aNb Media: Getting a Lot More Done While Having Fun and Not Breaking the Bank

REDMOND, Wash. — June 15, 2011 — Having fun is serious business for aNb Media, a company that has become well-known as the expert in the $20 billion toy and licensing industry.

With about 20 employees, the firm publishes online and print trade journals and runs a consumer website. With publications aimed to both industry and consumers, the company covers everything about toys — with in-depth feature stories about retailers, toy review videos and general sector news. The company’s founders have become prominent experts about toys and family entertainment, conducting frequent print and broadcast interviews with outlets from USA Today and the Associated Press to “Live! With Regis & Kelly” and FOX News.

Microsoft News Center recently talked with aNb Media President Jim Silver to find out how the company changed its IT setup to transform its business model, communicate better and accomplish more during the work week.

News Center: Tell us a little bit more about your business and what you do.

Silver: We cover almost everything about the toy and family entertainment industry. To stay on top of news and trends, we maintain ongoing conversations with a wide array of manufacturers, retailers, licensors and licensing agents worldwide from the most prestigious to local mom-and-pop establishments. Then we bring that information back to consumers with online and print news, in-depth feature stories about toy retailers, and toy, video game, book and movie reviews. It’s a lot of fun, but helping our readers have a good time is serious business for us.

News Center: I understand the company went through a business model change recently?

Silver: Well, we used to only publish print magazines and journals, but quickly realized that we needed and wanted to expand our business online. The publishing world has changed, and we needed to change too. So we set out to completely refresh the company, and launched several digital consumer platforms and websites. One of our best-known sites today is Time to Play, which focuses entirely on toys and family entertainment — from product reviews and daily giveaways to expert advice and guest posts from real moms. The site currently has an average of 175,000 unique monthly visitors.

The real-time reporting and blogging was great, but we found we were behind in the technology world — and that was costing us time and money when publishing content. However, we didn’t have the resources to hire a large IT staff to bring us up to date.

News Center: How did you work around that challenge?

Silver: We enlisted the help of a great local IT services and consulting firm, eMazzanti Technologies, which is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. We asked them to help get us updated in IT, so our employees could communicate better with each other, create and post content faster, and accomplish more overall. And we had no money, so it needed to be a cost-effective solution.

eMazzanti showed us Microsoft Office 2010 — and we said, “Wow! We’ve got to have that kind of stuff!” From there, our company IT “makeover” got under way.

News Center: What did the makeover entail?

Silver: It centered on moving our company to Office 2010 and Windows 7 — with the two working together to streamline our operations and make us more productive.

A lot of our business involves travelling, so we are out of the office for weeks at a time. We needed help staying in touch, staying on top of things. We needed help accessing email from the road, and our own computers. Because we’re always writing scripts, shows, articles — it’s all about timing in this business.

The solution for us was standardizing our systems on Microsoft Office Professional 2010 for Windows and Office for Mac 2011 (we use both) and moving our PCs to Windows 7. That allowed us to address the issues that were hurting our productivity, such as a spam problem, inefficient document sharing, and unreliable backups of video and text files.

News Center: Can you give us an example of a task that is easier with Office 2010?

Silver: Sure. The new features in Microsoft Outlook 2010 are time-savers, including Schedule View, Quick Steps, Conversation View and Room Finder.

For instance, Schedule View lets us “stack” our calendars together so we can see and know where people are — which is a lifesaver when we’re at an event and in front of a lot of people. We can stack our schedules, and instantly know by using presence information who’s available to meet with various press contacts, partners and customers.

News Center: What results did you see?

Silver: We found that we have gained about 20 extra hours of productivity a week with Microsoft Office 2010. That’s the equivalent of an extra part-time employee.

Bringing us up to the modern age has allowed us to compete, and gives us the time we need to efficiently work and be effective. Without Office 2010 there would not be enough hours in the work week to do what we’re doing today. It’s all about time; we can only crank out so much in a week, because we’re a small staff.

News Center: Any advice for other small businesses?

Silver: As a small-business owner, I’m not a technology expert, and truth to be told, we don’t want to be technology experts. We want companies like Microsoft and eMazzanti to keep us ahead of the curve — so that what we do is easy.

I would say the same to other small businesses. If you are hitting roadblocks because your IT is outdated or doesn’t work for you anymore, hire someone reputable to get you back in the game with technology — so you can focus on the core of what makes your company successful, not the IT platforms behind it.