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Team Building Remains My Proudest Achievement In PressBox's First Decade

April 15, 2016
When I look back with pride at the first 10 years that PressBox has been in the business of covering sports, an awful lot of thoughts race through my head … and my heart.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, losing my longtime local on-air radio gig as sports talking Stan "The Fan" just before turning 50 in 2001 and moving to North Carolina as a result certainly set in motion the "necessity" inside of me to return to Baltimore with a seemingly simple but audacious idea of setting up a sports content creation business that would insulate me from being fired or having someone come in and "change our programming."

We launched PressBox in April 2006, but it was easily a full year prior to that that I put in motion all the work on the stuff that predated the launch. Establishing the foundation involved creating the business plan, getting all the necessary legal work done to form the corporate entity, the very daunting task of raising what, at one time, seemed like an insurmountable amount of money -- $500,000 -- and, of course, the hours and hours pondering what we'd name our baby. 

Most of the boxes got checked in, say, nine months. Next came the serious reality check of who we could hire to make the business side of PressBox sing. The plans called for a website, but who would really build the site … and, oh yeah, who would then water it, tend to it and grow this living and breathing thing that is a relevant website?

Where being Stan "The Fan" had mostly been a "me-first" business, I was now going to become part of a team for the first time in close to 25 years. The twist for me was that I was the one person empowered from the start to make the decisions to place the players into their positions.

John Coulson, who in the 10 years we have been in business together, has grown from being simply our vice president of sales to truly being the managing partner of our business. What he and his wife and my wife and I have been through, and the support our wives have shown, is truly the reason we survived the first half of this decade. I wouldn't have become the person I am today without John being by my side and a true friend through this journey. If owning a business is a little like trench warfare, there is nobody I'd want in my trench with me more than John.

Vice president of digital services Jen Nelson was not the first hire I made, but clearly she was the best hire I made. Jen jumped in feet first to work with our first real partner, Mission Media, to oversee the building of the first iteration of PressBoxOnline.com. (As an aside, people always ask me why didn't we just use the URL PressBox.com? Well, 11 years ago, it was taken, by a company in Iowa or Idaho that manufactured small press boxes for small stadiums being built across this country.)

From Jen's first day on the job, she has been all in. A Yale graduate who had worked in the NBA's interactive division, she showed up in Baltimore and needed a place to hang her hat. How and why she did that, I'll never know. 

We've been lucky finding good people for a lot of our jobs, but Jen has been the MVP of PressBox. She was knowledgeable enough to drive us where we needed to go. Jen is richly deserving of not just being an employee anymore but an actual partner. 

We have been fortunate in hiring three very strong editors who have worked tirelessly at setting a lofty standard for our editorial content and maintaining that high level of correctness in how we present ourselves to our readers and online users.

From our first real hire Kevin Heitz, to Barrett Neale and now Kaitlyn Wilson, I am in awe of their hard work editing all of our content during this past decade. Assistant editor Justin Silberman, while a new hire, has also left his mark. We have also been blessed to have two sage senior editorial advisors in Larry Harris and now Bill Ordine who have been there to help us stay true to ourselves.

The layout of the paper has been handled flawlessly, first by Jen Franz, and for the past nine years by Kimberly Shilling.

Sales most likely always will be the hardest aspect of what we do. It's complicated and even a little bit mysterious. Lots of people who can't sell refer to sales as the dark side of the business. Luckily for me, I had to learn long ago that one must dance for his supper. So I view sales as neither dark nor light -- what I view it as is an absolute necessity. Rick Marsalek was brave enough to start with us back when it wasn't the wisest decision to leave a solid media company. Julie Sawyer came in and stabilized things for us, and we now have a very steady sales team comprised of Julie, Gail Greene and Hugh Collie. 

Our photography has been skillfully handled by the likes of Jim Burger, Ed Sheahin, Kenya Allen, Mitch Stringer and the hardest working lady in sports photography I know, Sabina Moran.

As far as the writers go, there are simply way too many to mention, aside from my first two writing hires who are still giving us great coverage on the Orioles and Ravens. Writing is not easy for most at any age, but Jim Henneman is still a master in his field and lends incredible insights and credibility to our Orioles coverage and readers. On the Ravens' side of things, Joe Platania is simply knowledgeable and passionate about what he does -- the width and scope of what he remembers is truly remarkable.

Office management is Leah Lancaster's domain, and she has been an incredibly loyal and caring employee who has made us all a part of her family. What can you say about a woman who roots for the O's and Ravens in a hardcore fashion, bowls and loves her granddaughter to pieces? Did I mention she occasionally likes to carry our wagers out to Las Vegas? Too often the cash we send to Vegas stays in Vegas. 

The last person I want to mention is, in my eyes, our unsung hero -- art director extraordinaire Brad Meerholz. The old adage is true: you only have one chance to make a first impression. That impression more often than not is based on looks. In a blink of an eye, people decide whether they want to be a part of you and whether they'll welcome you in. Brad's tapestry of work across all our mediums -- print, digital, commemorative publications and TV -- has been our calling card and allowed us entry into a lot of folks' homes.

What can you say? Ten years in, and we're still growing up as a business. It's amazing to contemplate where we have come from, where we are today and where we intend to go. None of it would be possible without the team we have built. 

Issue 220: April 2016