Print Is The Heart Of The Experience At GX The Guard Experience Magazine: The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With GX’s Keith Kawasaki…March 18, 2015
“When we first put up the website for GX, I had a Mom call me and she said, hey, can you print this story, because I want to keep it. So, I printed it out for her on nice paper and mail it to her. I printed it and mailed it to her and she told me she ended up framing it. People want to physically hold it; they want to see it and share it that way. It legitimizes everything when it’s in print.” Keith Kawasaki
A print legacy vehicle that not only connects its audience within communities, but provides them with a vehicle that drives their personal stories and photographs straight into the future for subsequent generations; GX magazine is a relevant and important part of people’s lives who serve in the Army National Guard and also for people who may not know the intricacies and benefits of Guard life. The magazine tells the stories of these service men and women, from their perspectives; it publishes their pictures from their mindsets, and it does it well.
Keith Kawasaki is vice president in charge of client services for iostudio, the ad agency that handles the magazine for the Guard. I have been a paid consultant for ios for years, but only from a larger perspective, not involved with issue-by-issue content at all. And I can truly say, the depth of Keith’s feelings when he talks about the magazine and the important stories that it tells can be heard and read in his words. The sincere honor and respect that he holds for what the men and women of the Army National Guard do is behind the magazine’s articulated success and propels it farther down the road of accomplishment.
Keith is a firm believer in the value of print and has brought that conviction to the forefront of the Guard’s mission with this product. The strategies and truths that ios used in conceptualizing the magazine 12 years ago are continued today and keep the print product valuable and an asset in this digital age.
I hope you enjoy this very moving and important magazine story about one branch of our country’s military service and the men and women who bring the pages to life…The Mr. Magazine™ interview with Keith Kawasaki, Vice President, Client Services, iostudio.
But first the sound-bites…
On the concept of GX: Being that the Guard had not been as active prior to 2004, not as active as the other branches for two decades; while they did serve in the Gulf War, it wasn’t as extensive as some of the other branches; when these Guard soldiers would get thrown into the mix with the other active-duty people, there was a misperception of who the Guard was. So, their brand was influx and they needed help to answer the questions: who are the Guard and why are they relevant and important?
On why GX is content marketing: Well, because there was a marketing objective to reposition the Guard in 2004 and then continually strengthen that position over the years, as the service of choice for these individuals. There are other options out there for people, but the Guard uses GX to say, hey, we are a service of choice and here’s how you can maximize your service for both you and your family.
On why a printed product was the best choice to facilitate the Guard’s objective: When we first put up the website for GX, I had a Mom call me and she said, hey, can you print this story, because I want to keep it. So, I printed it out for her on nice paper and mail it to her. I printed it and mailed it to her and she told me she ended up framing it. People want to physically hold it; they want to see it and share it that way. It legitimizes everything when it’s in print.
On any major stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: Oddly enough, with GX we haven’t had any major stumbling blocks; we’ve had challenges, no job is ever easy. With the Government you are required to prove your worth continuously, because it’s tax payer’s dollars and we take that very seriously at iostudio.
On his most pleasant surprise so far during his GX career: I had a woman call me (during his travels) and she said, hey, I hear you’re going to be in our town. Can you stop by? I’d love to share my story with you and tell you about my son. I ended up spending such quality time with her and her Pastor and she had taken pictures of GX and passed them around in her town.
On what keeps him up at night: Lately, my son has been sick and he keeps me up at night. And taking care of my family is always on my mind.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ conversation with Keith Kawasaki, Vice President, Client Services, iostudio.
Samir Husni: GX magazine has now been in business for 12 years; would you explain the concept of the magazine and the role it plays with the National Guard?
Keith Kawasaki: Sure. We are incredibly blessed with a great client and that’s the unique thing about the work that we do; it’s content marketing. The client had a need to communicate and they chose to use the magazine as that vehicle.
