Bill Ostendorf is president and founder of Creative Circle Media Solutions, a network of talent he has been building for more than 35 years. Because he believes that quality journalism is essential to American democracy, he has committed the company to helping local and family owned media thrive.
Bill has worked with more than a thousand media companies on three continents as a trainer or management consultant and has led the redesign of more than 750 print publications and hundreds of web sites. Bill founded Creative Circle in 1984 at the tender age of 28. Even then, he was committed to the concept of teamwork and named his group accordingly. After 16 years of balancing part-time consulting and full-time work as a newsroom editor and manager, Bill left The Providence Journal to manage Creative Circle full time in June, 2000.
Bill is an energetic and entertaining speaker who has been featured at hundreds of industry conferences in 23 countries. Trained as a reporter, he aspired to be a columnist, but quickly moved from reporting to editing to design. "I wanted to be the next Mike Royko in my native Chicago, but it just never happened. I wasn't funny or engaging enough in print!" he says.
Instead, he became a specialist at helping "word people," "visual people" and "tech people" work together. "My bosses kept asking me if I could take pictures, manage the photo department, design pages or redesign papers – all things I originally had little training for. I kept saying 'yes' to these new assignments when I probably should have said 'no.' But I developed a passion for helping people avoid all the mistakes I had to suffer through learning on the job."
In a similar fashion, he later became an innovator in finding new ways for newspapers and other media companies to grow their revenues, especially online.
In 2004, frustrated with the terrible software options available to Creative Circle's consulting clients, Bill founded a software company arm for Creative Circle. "I knew nothing about software, but in some ways that was an advantage. We didn't follow the same path as traditional software firms."
He raised $2.4 million from investors and built one of the industry's most innovative software platforms. The company's first product, adQ: Intelligent classifieds, was a good example of how Creative Circle's consulting approach can create better digital solutions.
"Our research showed that 72% of potential advertisers were abandoning the process of placing a classified ad online. I felt we had to do something or newspapers were doomed," says Ostendorf. Almost half the abandonment happened on the page where users were asked to write their ads, so Creative Circle created software that writes the ad for you. That and other improvements reduced abandonment by more than 50%.
Creative Circle has since led the industry in a long list of innovations. The company was the first CMS vendor to offer a pay wall, user-contributed content, reverse publishing, hyper-local sites and networked sites. "We are constantly in the field working with client newspapers in our consultant role, so we have a good pulse of what's happening out there and what newspapers need," says Ostendorf. "It helps us pick up trends and identify opportunities other software companies don't even know about yet.
The company has now launched the first ad server that completely defeates ad blockers.
The company also stays close to readers. Unlike any other software firm, Creative Circle provides direct customer support to users and subscribers. "Everyone in our company talks to or helps actual newspaper readers just about every day," says Ostendorf. "It keeps us focused on what is most really improtant – the reader."
Creative Circle also often commisions third party research into reader needs, actions or opinions.
During his newspaper career, Bill worked as a reporter, photographer, news editor, features editor, copy desk chief and graphics director at several newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Paddock Publications in suburban Chicago, The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, The Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. He taught copy editing at Utah State University and has guest lectured at dozens of other universities in three countries.
Bill joined The Providence Journal in 1987, turning down several other offers partly because he wanted to work at a family owned paper. In 1996, he created the New England Wire Service (NEWS) so New England papers could share content and shave costs, especially in covering New England's pro sports teams. Then he founded the Independent News Network (INN), enabling family owned papers like the Journal to share content and provide their staffs with the kind of exposure chains provide with their internal wire networks. And, while Creative Circle has worked with many of the largest media companies in the world, he still supports family newspaper ownership as much as possible. "Our group is all about relationships. And we like the kind of relationships we can have with family owned companies."
During 13 years at The Journal, he served as managing editor for visuals and new product development, overseeing the design, layout, photography, graphics and much of the editorial production process. In addition, he produced annual calendars and worked to integrate the newspaper's resources with local television outlets, Rhode Island Monthly magazine, The TV Food Network, KRT News Service and projo.com web site.
Bill served as a member of the board of directors for the Society for News Design (SND) for 13 years and has also held leadership positions in the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Both organizations have given him awards for his volunteer contributions to the industry. He also served on the first board of directors of Innovation, an international media consulting firm with offices in Pamplona, Spain.
He originated SND's well known "Quick Course" workshops in 1988 and ran the program for three years, then founded a series of "Summer Camps," which he also ran for three years. The Quick Course concept has become a fixture for SND and has been duplicated in Europe and Latin America. He has a soft spot for associations that help the industry and Creative Circle has helped many national and local press associations with redesigns, consulting, outsourcing help and software.
Bill has a BSJ in magazine writing and an MSJ in newspaper reporting and management, from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and lives just outside Providence in Seekonk, Mass., with his wife Fran, a fellow Northwestern journalism grad who he met at NU. Their children, James and Sally, have successfully left the nest and live in New England. He can't believe he now has three grand daughters.
You can reach Bill at 401-455-1555 or Bill@creativecirclemedia.com.