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Food Mexico And Me & Food Acapulco: Two Magazines Launched South Of the Border By An American With A Strong Determination And A Fierce Passion For Entrepreneurship – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Executive Editor Kenneth Isom Barnes

July 14, 2016

“I think in Mexico it would be very difficult to exist without a print edition for a magazine, mainly because much of Latin America is still a very tactile society. Credibility really depends on being able to show something, so being taken seriously by advertisers, by media partners, by writers, does require a print version.” Kenneth Isom Barnes

Food Mexico Accepting an invitation to experience Mexico with a friend who lives there is not the most typical of ways to start two magazines in another country; in fact, some might call it atypical. And in some cases, complete craziness. But to those passionate dreamers and risk takers we all know as entrepreneurs, it’s just another day inside their heads.

Kenneth Barnes is one young man whose motto of “make life beautiful wherever you are” would probably be one of the biggest catalysts that caused him to stay in Mexico after that initial visit and launch two gorgeous food magazines. And living with regrets should he not have followed his heart would probably be the other propeller that carried him straight into his seeming destiny.

I spoke with Kenneth recently and we talked about his early life and then his eventual magazine life. He’s a man who has known responsibility, having cared for his grandmother until her death when both of his parents died within weeks of each other. And he’s a man who believes in taking chances and then working hard to make the most of any opportunities that might come his way.

With Food Mexico and Me and Food Acapulco, he’s achieved what some might call two impossibilities, having seen quite a bit of success with the two magazines in just a little over three years. Just goes to show that with hard work and a passionate spirit about what you’re doing, a person can capture their dreams and run with them. Or in Kenneth’s case; stay put with them and build them into a Mexican brand.

I hope that you enjoy this inspirational story of a man who believes you can make your life beautiful and successful no matter your environment, even if you’re carving your niche in unfamiliar surroundings. And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kenneth Barnes, Executive Editor, Food Mexico and Me and Food Acapulco.

But first the sound-bites:

0392_PSHPOn why he’s thinks the environment in Mexico is much more open to new magazines and ideas than the United States: I think that magazines are still important in Mexico and print media is also very important here. The United States has a lot more digital media than Mexico. But the Mexican media tends to be more flexible in that there are more opportunities to enter and even though there are some very large companies that are in the magazine business, smaller players do have a place to enter into the business.

 

On what gave him the idea to go to Mexico and launch his magazines: It’s sort of a complex story. I was in my 20s and both of my parents died 13 days apart and I became the sole caregiver for my grandmother. A few years later she died and a friend of mine who was Mexican and was going back to Mexico to spend time with his family suggested that I come with him and visit Mexico. So, when I went to Mexico, I eventually got my Visa and a job. And after a few years in late 2012, I was thinking that maybe I should choose a new city to live in. I lived in Acapulco, which is a very challenging city right now, and it came to me that if I don’t make where I am beautiful, I can go all over the world and I’ll have the same troubles after six months or a year. So, I decided one way that I could do that was to do something constructive. And that’s when I came up with the idea of Food Acapulco, merging the idea of the international culinary assets, local culinary assets, and some interviews, in a print format. And it was picked up by Wal-Mart within the local region and it sold extraordinarily well.

 

On his next magazine launch, Food Mexico and Me in both English and Spanish: Yes, it was launched in English and Spanish. We got the contract to test market our magazine in Manhattan, so that’s why we did an English version of it as well.

 

food-mexico-meOn the positive and negative things he’s learned from his Mexican experience launching magazines: On the positive side I’ve learned that in Mexico people will at least listen to you, they will at least hear you out, which is something that you don’t really have in the United States. Try to get a deal with CBS or Comcast and it would be nearly impossible, where in Mexico, whether it’s a large advertiser or a distributor or retailers; you can be heard. As far as the negatives, I think that the negatives in Mexico are very similar to other countries in that print is a challenging market because there is so many other media formats, in particular the Internet.

