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Reunion Planning At Its Best – 25 Years Of Family, Military & Class Reunions – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Edith Wagner, Founder, Publisher, Reunions Magazine

June 19, 2015

“A decision had to be made in terms of whether or not we could continue to afford to print. At this point with the last several issues, the amount of advertising has covered it, but we’ve really survived for the last 25 years because I’m very passionate about it. A lot of my savings is gone. I’ve never missed a payroll and we pay our bills, but it’s hard.” Edith Wagner

Reunions-18 Reunions Magazine has been around for 25 years and is a small publication that has the backbone of a mammoth. Edith Wagner is the founder and publisher and the glue that has held it together for a quarter of a century. Refusing to give up, Edith has done whatever it took to keep the magazine afloat, even dipping into her own savings. Her passion for the magazine and its subject matter was equaled only by her determination.

Today the magazine is in its 25th year and about to undergo a drastic change by attempting a digital-only format designed to keep Edith’s dream alive and allow the audience to continue its relationship with the brand.

I spoke with Edith recently about the transition and about the history and legacy of the Reunions brand. Her determination and passion is still strong and her faith in what she’s about to do is focused. And for Reunions’ creator and leader, she is as tenacious today as she was 25 years ago.

So, I hope you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Edith Wagner, Founder & Publisher, Reunions Magazine and meeting a lady who believes in her passion and her brand.

But first, the sound-bites:

edith_headshot_edited On the genesis of Reunions Magazine: When I started out we were talking about reunions of adoptees and birth parents and I very quickly learned that there was no money in that. I would talk to people about my idea and they would say oh, it could be interesting, and that was my reaction. And this went on for two years before the 25-year-ago beginning of the actual magazine. But with the family, class, military and other reunions we found a market.

On just who the Reunion audience is: For the audience, our audience is reunion planners. And the magazine has become reader-driven; we get almost all of our material from our readers. I think what happens with a lot of reunions is that they love to see their story in a magazine. And I make it clear that there has to be something special about the reunion.

On the fact that after 25 years, Reunions is going digital-only: A decision had to be made in terms of whether or not we could continue to afford to print. At this point with the last several issues, the amount of advertising has covered it, but we’ve really survived for the last 25 years because I’m very passionate about it. A lot of my savings is gone. I’ve never missed a payroll and we pay our bills, but it’s hard.

On whether she believes the legacy of the brand can survive without a print component: Your guess is as good as mine, but we do have a huge presence on the web. We have a very large webpage. I have about 12 years’ worth of content that I haven’t even forced onto the webpage yet. We don’t date things because frankly reunions aren’t dated. And that fact has been a real serious advantage for us. Every now and then there’s news. But what I hear from readers a lot is that they just collect the magazines and when they’re getting ready to plan their next reunion they sit down and they read them all.

On the major stumbling block that she’s had to face over the last 25 years and how she overcame it: It’s always been money. How did we overcome it? We just sort of knuckled down and every now and again we’d come up with a new idea for a special thing we could do and sell.

On her most pleasant moment: Travel writing and traveling to represent companies was a couple of things that were a bonus and just fell into my lap over the years and made it a lot of fun.

On what keeps her up at night: I don’t have a lot of trouble sleeping. (Laughs) Right now it would have to be the transition. There are a lot of people who have to be notified and I’m not talking about sending out a form letter. What I’ve been agonizing and losing sleep over is exactly how to tell people what we’re doing. So far, the response has been amazing because we’ve been talking to advertisers first.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Edith Wagner, Founder and Publisher, Reunions Magazine…

Samir Husni: Congratulations on staying in business for 25 years.

Edith Wagner: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story of Reunions magazine and its quarter-century history.

Edith Wagner: When I started out we were talking about reunions of adoptees and birth parents and I very quickly learned that there was no money in that. I would talk to people about my idea and they would say oh, it could be interesting, and that was my reaction. And this went on for two years before the 25-year-ago beginning of the actual magazine.

