A one-on-one conversation with Cindy Martin, President of BHAMNOW.COM.
B-Metro: Tell us about your family background, education, family now, etc.?
Martin: “I grew up in Bessemer, AL with an older brother, Matt. Our parents were depression era children from Dora and Walker County and worked hard to build a life. After enlisting in the navy in WWII, my Dad, Nat Self, returned home to finish High School, married my Mom, Louise James, and went on to get his B.S. at Birmingham-Southern on a military scholarship.
“In the 1960s Bessemer was a relatively safe, growing suburbia neighborhood where we played in the streets and ventured into the woods without supervision. We were active in The First Methodist Church and would aim to beat the Baptists to lunch at the Bright Star on Sundays. I had so much fun being a cheerleader for the Jess Lanier Purple Tigers in the 1970s, serving in Sports Club and also loved math and science classes. I made up my mind in high school that I would pursue a master’s degree to be competitive in the work force. Building a life with options and possibilities has always been important to me.
“My Dad encouraged me to follow my brother’s footsteps and get a degree in mechanical engineering at The University of Alabama since engineering grads were in top demand. I decided to do that, knowing that it would help prepare me for getting into law or MBA school. I was chosen for an entrepreneur project my senior year where we and had to start and run a business on campus. ‘Hangover Video Services’ was born! Our idea was to sell our video services to fraternities and sororities to document their parties. Our business slogan was that Hangover Video Services ‘will never let you forget the night before.’ Turns out, the idea didn’t take off as well as we hoped. Feedback was that the fraternities and sororities didn’t really want their parties documented. Go figure! But, I was ‘hooked’ on the energy and excitement of entrepreneurism. This led to my decision to pursue an MBA at Alabama, figuring I would build business acumen that would serve me in a broader capacity than law.
“I met my husband, Cliff Martin, while working for AT&T in Orlando. Cliff and I will be celebrating 33 years of marriage this year. We enjoy living in the wonderfully eclectic Forest Park. We are close to the best restaurants in Alabama, 10 minutes from downtown and the airport. I adore the character of older homes. Ours is approaching its 100th birthday.”
B-Metro: What in your background best prepared you to work in digital media?
Martin: “Digital media is a wonderland of marketing, communications and technology all mixed together. My education in engineering and business gave me a strong baseline of appreciation for logic and technology but also the ‘human’ psychology of marketing and business. My first job was in a leadership development program for AT&T. Part of this program included rotating assignments every 6 months to get a broad scope of experience. AT&T was still a huge company in the 1980’s. Every office was highly enabled with first class technology including the data center where I ran the midnight shift crew in Orlando. (Midnight shift is what you get for being the new kid on the block). I remember being amazed at the power of using email and its ability to instantly communicate with hundreds of people in seconds.
B-Metro: What were the early days of digital media like for you..how did you educate the market?
Martin: “The birth of consumer Internet started in early 1990s. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to be on the forefront, serving on the team to define AT&T’s product launch strategies for AT&T Worldnet, the first dial-up service by AT&T. This was at AT&T headquarters in NJ. Part of my job was competitive analysis of content offerings. I had Internet accounts on Prodigy, Genie, Delphi, Compuserve and Pathfinder. At the time, each service had content behind their subscription firewall.
“It was contacts in New York City at Advance Publications that brought me back home to Alabama with the goal of starting a new digital media company in 1996. This was the birth of AL.com. After building a great team to support this mission, my team and I met with hundreds of companies throughout the state and neighboring states, selling digital media. The curiosity level was high. There weren’t many local digital media options at that time. As the business and technology evolved, we added many services to our array of offerings which required hundreds of hours of training and specializations within our team.
B-Metro: After AL.com, what made you decide to get back into digital media with Bham Now?
Martin: “I had the honor of serving as President of the newly formed media conglomerate, Alabama Media Group, as a result of the merger of The Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Mobile Press-Register, AL.com and Birmingham magazine in 2012. But, my desire to build and grow new digital companies wasn’t satiated.
“Birmingham started experiencing a renaissance. Energy was pouring back into downtown. Avondale literally seemed to pop up out of the dust. I had an overwhelming desire to build a media company that was focused on capturing Birmingham’s positive momentum. Creating new jobs in Birmingham was also a top priority. Birmingham is my home. With my passion and background in digital, I wanted to build on the momentum of digital media coupled with the power of social media and search engines. I also saw an opportunity to be a connecter. To connect local people with local businesses and non-profits. The ‘Local’ movement was really taking hold and I wanted this to be a cornerstone of the new company. A career in digital media has helped to satisfy my need to be challenged and constantly stay on my toes. As we’ve seen, the mouse keeps moving the cheese and I doubt that will stop anytime soon due to technology.
B-Metro: What are your goals with Bham Now?
Martin: “Our overall mission is to help create a healthier, smarter more prosperous Birmingham area for everyone. We will accomplish this by being the very best digital media and offer the highest quality digital marketing in the Greater Birmingham area. We have two main constituents: One is our audience. Over 45 percent of Greater Birmingham (over 313K people) visit bhamnow.com every month. Our audience tells us through traffic to our stories and through our survey data that they trust the Bham Now brand to provide fun, uplifting and useful content.
“Second is our local clients. We have served over 180 local companies and non-profits in the past four years since our inception. We don’t accept revenue from google ads. We only want local clients with local messages. We work hand in hand with our clients to create custom content campaigns that accomplish the client’s goals while also resonating with our audience. This can be a tough balance, but our content team takes the time to do it right. We also build the content to serve the opposing digital masters of SEO (Google) and social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIN).
B-Metro: What do you think the future of local digital media news sites looks like?
Martin: “I hope Bham Now is a model for future local media. I believe hard-hitting news will likely be covered by non-profits. This leaves a huge opportunity for digital media like Bham Now to serve up fun, educational, uplifting content that can help build bridges and build community. That’s really what we’re about—community. .