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Gulfshore Life Magazine: A Regional Publication That’s Proving Local Interests Are A Grand Way For The Printed Page To Shine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Brett Wilson, President & Group Publisher, Gulfshore Life

November 3, 2016

“I can tell you the obituary for the death of magazines has been written way too soon. We can see the longevity of magazines, not only with Gulfshore Life, but with all of Open Sky’s magazines; Austin Monthly, Marin Magazine, San Antonio Magazine and Oklahoma City. We can see a bright future for the regionalism of magazines.” Brett Wilson

gulfshore-life-art-coupBecoming involved in the community you live in has always been a good idea for everyone, magazines as well, and when you’re a regional publication; the more involvement, the better. Gulfshore Life magazine takes that theory to heart. Since 1970, Gulfshore Life magazine has captured the vibrant spirit, style and natural beauty of Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, from Fort Myers and Cape Coral down to Naples and Marco Island. And they show no signs of slowing down now.

Around a year ago, the powers-that-be at the magazine decided to bring a seasoned veteran of the publishing business to its table by hiring Brett Wilson as group publisher and president of the longstanding read. With Brett’s experience at titles such as Sports Illustrated and Southern Living and a host of other national titles, Gulfshore Life gained a coup when they brought him onboard. However, when I spoke with Brett recently in my office at the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, he told me in his own words that adjusting to a regional title after so many years of working at mass market brands was a bit tough. But it didn’t take him long to get into the swing of things, and now he describes Gulfshore Life as a Godsend to him.

Along with his past magazine experiences, Brett and I talked about the growth of regional magazines and how he felt that they had a very bright and promising future. And not only Gulfshore Life, but all of Open Sky Media’s titles, which include San Antonio Magazine and Austin Monthly, to name a few. And when it comes to native advertising, the accompanying boutique-sized magazines, Celebrate and Holiday Wish Book, are beautifully-done creations in and of themselves that offer advertisers a wonderful option for an artfully-crafted environment for their products. And there’s also a Gulfshore Business magazine that complements the creative brand nicely. It’s a win-win situation for everyone concerned.

So, I hope that you enjoy this very insightful trip into the world of regional magazines with a man who has now ran the gamut of publisher – from the national titles to local brands, and will tell you in a heartbeat that while he certainly believes in promoting and offering digital into the landscape of his brand; the death of print was highly exaggerated – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brett Wilson, president and group publisher, Gulfshore Life.

But first the sound-bites:

Brett Wilson

On why he is still doing print in this digital age: Well, it’s interesting. First I show them, Samir, my 450-page magazine from January and I say if print is dead then we must be in the wrong business, because we just cut down a lot of trees for our January issue. We’re a seasonal company, primarily dependent on the seasonality of the southwest Florida region. So, we can tell you with tangible facts that year-round we publish a magazine 12 times per year. As the season kicks in, starting in about September or October, you’ll see our magazine double and triple in size. So, there’s still a large demand for it. We’re selling a large percentage from off of the newsstands and we have demands for subscriptions.

On how the role of publisher has changed over the years: I think it’s come full circle. The job of a publisher today is more important than ever, because you have to understand both the church and state divisions, and understand how to monetize your product both digitally and in print without sacrificing the integrity of your journalism.

On whether he believes that imaginary wall between church and state exists today or it’s becoming more like the Berlin Wall: No, it’s not the Berlin Wall. I can tell you that in the early days you had to almost whistle by the editor’s office so that he wouldn’t catch you just walking by. Today, the wall has lowered to maybe fence status, where there’s a lot more handshaking and more cooperation. Good editors understand the need for, obviously, monetization of what they sell. There is a fine line. And the fine line is what the publisher can keep them from crossing.

On working for a regional publication versus a national one: It’s been a Godsend for me personally. The national business, the last 12 or 15 years of my career, I felt like it was pretty much a yearly undertaking to downsize my staff. It was death by a 1,000 cuts in the national space, well-documented by yourself and others. I’ve worked everywhere from USA Today to Time and Sports Illustrated, and in each one of those jobs we had to do more with less, which is what all businesses have to do. In the regional world, I think we’re seeing resurgence in the interest in the magazines. We think of ourselves as craft beer or craft cheese; it’s handmade in a region, and people love the handmade aspects of what we do in the magazine business in the region. They’re passionate about it.

On whether the print product showcases the “handmade” aspect better or it’s hand-in-hand with digital: It’s hand-in-hand and it depends on the user. We do know that a lot of people depend on our digital assets to plan their weekends. Since we’re a monthly, we’re not as timely in the print product, so they definitely use our digital aspects to plan what restaurant they’re going to review, when they look at past issues of our magazine. But they still curl up with our magazine and I think in many ways they like having it on their coffee tables.