It’s been exceptional that the Army National Guard sees the true value in print and understands the importance of telling personal stories to convey a message. And they have such tremendous stories to draw from. And through those stories comes the great inspiration of GX.
Going back to the beginning, you can ask the question, what was the environment then in 2004 for the Army National Guard? They had wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and recruiting was at an all-time low. There was an incredible need to put feet in boots and get overseas and at the same time to keep the men and women that they had.
The Army National Guard brand in and of itself was in a bit of a crisis, because if you think about the service historically, the Guard had developed the reputation of being “Weekend Warriors,” which is a term that a lot of active-duty folks threw around and really was a discredit to the skills that the Guard brought to the table. “For most of the month, they are not drill. They’re teachers or engineers; just normal jobs, but then one weekend a month they drill and then go to training during the summertime for two weeks, unless they get activated on Federal service to go overseas or wherever they’re needed, whereas, on active duty in the regular Army, they’re serving full-time, all the time.
Being that the Guard had not been as active prior to 2004, not as active as the other branches for two decades; while they did serve in the Gulf War, it wasn’t as extensive as some of the other branches; when these Guard soldiers would get thrown into the mix with the other active-duty people, there was a misperception of who the Guard was. So, their brand was influx and they needed help to answer the questions: who are the Guard and why are they relevant and important?
The higher force was in transition as well, operationally, geographically and technologically, because all their technology up to that point had not been developed for going down the roads in Iraq and engaging the enemy, so their technology was going left and right. Geographically, the Guard was moving bases around; operationally, their needs were changing, going from just being a ready-reserve to a fighting force, there was a lot of infrastructure and training that had to be changed.
So, they brought all of this to iostudio and said here’s where we’re at; what can we do to keep our men and women in the Guard and then also have something to leverage as a recruiting tool? The owners of our company, Mitch Powers, Ed Brown and Chris West, came up with the magazine GX, the Guard Experience, and it’s a 108 page bi-monthly publication that distributes 220,000 copies per issue, 215,000 are individual and 5,000 are bulk.
It’s changed over the years, the distribution and the frequency based on the Government’s needs. There are no third-party ads in the publication; we have maybe 10 ads in each issue and they’re not really ads, they’re public service announcements talking about other opportunities in the Guard. So, it’s entirely 108 pages of National Guard content that’s turned out every other month. And it’s all original content.
Samir Husni: You used the term content marketing and this term has been used so loosely in everything, whether describing a magazine promoting a car or describing a magazine that’s promoting a cause. Why do you feel there is a need to coin such a phrase as “content marketing?” Why can’t GX just be a magazine for the Guard?
Keith Kawasaki: Well, because there was a marketing objective to reposition the Guard in 2004 and then continually strengthen that position over the years, as the service of choice for these individuals. There are other options out there for people, but the Guard uses GX to say, hey, we are a service of choice and here’s how you can maximize your service for both you and your family. Here are the career advance opportunities; here are the things that are going to help you live a healthier, happier life. And that’s a marketing tool. It is not an objective news source.
There’s nothing false in GX, but it’s a marketing tool. But it’s done in a way that I think is content marketing, because it’s much rested in the content part, in the stories that are told. These are true, amazing, inspirational stories of real people in the Army National Guard and they can see their faces in the magazine.
What we’ve done with this is what you always advise: to create an experience and I love that. I like to think of GX as a magnetic experience. And there are three core components of that magnetic experience.
Just to take you back through that, the Guard has about 350,000 people and they’re spread out over 3,500 communities across the nation. They’re all their own owner-operated franchises in their individual States, born from the militia. Service-to-state is the bulk of the experience, unless you get activated for Federal duty. So, it’s incredibly spread apart and serving in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota versus serving in Miami, Florida is wildly different. GX is the magnetic experience that is bringing everyone together and connecting the dots. The soldiers read it, the families read it and they can see what’s going on and they can understand the picture of the Guard.