 

On whether he thinks he could exist without the print component of his brand: I think in Mexico it would be very difficult to exist without a print edition for a magazine, mainly because much of Latin America is still a very tactile society. Credibility really depends on being able to show something, so being taken seriously by advertisers, by media partners, by writers, does require a print version.

 

On whether he’s had any backlash from the Mexican audience since he’s a United States citizen basically telling them how to cook and eat their own food: No, absolutely no backlash. In fact, there has only been a very welcoming environment. You have to remember that a lot of Mexican media already is dominated by foreign corporations. For example, Mexicans love Hollywood movies.

 

On the magazines’ future: The future for the magazine is that I want to increase the frequency as well as increase the way that we reach out to consumers. The Mexican media market is becoming more fractured over time, so we’re using our magazines as a way to build our initial brand and our initial business.

 

On any upcoming plans for the brand: We’re consistently talking to partners about helping us to launch new magazines, to sponsor new advertising in our magazines, to do promotional projects outside of the traditional print realm.

 

On anything else that he’d like to add: Mexico is a very aspirational market. Many people are really seeking to improve themselves and improve themselves many times by the items that they consume. That means that you have to advertise in the market to a Mexican consumer in a slightly different way than you would to an American, German or a Japanese consumer, which are countries where people have traditionally for generations more wealth.

 

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: Usually what I do is a lot of research about Mexican society and culture. Though not so much as what has been told, but the subtext. That helps me a lot in trying to craft messages for our magazine and in finding new opportunities which maybe larger companies in Mexico that print magazines aren’t looking at.

 

On what motivates him to get out of bed in the morning: What drives me is that Mexico is an open market where there are many large companies that dominate the industry, but very few startups. So, because of that it gives you an open field to reach out to all types of sources that may have never been reached out to before. Having that chance of being more or less an explorer, I find interesting.

 

On whether he has any plans to return to the United States: I would definitely consider coming back to the States in the future, but for the foreseeable future I’m going to be focusing on the Mexican media, whether it’s print or other media formats. But I have a lot of love for the United States and I have a lot of interest in American media as well; I’ll just see how things work out.

 

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is just the idea or worry that I might miss an opportunity on any given day and then how am I going to make an opportunity for tomorrow?

 

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kenneth Barnes, Executive Editor, Food Acapulco & Food Mexico and Me.

Samir Husni: You have experience in the U.S. with media, but you’ve said that the environment in the United States was less flexible and open for new magazines or magazine ideas than in Mexico. Why do you think that it’s easier to publish in Mexico than here in the States?

Food Acapulco 1Kenneth Barnes: I think that magazines are still important in Mexico and print media is also very important here. The United States has a lot more digital media than Mexico.

 

But the Mexican media tends to be more flexible in that there are more opportunities to enter and even though there are some very large companies that are in the magazine business, smaller players do have a place to enter into the business.

Now, granted, it depends on the genre. Are you a celebrity magazine; a history magazine; a food magazine, and so on, but we’ve found in the food space it’s been very open and welcoming. And I know from my friends and colleagues that starting magazines in the U.S. can be quite challenging.

Samir Husni: Where are you originally from?

Kenneth Barnes: I grew up for most of my life in North Carolina, but lived a few other places as well. I also went to Duke University there as well.

Samir Husni: What gave you the idea to go to Mexico and launch your magazines?

Kenneth Barnes: It’s sort of a complex story. I was in my 20s and both of my parents died 13 days apart and I became the sole caregiver for my grandmother. A few years later she died and a friend of mine who was Mexican and was going back to Mexico to spend time with his family suggested that I come with him and visit Mexico.

And eventually when I told my other friends and family about that; I thought they would tell me that I was being crazy for even considering it, but everyone encouraged me to go. So, when I went to Mexico, I eventually got my Visa and a job.

