Crain's Chicago: Strong At 25

A quarter century ago Crain Communications editor in chief Rance Crain visited a business reporting class at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism to talk up a new idea he had for a weekly business newspaper.

On June 2 that newspaper, Crain's Chicago Business, celebrates its 25th anniversary. Publisher David Blake said the magazine's mission has been fulfilled with a paid circulation of 50,000 that is flagship to a chain of business weeklies in New York, Detroit, Cleveland and Mexico, and enjoys a degree of parity in Chicago against its daily news rivals.

Crain wanted "a business publication, incorporating some of the features of a city magazine," Blake said. Breaking news and personalities that make the market run are at the heart of the news hole. The current magazine focuses more heavily on entrepreneurs, and publishes a number of lists like "Who's Who in Business" and "40 under 40."

On the advertising side Crain's from the start used coated stock that could take four-color reproduction, and ran articles on life outside the office for "that hybrid feel between a newspaper and magazine." Lifestyle coverage is due to increase later this year, he said. Competitors such as The Wall Street Journal have validated the decision by broadening their lifestyle coverage, Blake said.

Crain's vision has also brought Crain's Chicago Business a broader mix of ads than the commercial real estate and banking ads that dominate other local business papers. "One of the most successful new ad categories we've grown in is upper end residential real estate. That's considered a consumer category, but it has become very important for us.

"We also did very well in telecommunications, meetings and conventions, health care, automotive, and in the 90s we had a broader array of technology" ads, Blake said. "Chicago was and still is a place where national advertisers would almost always heavy-up and put down a local buy." Crain is often included in those buys, he said.

Broader coverage has also brought a broader readership, "opinion leaders across the market," Blake said. He was especially proud recently when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, asked about information he'd given the media, said "he gave it to 'the Tribune, the Sun Times and Crain's.' We're more than just a business paper."

Crain's is also expanding online, Blake said. Its Web site has 100,000 registered users for whom it delivers daily and weekly e-mail alerts that can be customized by industry and company. The paper is now trying to convert that registered user base to paying customers, at $29/year for paper subscribers or $59/year for Web-only service.

"We just have a few thousand converted, but that's our future with that. We think we've done it right in that we built up the demand for it the last few years, with people seeing value in it, and slowly we're getting them to pay," he said.

With its all-registered online user base, Crain's can tell advertisers everything about its Web users it can tell them about its print customers -- average age and income, job title - supplemented by a regular subscriber study just like one it does for the printed magazine. "There's not that much duplication, only 30% of print is online, so this is really about reaching two great audiences," Blake said.

For the actual 25th birthday, June 2, Crain's will publish its biggest issue ever, asking readers to select the 25 biggest stories of the last 25 years. The magazine will hoist banners on Michigan Avenue, create "the ultimate Chicago business crossword puzzle," and in July host a display of classic Crain's Chicago Business covers at Daley Plaza.

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