This week the spotlight shines on Helen Siwak as our feature Disruptive Women in Business. Not only is Helen our Publisher, but an ethical vegan who is passionate about animal and human rights, an innate storyteller, an obsessive digital content creator with a knack for repurposing, and someone who thrives on crafting affordable digital strategies for small to mid-sized brands.
A 30-Year Journey
Helen arrived in Vancouver from Calgary in 1989 and quickly launched the seminal underground magazine ‘In Hell’s Belly.’ The city’s first hybrid arts, culture, and activism magazine. Two years later, she found herself firmly entrenched in underground publishing, artist management in music, TV/film, and contracting at Heenan Blaikie, a renowned law firm known for its representation in the entertainment industry.
In 1998, she wrote, produced, cast, directed, edited, and music supervised for TV/film with Canadian icons, walked red carpets at VIFF, TIFF, Cannes, and SXSW, and toured North America as an indie band manager for CFOX winners hardcore hip hop band Minority and Canada’s first alt-country band SaddleSores.
With that experience under her belt, she founded her first business – Realia Music Inc. Helen was an early innovator in the area of the digital licensing and delivery of music for use in film and television synchronization licencing and was principally responsible for the development of Realia’s leading-edge delivery software. The company and its 4,000+ international titles were acquired by a Canadian publishing house in its second year, following that Helen moved to Athens, Greece, for five years, where she successfully launched and managed numerous small businesses that addressed gaps in services available to ex-pats living in the country, as well as building an animal rescue and facilitating the adoption of over 500 dogs and cats to forever homes.
Circling Back to Publishing
A renewed interest in publishing came in 2015 when she acquired BLUSHVancouver digital magazine and rebuilt it into a lucrative asset with 1M visitors in its first year. Creating a women’s mid-market lifestyle brand funded with sponsored content was new and exciting. After a year of events, travel, personality spotlights, sales and web development, she was ready to move on and sold the company.
Doors opened at VancityBuzz (now Daily Hive) and multiple Toronto-based digital lifestyle magazines. Through her network, Helen extended her reach into the print world as Editor-in-Chief of the now-defunct HLM Luxury Lifestyle Magazine and a senior contributor to Boulevard Magazine (English & Chinese) before returning to digital as West Coast Correspondent of Retail-Insider, a contributor to Montecristo Magazine, and numerous others.
Over the years, she has sought out and interviewed the famous (Giorgio Armani, Pamela Anderson, Martin Sheen, Bryan Adams, Andrew Gn, Stefano Ricci, Thierry Manfred Mugler), and the infamous (Larry Flynt, Raif Adelberg, Ron Jeremy, Marilyn Manson), and more.
A New Approach to Publishing
In December 2019, seeking to fill a void in the local market for effective, eco-friendly and distraction-free content with no advertising, she launched EcoLuxLifestyle.co, followed by Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle (flippable and digital versions), both to serve as curated sponsored content marketing vehicles for her latest venture – EcoLuxLuv Communications and Marketing. ELL Comms specializes in guiding small BC-based businesses with ethical and eco-friendly mandates to success through solid digital foundation development and comprehensive marketing strategies.
In August 2023, Helen launched PORTFOLIO.YVR Business & Entrepreneurs Magazine, a partner publication to Folio.YVR, that showcases the stories of 10 Canadians who are creating, innovating, and making waves in their industries. Using storytelling to create connection with the reader, each story shares three aspects – overview, biography, and the journey ‘In Their Words.’
5 Questions with Helen
How would you describe what you do?
I am a content creator who conceives and publishes niche digital magazines that offer brands a direct-to-consumer marketing vehicle and for readers the opportunity to enjoy online content that is informative, and visually appealing all without advertising, pop-ups, or other interruptions. So, I am a magazine publisher, but definitely not limited to what that title infers. Whether people realize it or not, there is very little ‘earned media’ out there. Everything you see on social media, the news, talk shows, etc, is all sponsored, either with payments or product trades. My publications allow brands to share their stories directly to our audience, their targeted audience, on their timeline and without interruptions. It is a win-win for both sides.