And after a few years in late 2012, I was thinking that maybe I should choose a new city to live in. I lived in Acapulco, which is a very challenging city right now, and it came to me that if I don’t make where I am beautiful, I can go all over the world and I’ll have the same troubles after six months or a year.

So, I decided one way that I could do that was to do something constructive. And that’s when I came up with the idea of Food Acapulco, merging the idea of the international culinary assets, local culinary assets, and some interviews, in a print format. And it was picked up by Wal-Mart within the local region and it sold extraordinarily well.

After that, we were able to, with our second issue; place it in Sanborns, which is where the dominant retail companies sell books and magazines in Mexico. And then this past December we made a deal with Televisa, which owns the largest magazine distributors here in Mexico, and they’ve been great to work with.

It’s been a progression in my experience, and I sort of fell into the magazine projects more so than starting out with a particular plan to move to Mexico and make a magazine. It was more of a personal journey of being constructive and productive wherever I was in the world.

Samir Husni: After Food Acapulco, you launched Food Mexico and Me, both in Spanish and English.

Kenneth Barnes: Yes, it was launched in English and Spanish. We got the contract to test market our magazine in Manhattan, so that’s why we did an English version of it as well.

Samir Husni: And are you still doing Food Acapulco or just Food Mexico and Me?

Kenneth Barnes: We’re primarily doing Food Mexico and Me, but we do have a new issue of Food Acapulco coming out later this year.

Samir Husni: You’ve been doing this for over three years now; how would you evaluate your experience? Would you encourage more people to come from the States to Mexico to launch a magazine? What lessons have you learned, both positive and negative?

Food Acapulco 2Kenneth Barnes: On the positive side I’ve learned that in Mexico people will at least listen to you, they will at least hear you out, which is something that you don’t really have in the United States. Try to get a deal with CBS or Comcast and it would be nearly impossible, where in Mexico, whether it’s a large advertiser or a distributor or retailers; you can be heard. And that doesn’t always mean there’s a positive conclusion, but what it does mean is that you have a chance to at least have an audience, which may lead to something.

I think that’s the biggest positive that I find in the Mexican market, as well as a general sense of people being flexible to new ideas. So, there is no road block to people saying we’ve been doing this for 50 years; we’re not going to change, which sometimes happens in other countries.

As far as the negatives, I think that the negatives in Mexico are very similar to other countries in that print is a challenging market because there is so many other media formats, in particular the Internet. I think there’s also a tendency in the Mexican market to be more television-dominant than print-dominant, so that also becomes a challenge as well.

Samir Husni: When you look at the print magazines and when you look at Food Mexico and Me, and Food Acapulco, what’s unique about the print edition and do you think that you could exist without the print component?

Kenneth Barnes: I think in Mexico it would be very difficult to exist without a print edition for a magazine, mainly because much of Latin America is still a very tactile society. Credibility really depends on being able to show something, so being taken seriously by advertisers, by media partners, by writers, does require a print version.

I think what also makes our print version unique is that there are ways that we can exhibit content to a Mexican audience that’s unique to print and that doesn’t always translate well into the digital format. The Mexican audience can be quite sophisticated, those people who buy magazines, so you can really go on a much more in depth level than the typical “30 Ways to Lose Weight in 30 Days” type thing.

 Samir Husni: Have you had any backlash from your Mexican audience, considering it’s a United States citizen telling them how to cook and eat their own food?

Kenneth Barnes: No, absolutely no backlash. In fact, there has only been a very welcoming environment. You have to remember that a lot of Mexican media already is dominated by foreign corporations. For example, Mexicans love Hollywood movies.

In my particular case, we do a lot of international food, as well as Mexican food, and I think what has helped me was my first year in Acapulco I lived with a Mexican family. So, I was able to deeply understand the psyche of Mexicans and what they find acceptable and unacceptable. And in general, Mexicans are warm and pleasant people and they’re open to new ideas and new concepts. This isn’t a society where people will just shun something because it’s different.

Samir Husni: Where are you living now, Mexico City?