At that time Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey were on television. And people could relate to those types of programs, of course, but they were always telling me about their military reunions or their family or class reunions. So, I quickly realized that if I used the title Reunions my idea could be expanded to cover all of those things and that’s when we got out of just the adoptee and birth parent part.

But with the family, class, military and other reunions we found a market. But we started out in a slightly down-market in the 90s. It was the early 90s that a lot of businesses started pulling their salespeople back, because then they were on the road all the time and that was becoming very expensive, people were doing a lot more work over the phone. And the hotels needed to fill up their rooms on the weekend; if they had all the business during the week, they could have a skeleton staff on Saturday and Sunday and get by, but all of a sudden they weren’t having as much business during the week and they needed to fill up on weekends and what better way to fill up on weekends than with reunions? And there began the basis for our being able to support ourselves.

Our primary advertisers are convention and visitors bureaus and hotels. Our big problem now, obviously, is advertising. Who have you not heard that from? Now, we’re much more into the convention and visitors bureaus than we are hotels, some resorts and one time a year we have a big feature on ranches; ranches are great places for family reunions.

We’ve worked out some of the problems, but there’s not enough in it consistently right now for the cost of printing and postage. And that’s one of the reasons that we’re making some changes.

Samir Husni: Who is the Reunion audience?

Edith Wagner: For the audience, our audience is reunion planners. And the magazine has become reader-driven; we get almost all of our material from our readers. I think what happens with a lot of reunions is that they love to see their story in a magazine. And I make it clear that there has to be something special about the reunion.

One of the things that I discovered very early on was a very substantial part of our audience is African Americans. And in terms of the advertisers, most of the advertisers that we have are appealing, to a great extent, if you look at the images they use, to African American families. Certainly, in proportion to the overall population, I would say that the percentage of African American families who have family reunions is a little bigger than any of the other percentages. And these reunions are usually the most well-organized and best put together of any.

Samir Husni: And how has that fact impacted the magazine over the years? Since African Americans are a substantial part of your audience, can Reunions now be classified as an ethnic magazine?

Edith Wagner: No, not at all. I think what it impacted was family reunions in general. African American families have taken the family reunion to another level and have demonstrated to other ethnic groups that there are all of these wonderful things that you can do with family reunions.

When we first started out, reunions were just really moving into being a three-day event, with people having to travel to reunions. Prior to that, reunions had been a Sunday picnic. People may have gone to reunions, but they were usually going home, back to the home place or back the farm where everyone grew up. And that still happens, but not as much as it did 25 years ago.

People had begun to travel for reunions and they had turned into more of a Friday, Saturday and Sunday-type event. And now with many reunions, people travel Tuesday through Thursday and make the reunion even longer, in part because if you’re going to travel, you don’t want to picnic just on Sunday afternoon, you have to make the travel worthwhile.

Another trend that has begun to happen is large groups of people will take their vacations together. It takes some planning; you obviously have to be some place that can accommodate everybody. And a lot of these kinds of things are what we include in the stories that go into the magazine and online.

Samir Husni: I read your letter from the last issue and in it you said that would be the last of Reunions regularly-scheduled print edition for now. Is it 25 years and now it’s over?

Edith Wagner: A decision had to be made in terms of whether or not we could continue to afford to print. At this point with the last several issues, the amount of advertising has covered it, but we’ve really survived for the last 25 years because I’m very passionate about it. A lot of my savings is gone. I’ve never missed a payroll and we pay our bills, but it’s hard.

But I didn’t want to give it up. I haven’t aggressively tried to sell it; I can think of people who I wish would consider buying it, but the people I have talked to want to turn it into a travel magazine. And while we have travel information in the magazine; I don’t want it to be a travel magazine. We have a substantial following.

Convention and visitors bureaus frequently have family reunion planning workshops and it’s usually either a half or an all-day Saturday and often I’m invited to come and speak. Recently, I was in Newport News, Virginia, and the way most of them get their audience is through the magazine. We don’t sponsor it and we have nothing to do with it other than I’m the speaker. And at this point, I only do it for advertisers. It’s an added value.