What inspired you to create publications that are so different from traditional magazines?
After working on all sides of the equation and as a lifelong collector of beautifully designed magazines, I knew that there had to be a better way for brands to reach their audience and for consumers to find a space without advertising distractions. With the advent of digital publishing and the ‘death by 1,000 cuts’ to traditional print publishing, consumers bore the brunt of the lack of advertising dollars received by publishers and were forced to put up with numerous distractions while trying to get information. All types of advertising popping up and obscuring content, text broken up with blocks of links to ‘other stories you may like,’ paywalls, clickbait, and whatever else can be designed.
Pre-pandemic, consumers were already tired of advertisements – enduring ad breaks on television that are now 4-6 minutes of in-your-face selling, in magazines sponsored content are ‘features’ in addition to regular advertising, beginnings of youtube videos are stacked with videos you cannot skip – wherever an ad can be sold it will be sold.
How does a publisher make money if it doesn’t sell advertising?
With traditional print publishing, a brand is typically approached to have its story shared in exchange for the purchase of an advertising package. So, although they are not paying for the story directly, they are still paying and possibly a lot over the course of a year. The magazine is then printed, and distributed, and the next issue begins. This is where the disconnect occurs with how we consume information in 2023. The advertising fee is necessary to cover the cost of the writer, editors, printing, and distribution (trucking, store commissions, etc.). They may receive a few social media posts, but, from the publisher’s point-of-view, the issue is completed, and the cycle begins again for the following month’s issue. When you choose a magazine to add to your shelf, the information sharing ends there. With digital publishing, the costs are dramatically lower, no trees are sacrificed, and the distribution involves no fuel. The publisher and the story subject gain versatility and a powerful digital asset to share internationally on many platforms.
My titles funnel the brand marketing and advertising dollars into a digital space where within 24 hours of publishing, the lead features have been sent via a beautifully designed newsletter to our curated mailing list of 35,000+, 15 social media posts will have been published on 6 platforms, and our affiliate database distributors have shared the content with their mailing lists – resulting in nearly 10,000 international flips within 72-hours. All our social media content is tagged, and the ripple effect of shares on platforms begins immediately. Our sponsored content fee includes a 30-Day Strategy Package which will have the content repurposed and recirculated, achieving a reach of at least 1.5M views, then key features are added to our reposting system that introduces the content again numerous times per month for one year on Facebook, X, and LinkedIn.
With our curated sponsored content system, the brand receives a powerful ad-free digital asset that continuously drives traffic to their website and social media platforms, and for the consumer, the enjoyment of an ad-free experience that allows them to lose themselves in the story, a much more personalized experience. An experiential win for both sides of the marketing and advertising equation.
But What if the Brand Really Wants a ‘Real Magazine?’
I am not averse to print publications – just the waste and the limited ability they have for sharing! BUT, if someone is adamant about having print copies, there are numerous online services now that allow you to order print versions of digital magazines. I can arrange for the purchase of small runs or even one-offs as a keepsake. It is also possible to create a ‘special edition’ for the brand that places its story on the front cover and as the lead feature. With digital, there are so many possibilities!
What is on the plate in 2024 for ELL Comms?
This fall, acquiring West Coast Weddings from wedding industry icon Laura Kalsca, is an exciting new opportunity. A Vancouver Island mainstay, WCW has a legacy that will continue with its redevelopment into a digital flippable format, digital, and two-times per year print version. It will be interesting to learn and grow within the wedding industry and the events that go hand-in-hand with it. I have long admired the production companies that create such magic for the ‘big day’ and industry icons like Jasmine Hoffman, Aly Armstrong, and Cherry Wang, for what they do.
If you are interested in learning more about any of the titles and services offered by Helen and her respective businesses, please reach out to her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org!
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