Kenneth Barnes: Yes, in Mexico City.

Samir Husni: What’s the future for you? Are you going to increase the frequency of those magazines; are you making a living from those magazines; or do you still feel as though you’re a tourist there?

Kenneth Barnes: I think in Mexico you always feel like a tourist at times. The future for the magazine is that I want to increase the frequency as well as increase the way that we reach out to consumers. The Mexican media market is becoming more fractured over time, so we’re using our magazines as a way to build our initial brand and our initial business.

And then go forward into areas of increasing our social media outreach, our audience outreach, our online outreach, as well as branching out into new mediums, such as television, films, radio; just the many ways that we can reach a larger segment of the Mexican population that don’t always have the time to read a magazine.

As far as income, the magazine has generated income, but definitely not enough that I would say that I have “arrived.” It’s an ongoing process, but we have a lot of positive things coming up in the future, which I’m optimistic about.

Samir Husni: Such as?

Kenneth Barnes: We’re consistently talking to partners about helping us to launch new magazines, to sponsor new advertising in our magazines, to do promotional projects outside of the traditional print realm.

We also have plans to eventually do something in video here in Mexico, relating to recipes, food culture, things of that nature. But that’s really been my direction. I’ve received enough positive feedback, both from a financial and market standpoint, it has led me to continue the process for three years and to be optimistic for the future.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Kenneth Barnes: There are two things that I’d like to say. First, that Mexico is a very aspirational market. Many people are really seeking to improve themselves and improve themselves many times by the items that they consume. That means that you have to advertise in the market to a Mexican consumer in a slightly different way than you would to an American, German or a Japanese consumer, which are countries where people have traditionally for generations more wealth.

The second thing that I would say is that the Mexican consumer’s mind isn’t always transparent, it can be opaque, so what people may say they want and what they actually want can be different. So it’s important to have really good people on the ground to help you navigate the marketplace. In my case, I have a really great team of people who help me, both Mexicans and internationals here in the country. And that helps us not only do market research, but to get all of the paperwork required to get our magazines done, find great partners, advertisers and distributors. Those are the two things that I’d like to add.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly one evening at your home, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading on your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Kenneth Barnes: Usually what I do is a lot of research about Mexican society and culture. Though not so much as what has been told, but the subtext. That helps me a lot in trying to craft messages for our magazine and in finding new opportunities which maybe larger companies in Mexico that print magazines aren’t looking at. That’s what I spend a lot of my time doing.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

Kenneth Barnes: What drives me is that Mexico is an open market where there are many large companies that dominate the industry, but very few startups. So, because of that it gives you an open field to reach out to all types of sources that may have never been reached out to before. Having that chance of being more or less an explorer, I find interesting.

Samir Husni: Any plan to come back to the United States or Mexico is home now?

Kenneth Barnes: I would definitely consider coming back to the States in the future, but for the foreseeable future I’m going to be focusing on the Mexican media, whether it’s print or other media formats. But I have a lot of love for the United States and I have a lot of interest in American media as well; I’ll just see how things work out.

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

Kenneth Barnes: In life, like my original point that I made earlier; you have to make life beautiful wherever you live. I don’t want to miss out on opportunities. I think that so many times in life we miss great opportunities to improve ourselves or the ones around us. And I don’t want to be that person who says I should have, I could have.

I started a magazine in Mexico, which may have been a kind of strange thing to do for someone who just came to the country to stay for a few months and then gets a job and starts a magazine, but I’m glad that I did it, instead of waiting and wondering my whole life if I should have.

And now that I’ve tried to make my life more beautiful where I am, I see that there are people who walk with you and help you along the way. So, it’s not as lonely or scary as you might think, if you’ll just start and make a five-year plan.

What keeps me up at night is just the idea or worry that I might miss an opportunity on any given day and then how am I going to make an opportunity for tomorrow?

 Samir Husni: Thank you.

 

 

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