search engine of vetted companies. Instead of returning millions of hits, the user gets a concentrated list of 50 or so companies per search that are much more germane to the user’s interests. This has proved to be a more useful way of gathering information, in contrast to a general synopsis paragraph for each advertiser in old printed buyer’s guides.
But Bedford also believes MultiView’s concentration on the human aspect of technology also fits with associations. “We try to make sure the user experience is positive. We take pride in our people. Our folks go through a rigorous training program,” he noted.
On a lighter note, MultiView also throws the biggest and most popular vendor party at the ASAE annual meeting, where most participants, even other suppliers, end up after a night filled with many other sponsor and exhibitor receptions.
The company has grown from its two original founders to more than 770 employees in Texas, Washington, D.C., Toronto and Lehi, Utah. Bedford remains actively involved in all aspects of MultiView but concentrates his efforts on the financial, technical and operational components of the company. In 2009 the Dallas-Forth Worth News named him the Best CEO of midsize companies, and chose MultiView as the fourth best place to work in the DFW area. Pretty good for the Dallas native with a technical engineering degree from Texas A&M and an MBA from Southern Methodist.
But that’s still not quite enough. Quoting a favorite company slogan, he said, “We can always be better. We can be happy, but never satisfied.”
Bedford will be honored at the TRENDS 2014 Salute to Association Excellence, Feb. 20 at the Capital Hilton in Washington. Details: www.AssociationTRENDS.com/salute.