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State of the 'Bistro Message

As the year ends, mb's founder reflects on the little website that could—and all the great new things on tap for 2004.

By Laurel Touby - December 31, 2003

I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I think of how far this whole thing has come since I started ten years ago.

When I threw that first little cocktail party back in 1993, just as a fun way to meet other media professionals, who would have predicted that it would eventually grow into a website, a news source, a professional-education powerhouse—and a thriving business? It's been a wild ride, and a fun one. And I never could have done this alone.

My employees (all 14 of them!) work back-breaking hours to make things come out as well as they always do. But no matter how much work they put into the site, it wouldn't matter if people weren't visiting it. So a huge thanks to the most important people: all of you who come to the site, read our content, take our classes, search our job listings, and do so much more. You've helped me—and us—learn and grow, and you've been the ones to shape everything we are doing today. Without you, there wouldn't be a, and I'll always be thankful for your loyalty, your enthusiasm, and even your willingness to tell us when we mess up.

As we roll into 2004, I'm delighted to tell you that your favorite media website is not just surviving; we're going strong, regularly topping our own records.

Today we're very proud to say:
• has 211,000 registered users, two-thirds more than we did one year ago.
• There are 130,000 visits to the site each week from registered users and lurkers alike, up 40 percent from a year ago.
• That's a whopping 3.25 million page views each month.
• Plus, in 2003, broke through to become a profitable business for the first time!

And we're growing in all sorts of other ways.

More original content:
• Our Daily Media News Feed, which had about 20,000 subscribers to start the year, today goes out each morning to more than 50,000 subscribers, everyone from up-and-coming editorial staffers to top media executives to "civilians."
• We now publish five days of original content each week, including interviews, essays, and reported pieces. Our articles have been cited in publications from The New York Observer on this coast to The Sacramento Bee out West.
• We've published candid interviews with major media figures like Michael Wolff and Howard Kurtz and Gail Collins.
• And we're building a whole new schedule of even more exciting and useful content features.

AvantGuild, mb's premium membership association, is growing:
• We're at an all-time high of 2,900 AvantGuild members, nearly half of whom live outside New York.
• AvantGuild members saved over $11,000 on mb courses, seminars, and events, and had access to nearly 100 exclusive "How to Pitch" articles as well as a burgeoning archive of panel-discussion and seminar transcripts
• This year, AvantGuild member benefits expanded to include discounts on car rentals, dental insurance, spa visits, veterinary care, yoga classes, theater tickets, and more.
• We'll be expanding AvantGuild benefits next year, with even more discounts and even more health and wellness offers, among other things.

Our LEARN Department should make J-schools watch out:
• This year, we held 90 8- and 12-week classes and 40 3-hour seminars, in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and Seattle.
• We held more than 30 web-based correspondence courses.
• We've expanded course offerings beyond just journalism—now we've got programs in fiction writing, screenwriting, TV writing, HTML, Quark, book publishing, production, and research skills.
• Coming soon, we'll have more courses, including weekend-long and daylong intensive workshops, and our first international mb LEARN courses, in Toronto.

At the job board, things are looking up:
• Every year, I round up an elf or two and visit our biggest job-board customers—big companies like Hearst and Random House—to deliver gifts and say thank you. While I'm there, I like to ask about the outlook for the coming year. In December 2001, the human resources folks we visited were eager to kiss that year goodbye and were white-knuckling their way into the new one. By last year, most of our customers had been through at least one round of layoffs and wouldn't hazard a guess as to when things would pick up. But this December, people reported that 2003 hasn't been too bad after all.
• Our job-board business doubled in 2003, in part because our customers were posting more jobs, but also because we gained many new customers.
• Most of my HR contacts seem even more upbeat than last year (if still a bit cautious). I can assure you that 2004 will see even more new job postings than 2003 did: Nearly every client we visited had plans to increase their head counts at least a bit.

And we haven't forgotten our famous events:
• We've put on about 150 events this year, everything from our big cocktail parties to panel discussions for editorial staffers, to a dinner summit for women's-magazine editors at the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant, to our annual Valentine's Day Personals Party in New York and Los Angeles.
• We keep holding those cocktail parties, where all sorts of media people come to have a great time. We run regular parties in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Denver, Detroit, Dallas, Toronto, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.; occasional ones in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Miami; and even every now and then in London, Paris, and Berlin.
• Our guest list has grown so large that we now have separate parties for separate media functions, including The Television Party, The Design Party, The PR/Marketing Party, The Freelancer Party, The Edit Staffer party and, of course, the good old All-Media Party, for everyone in the biz.

So happiness is up, across the site:
• Our most important achievement this year, of course, was raising the level of media happiness a notch over last year. We get numerous emails from people who got their jobs through, who met a new friend at the parties, or whose lives were enriched through our courses and other offerings.
• We know of a few marriages that have resulted from media liaisons made at our fab parties and through our Media Personals.
• I don't have exact numbers on any of these accomplishments and relationships, but I know lots are out there, so write in to tell me.

We're still looking to the future:
• Even though we added all sorts of benefits, services, and flourishes in 2003, we're working hard to make your mb experience even better.
• We're building a better resume upload system, which will be easier for you to use, and, more important, searchable by employers, which means people with jobs to fill will now be able to find you.
• We're also close to introducing our Freelance Marketplace, where employers will be able to search for freelancers, listed by category, specialty, and all sorts of other criteria.
• And we're always looking for more ideas. If you have any suggestions for 2004—or if you just want to tell us how we've been doing—be sure to check out our big end-of-year survey.

It's been so exciting for me, watching this little 'bistro grow up. And now I'm even more excited about watching it grow further. I hope you are, too, and thanks again for helping us get this far.

Laurel Touby is's founder and cyberhostess.

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