And to create that we have our audience and client research, our audience involvement and our audience empowerment and because of these differences you have to get out there. Every state and territory as well as overseas missions, GX has gone out there and embedded with the soldiers, their families, their employers and their community leaders to understand what that service is from every angle. Because how else could we presume to tell their story?
Samir Husni: For truth-in-reporting, I am a paid consultant that has worked with IOStudio for years now, in terms of the publishing aspect. I have nothing to do with the creation of the content of the magazine on an issue by issue basis, but rather I consult on the bigger picture. That being said; why do you feel in today’s digital world that print is still the best way to serve the mission of the Guard? Or do you believe print is the best way?
Keith Kawasaki: I do and that’s the perfect segue to my next point. You’re reading my mind, Sir. (Laughs) The soldiers of the Army National Guard, because we’re out there all the time working with them and capturing their stories, they see themselves ultimately in the magazine. They write for the magazine; they take photos that appear in the magazine; their personal stories and legacies are captured in the magazine. If you take this over the past 10 years during the Guard’s most tumultuous and courageous period since World War II, we’re talking about so many important missions, so many acts of bravery, and the only way that they are captured in print, in any kind of lasting medium, is through GX. So, soldiers cherish GX; it’s their personal legacy documented that they can show to their kids, and those kids can show it to their kids and so on. At some point, they’re going to reach a time where they can say, hey, here’s Grandpa in GX.
And we’ve already had experiences where soldiers’ kids have contacted us and said; send me that issue because my Dad is in it. And there’s such pride with that, such meaningful engagement with it, that it’s not lost.
Also, when you think of the print publication; it’s mailed directly to the homes of the soldiers, so there’s no: hey, I didn’t get that email or I didn’t get a chance to go to that website. Here is a hardcopy publication, high quality, a luxury item from its aesthetic, and it’s sent to your home; you’re going to see it and your family is going to see it. And because the content is so good and because the magazine is presented so well; it doesn’t get tossed in the trash. This is why more than 80% of our readers share the magazine. And that’s important. They can take an article in there and share it. And this is speaking directly to the audience empowerment point; we believe in incorporating functional content. Functional content meaning content readers can do something with and can serve as a life coach even, and compels them to share it.
There are a lot of list-based things in our finance sections and in our career sections of the magazine, so they can recognize things like: OK, here are the laws that protect your job while you’re deployed. You can take that article to your employer and it’s going to have a lot more weight when you put down a publication like GX on his or her desk and be able to accurately show how it is and it’s also very easy to understand. They don’t have to go to any website or whatever to see it. Digital items come and go and there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet. People find print to be more trustworthy and that’s been proven year after year by industry research.
All these different things enable the client, and I agree with the client, that print is the lasting medium and the most effective for them at this time. There are digital projects that we do; there’s a website for GX, http://www.gxonline.com/, but the heart of the experience is in that print product. And nothing can take that away. It’s there and on their bookshelves and coffee tables.
When we first put up the website for GX, I had a Mom call me and she said, hey, can you print this story, because I want to keep it. So, I printed it out for her on nice paper and mail it to her. I printed it and mailed it to her and she told me she ended up framing it. People want to physically hold it; they want to see it and share it that way. It legitimizes everything when it’s in print.
Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block you’ve had to face during your career with GX and how did you overcome it?
Keith Kawasaki: Oddly enough, with GX we haven’t had any major stumbling blocks; we’ve had challenges, no job is ever easy. With the Government you are required to prove your worth continuously, because it’s tax payer’s dollars and we take that very seriously at iostudio. This is important work that’s going to ultimately help with the mission of the Guard. Things have drawn down on the military warfront scale, but at any point things could change. Everything is cyclical and if you pay attention to the news; you know where things are heating up again.
