So What Do You Do, Poppy MacDonald, President and Publisher of National Journal?

The National Journal executive tells us how she "stumbled into media" and what it takes to excel in publishing


Here’s some solid advice from National Journal publisher Poppy MacDonald: “Don’t hole up in your office and assume you’re going to serve people that way. Open up a dialogue and make sure that dialogue goes much deeper than just passing a business card.” Trust her; she knows her stuff. It’s not by chance that National Journal’s renewal rates are at 95 percent in 2014. MacDonald actually makes the effort to get out and converse face-to-face with the publication’s audience, whether she’s speaking to a focus group or a head of government affairs, so she can get to the root of their issues and find out how the brand can best serve them.

And her mastery of the art of listening is complemented by her knack for inventiveness. MacDonald’s introduction of a membership model to National Journal that replaced its previous subscription strategy was a successful revenue and audience builder, and thanks to The Catalyst — an advertising unit created under MacDonald’s leadership that delivers viewability rates up to 72 percent of the industry average — the pub’s digital revenue was at its highest by the end of 2014, with numbers up 63 percent year-over-year.

Here, learn how MacDonald “stumbled into media,” find out what her episode of “Undercover Boss” would be like and get her advice on excelling in a career in media.

Name: Poppy MacDonald
Publisher and president, National Journal
Started her career on Capitol Hill, working for legislators representing her home state of Oregon. In 2000, moved on to work in communications for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2001, became the director of marketing and new business development at The Advisory Board Company. Became partner of Gallup World Poll & Healthcare Practice at Gallup, Inc., then went to Politico in 2010 to be the executive director of Politico Pro. Started at National Journal in 2011 as vice president of membership, then took the position of chief revenue officer; promoted to president and publisher in 2014.
Birthdate: September 28
Hometown: Salem, Oregon
Education: BA, Scripps College
Marital status: Married
Media mentors: Chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, David Bradley; Justin Smith, CEO, Bloomberg Media Group; and Andy Sareyan, CEO, Andrews McMeel Universal
Best career advice received: “Lead with your own personal strengths and in your own style; don’t try to replicate another person’s leadership style simply because they have found success,” from Dalia Mogahed, executive coach with Gallup Inc. 
Guilty pleasure: A glass of Oregon pinot noir while my husband gets the kids to bed.
Last book read: The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, by William N. Thorndike
Twitter handle: @PoppyMacD

When you started your career did you envision that your path would lead you to where you are now?
Absolutely not. I didn’t have any vision that this is where I would end up. I think I stumbled into media. I was really glad I did, but the job I have today as president and publisher of National Journal does really draw back on my start as a Capitol Hill staffer. I read National Journal primarily because it’s what my senator read, and I wanted to understand and learn the same information he was consuming. So I think it really does help in my job today that I was one of our readers. I know what our subscribers are looking for, the information they need to know in the morning when they wake up [and balancing this] with the more detailed, long-form journalism where we teach them something about the legislation or the policies they’re working on.

Was there anything that surprised you when you actually started working at National Journal versus being just a reader of the publication?
I would probably say what surprised me was the innovative spirit here. The perception when you’re on Capitol Hill is we read [National Journal] because it’s trusted and it’s credible and it’s nonpartisan. But I think what surprised me when I got here is that people weren’t resting on their laurels saying, ‘Hey, we’ve been around for 30 years. Let’s just keep doing business the same. Let’s just keep producing that magazine that everyone reads and let’s keep producing that daily in print and the ‘Hotline’ (which is our campaigns and elections tool).’ We need to be very innovative about what we are offering next. What people needed 45 years ago isn’t what they need today, and so people are constantly thinking about how we can do things better and differently. I definitely didn’t have that perspective being on Capitol Hill.