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updated: 6/10/2013 5:44 AM

Guide's transition to digital may be example for others

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The first 10,000 copies of Oaklee's Family Guide were distributed along the Arlington Heights Memorial Day parade route by Nancy Stevens and a handful of other PTA moms (and their families) who helped found the publication.

That was 1999.

Today 500,000 print copies -- generally 125,000 per quarter -- are distributed a year, free, at 1,000 locations in the west, northwest and north suburbs, and in Chicago.

More importantly, Oaklee's Family Guide also draws 10,000 unique monthly visitors and their nearly 34,000 page views to its searchable website; has a mobile site for all those Moms and their smartphones; and attracts advertisers with strong demographics, Facebook giveaways and mentions, Pinterest postings, and email and video options.

"We don't deliver (an advertising message) in just one place," Stevens says.

Here, though, is the best part: The successful transition from traditional print to a print-and-digital base is something other small businesses facing a similar should-we-or-shouldn't-we decision about embracing the web might adapt: Stevens, who now is publisher and sole owner of the Buffalo Grove-based Guide, simply went where she knew her market was.

The fact that Stevens knows her marketplace is a significant factor in Oaklee's Family Guide's success. In fact, the move to a digital edition was "a conscious business strategy," Stephens says. "We're experts in reaching the Mommy Market."

That's encouraging, because good small business operators typically know their markets, and, as entrepreneurs are apt to do, perhaps can gain some insights from information Stevens shares:

• The print edition continues to survive (and prosper) because "Readers absolutely love it," Stevens says. "Moms will pick up a copy and throw it in the diaper bag, so that it's always handy. They tend to browse the print edition. It's a little more personal. 'Let's see what's out there.'"

• Reader web searches "are very focused. 'We have family coming for the weekend. What can we do?'" Stevens explains.

• "We're seeing a lot more mobile use," Stevens says. Users are "looking for specifics. They're very keyword focused. 'Where's a restaurant we can go to after (the kids') soccer game?'

"The more content we put on our mobile site, the more businesses see Mom come in looking at their smartphones."

• Coupons are important, in print and on the web.

• Moms have been ahead of the game in using technology, but small businesses are catching up, Stevens says. "Small business advertisers are really understanding that the web is a good place to get business. They no longer use the Yellow Pages, and they turn to us for expertise on how to convey their messages" in what still is a new medium.

• Stevens' role as publisher "really hasn't changed that much," she says. "Digital is just another touch point for us."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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