Every year, seasonally, there are natural disasters that happen across the nation and you need your soldiers to respond to these things, so we take great pride and passion in the work that we do as being part of that effort. And it’s been proven again by the survey data that more than 90% of GX readers believe it’s a valuable retention tool. It’s helping soldiers feel invested and showing value in their service.
I don’t want to say that it’s a stumbling block or a challenge, but we do have to continually prove our worth, and as we should. The community, as a whole with the Guard, has embraced us, so that’s been great. The value of print hasn’t been a hard sell on the Government as our client; because they see it and they value it, and many are soldiers themselves. And they know its worth and hear it from the field as well.
We’ve had three U.S. presidents in the magazine, two Secretaries of Defense, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs; have all seen value in sharing their message through GX magazine. I wish I had something to share with you like: gosh, here has been this big challenge; it hasn’t been a breeze, but it’s been very rewarding work every step of the way.
Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant surprise? When did you have that “aha” moment in your career, working at GX?
Keith Kawasaki: There have been many, but there’s a story that I love to tell about. You know, it’s impossible not to be affected personally by this client, because the work that they do and the people themselves are just amazing.
Years ago, I was traveling from one end of Wisconsin to the other end of North Dakota, so I went across Wisconsin, then Minnesota, and then hit the border of North Dakota to meet with the families of the 34th Infantry, Red Bull Division, during their deployment around 2006 or 2007. They ended up being gone for 22 months and it was a massive deployment, somewhere around 3,500 soldiers plus units that were attached to them.
So, I went and visited with the families of these soldiers and I did it long before GPS told you everywhere to go, so I had all of these maps and everything timed perfectly so that I could get to each city precisely on time. I was visiting all these small towns along the way and right before I left, I had a woman call me and she said, hey, I hear you’re going to be in our town. Can you stop by? I’d love to share my story with you and tell you about my son.
I had my trip so planned out that I thought, gosh, this is going to be really hard to make time for this, but I felt like I had to do it. I figured it out and when I got to the lady’s town, which was Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, and it has a very special place in my heart, I called up this woman and told her that I was there and asked her about getting together.
I ended up spending such quality time with her and her Pastor and she had taken pictures of GX and passed them around in her town. We had done an article on the history of the Yellow Ribbon, so she had driven up community support for the town’s soldiers by passing around pages of GX. So, she’s a very special woman and that town of Sleepy Eye had something like 16 guys deployed in that mission, including her son.
We had a wonderful time together and I stayed in touch with her. It turned out that out of all those guys that were deployed, her son ended up getting wounded pretty badly. He had burns all over his body, but a very strong young man who had some very serious combat experience and ended up going down to a medical center in Texas and she nursed him back to health. I went to his Purple Heart ceremony in Sleepy Eye. The whole town shut down and had gathered together behind the VFW there when he was presented the Purple Heart.
And it’s in all that when you realize that this is a powerful publication and we’re so honored to be a part of it. We were able to help drive community support in the town of Sleepy Eye and we’re able to capture these amazing stories of these soldiers and their families and show what service is really like. GX is a conduit for that. This isn’t something that we’re creating, we’re not getting a pat on the back for creating any of the stories, but to be able to share them with people and get the message out there and unite these 3,500 communities of soldiers together and let them see their common bond is a pretty great thing. Unifying that mission and objective is what we’re all about. It’s important stuff and carries weight and I think about it often.
Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add; also, are you a member of the Guard?
Keith Kawasaki: No, I’m not. I’m from Eastern Long Island and I was just unaware of the service experiences. I was, I don’t want to say sheltered, but it just wasn’t a part of my growing up experience. Service was something that your grandparents had done, but then my eyes were certainly opened up with GX and all of the life experiences of these amazing people. I have learned so much and have such an incredible appreciation for our soldiers and their families since coming here. And it’s a little embarrassing to think back on how ignorant I was to it.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Keith Kawasaki: (Laughs) Lately, my son has been sick and he keeps me up at night. And taking care of my family is always on my mind.
Samir Husni: Thank you.