Silver Spork was never supposed to happen. How often do you think about any class project after you turn it in? Truth is, we dedicate hundreds of hours to assignments, present them in a classroom setting, and then leave them in the rearview mirror.
And that’s exactly what happened with Silver Spork, a full plan for a hypothetical new print and digital magazine created as a team assignment at the 2014 NYU Summer Publishing Institute (SPI). Our team of 11 students was even awarded a first-place prize by the judges, a group of heavyweight publishing executives. After the exhilarating 24 hours following our star performance, the team split up and we went our separate ways. Silver Spork became this myth in our minds that we would discuss after a few drinks. “What if?” That was the question.
“What if Silver Spork was a real brand?” We joked about returning to the idea years later after we were all successful publishing executives. However, it was never something that was actually going to happen…at least until I realized how painful the publishing industry can be. I won’t lie; Silver Spork came about because I looked around and saw extremely talented people struggling to find employment. And there I was with an extraordinary idea that needed talented people and an action plan.
I started talking to people from the original team and a few others from SPI who had shown excitement about the idea. I was fishing for interest, and the hook caught less than I had hoped. Still, we built a small team and established some arbitrary job titles. We began with a website. Then we started writing material for the site.
The beauty of an idea is how simple it can seem on paper: “I’m going to create [a digital version of] Silver Spork.” That was pretty much the pitch I ran with in the beginning. So when I found out that SilverSpork.com would cost me a few thousand dollars more than I had to spare (about ten dollars), it was back to the drawing board. My SPI colleague Bailey James (Executive Editor) and I (Editor-in-Chief) tried out a thousand new names: Silver Spork Brand, Silver Spork Food, Silver Spork Media, etc, but nothing rolled off the tongue quite the way we wanted. After a dozen more terrible names, we stumbled onto Silver Spork News. And suddenly, we knew we had it.
The funny thing about establishing a brand is all the new information you need to take in. If starting a website has taught me anything, it’s that I used to be an idiot and might still be. Let’s talk about some of the issues and solutions that we worked through:
- Contributors: Who was going to write for this site? We had a bank of posts built up from before the site launch, but blew through them pretty fast. After that we had to write articles by the seat of our pants (see 2). After the loss of the original team, we sought out friends from the program and from our lives to help us. Most of them didn’t work out, but some of them did. And those who did are still working with us today. Our contributors are the real heroes of the site. I might manage some stuff here and there, but they are the people who made Silver Spork News something to be excited about. They did this, not me. And I owe them everything.
- Writing by the Seat of Our Pants: If you’ve spent time reading articles on our site, there’s a good chance you’ve read something I wrote three hours earlier. Whether it’s because someone missed a deadline or aliens abducted our contributors, it falls to me and (if I’m trapped under a car or some other calamitous event) Bailey to keep our publishing schedule. We post at least one article a day. And you can quote me on that. We have not missed a day since we launched on September 4th, 2014. I’d miss my mother’s funeral if Silver Spork News needed a post. She’d understand.
- Art: This brand was started by a bunch of writers. But news flash: art is important. We’ve had two amazing artists (Angeli Rafer and Molly Johanson) working with Silver Spork from the beginning and they’ve been nothing but incredible. Our Facebook ads have the highest click-through when accompanied by an original Silver Spork drawing. Writing is worthless if no one reads it, so we need art to draw in the consumers. You can’t just draw a grasshopper in Microsoft Paint either. It’s gotta be real art that people want to see.
- Facebook Advertising: Wow. I’d be better off trying to understand Naked Lunch. Facebook Advertising is a simple interface that sets you up with everything you need to be successful. And then what? “You wanted college students 21 and up? Here’s an eighth-grader checking out your weed articles.” I will say this for Facebook: it gets us likes and page views, but not always from our sought-after demographic. It also puts everything into convenient charts to show how it didn’t do what it said it did.
- Management: I’m learning, okay? I became the leader of Silver Spork News because I had the most passion for the project and knowledge about working in the kitchen, not because I knew how to herd cats and communicate. I am in charge of scheduling projects for art, editorial, and marketing. I’m also the voice of the brand when speaking externally to restaurants and performing interviews. The only reason I can do any of this is by having a kickass second-in-command. Along with working another publishing job, Bailey James writes, edits, and posts material for the site, and she works as our Marketing Executive. Without her, all of my ideas would be nothing. She keeps me in line so that I can keep the brand on point and on time.
by Ian Sims, Editor-in-Chief, Silver Spork News