Samir Husni: Do you think the legacy of the magazine will be able to survive without a print edition?

Edith Wagner: Your guess is as good as mine, but we do have a huge presence on the web. We have a very large webpage. I have about 12 years’ worth of content that I haven’t even forced onto the webpage yet. We don’t date things because frankly reunions aren’t dated. And that fact has been a real serious advantage for us. Every now and then there’s news. But what I hear from readers a lot is that they just collect the magazines and when they’re getting ready to plan their next reunion they sit down and they read them all.

And as I said, we have a huge webpage and a very active Facebook page. And some people are impressed by our numbers and others aren’t, we’re a very small business. But the reasons we can attract advertisers is our readers, our webpage visitors and we also have a huge Pinterest page and all of these people are reunion planners.

If you’re a Convention and Visitors Bureau, a hotel or a rancher or even a cruise line looking to book reunions; we’re the ones who can deliver the reunion planners. That’s certainly what has kept us going all of these years.

Plus, a lot of the CVB’s that we work with have been with us for a long time. We know them well and they know us well. I wish we had a lot more. And a lot more say they are doing reunions and are recruiting them.

The other thing is that reunions travel. A lot of families, military groups and even class reunions are beginning to travel more and more. For class reunions we always include information, but it isn’t of particular interest to our advertisers because if they do class reunions they’re right there; they’re generally in the same city where the people went to school.

Samir Husni: What has been the major stumbling block that you’ve had to face in this 25-year journey and how did you overcome it?

Edith Wagner: It’s always been money. How did we overcome it? We just sort of knuckled down and every now and again we’d come up with a new idea for a special thing we could do and sell.

Samir Husni: And what has been the most pleasant moment in these last 25 years?

Edith Wagner: The people who are with me today have all pretty much been here for at least 24 of those 25 years and we’re all neighbors.

There are a couple of things that have happened that I could have certainly never predicted and are pretty cool. First of all there were a number of summers that I stayed on the phone doing interviews and talking about reunions, which I loved because I love talking about reunions. And this was probably in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Then I was hired by a series of companies to travel around the country and do mostly early morning or late afternoon local TV shows to talk about reunions. And my job was to slip in the name of the company during an interview. I did Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hebrew National and a folding furniture company that I promoted as a furniture people would want for their reunion picnic.

Samir Husni: So, you were basically doing native advertising before native advertising was a topic of conversation? (Laughs)

Edith Wagner: (Laughs too) Yes, yes. One summer I did 23 cities and that wasn’t in a straight line; I kept coming back home. And that was the summer I also wrote a book called “The Family Reunion Source Book.” It was 1998 or 1999.

But then about the same time I started getting invitations to go on press trips and do travel writing. And I did a lot of that, some foreign travel, not very much, but some. And I really limited myself to the kinds of places that reunions would go to. Every now and then I’d get an invitation that was a bit of a stretch, where I knew it was too expensive for a reunion or a place that was just not somewhere a reunion would be held.

Travel writing and traveling to represent companies was a couple of things that were a bonus and just fell into my lap over the years and made it a lot of fun.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Edith Wagner: I don’t have a lot of trouble sleeping. (Laughs) Right now it would have to be the transition. There are a lot of people who have to be notified and I’m not talking about sending out a form letter. What I’ve been agonizing and losing sleep over is exactly how to tell people what we’re doing. So far, the response has been amazing because we’ve been talking to advertisers first. And advertisers are interested in supporting us online. I’m hoping that our advertisers are going to follow us online. We’ve come up with a whole web-based rate sheet for them and some ideas of what we want to do online, adding things like video. So, the transition keeps me up a bit at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

One comment

  1. wow! sorry to hear that .i love my printed reunion magazine
    . but times bring about a change..i for one will follow you to the cyberspace..



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