On what has been the most pleasant moment for him since he became publisher and president of Gulfshore Life: What has been so pleasurable that I haven’t experienced in the last five or six years of my life was sitting down at a table and having the chef of a restaurant come over and introduce himself and try to provide me a free meal or try and buy me a drink because he’s so enamored of the magazine that we publish. The love and the attention that our magazine gets in our region makes you feel very special.

On the biggest stumbling block he’s had to face and how he overcame it: I came down about a year ago and I had starry eyes, thinking that I could bring a lot of my “big” magazine experience to make it work in a microcosm like what we do in the region. And I stumbled a little bit. I have to be sure that what I do now is not just because it worked in a big magazine format. A lot of what we did in the big scale; it’s not just as simple as scaling it down for the local. And so I’ve had to adapt the way I look at business and be much more attentive to what my existing staff tells me, and to listen more. It’s been humbling for me.

On anything else he’d like to add: I can tell you that we’ve redesigned the magazine, which was a great process for all of us on my staff to go through. We increased the size of the magazine; we gave it a new, modern, fresher look. But I can tell you the obituary for the death of magazines has been written way too soon.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly at his home one evening: I am very proud to say that I’m 53-years-old and almost every day I go to an outdoor community swimming pool and take 45 minutes to exercise in an outdoor pool and that’s year-round. I couldn’t do that in Connecticut. (Laughs) And you may catch me with a glass of wine, watching a beautiful sunset off of the Gulf Shore coast, which is also something that can’t be missed and I try at least twice a week to catch one of those sunsets.

On what keeps him up at night: Making sure that my staff and our business model is looking ahead and being as bright as we possibly can be for the light that we need to shine on our community. And making sure that we don’t get complacent and making sure that we don’t turn into only a fashion magazine. That we talk about what’s important in our community and that’s a broad reach of topics.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brett Wilson, president and group publisher of Gulfshore Life magazine.

Samir Husni: You’re the publisher of Gulfshore Life magazine and a host of other magazines in the Florida region; why are you still doing print in this digital age? What do you say to people when they ask you that question?

gulfshore-life-businessBrett Wilson: Well, it’s interesting. First I show them, Samir, my 450-page magazine from January and I say if print is dead then we must be in the wrong business, because we just cut down a lot of trees for our January issue.

We’re a seasonal company, primarily dependent on the seasonality of the southwest Florida region. So, we can tell you with tangible facts that year-round we publish a magazine 12 times per year. As the season kicks in, starting in about September or October, you’ll see our magazine double and triple in size. So, there’s still a large demand for it. We’re selling a large percentage from off of the newsstands and we have demands for subscriptions.

But we haven’t walked away from digital; we have digital as a supplement. We use a lot of social media. We have a lot of events. We’re still targeting our normal demographics, which are 55+, but we’re also going after incognizant, because there are a lot of younger families staying in Florida.

Samir Husni: You have a history; you’ve been on the business/publishing side since your days with Southern Living, Sports Illustrated, Time, Parade, just a host of titles.

Brett Wilson: I can’t keep a job, Samir. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too). How has the job of publisher changed over the years? Are you still doing the same job that you did on the West Coast for Southern Living selling ads?

Brett Wilson: I think it’s come full circle. The job of a publisher today is more important than ever, because you have to understand both the church and state divisions, and understand how to monetize your product both digitally and in print without sacrificing the integrity of your journalism.

In the early days of Time Inc. and certainly Southern Living, it was taught and hammered into me that we would never sell our soul; never sell the integrity of what we do. But today with native advertising and with a lot of the other social media pushing the edges of integrity, I think a publisher’s job is to be a Solomon-like, benevolent dictator who is making sure that while we still monetize the product, we keep that product with strong editorial integrity.

Samir Husni: Do you think that imaginary wall between church and state still exists today, or do you feel it’s becoming like the Berlin Wall?

Brett Wilson: No, it’s not the Berlin Wall. I can tell you that in the early days you had to almost whistle by the editor’s office so that he wouldn’t catch you just walking by. Today, the wall has lowered to maybe fence status, where there’s a lot more handshaking and more cooperation. Good editors understand the need for, obviously, monetization of what they sell. There is a fine line. And the fine line is what the publisher can keep them from crossing.

It depends on the magazine you work in. Obviously, we’re a lifestyle magazine, but we also kind of fancy ourselves as the Vanity Fair of our region. We’ve published award-winning stories; we’ve published stories on heroin addiction recently and what it has done to the region. We’ve embedded a reporter in the Dunbar section of Fort Myers, which is an impoverished section, primarily African American, and we report on all of the struggles that that community has had.

So while we’re a lifestyle magazine, we’re also not afraid to be hard-hitting journalists. And as a result we have to make sure that we still keep that fence up, but we also want to make sure that we handshake with both sides of the business.

Samir Husni: How is it to work for a regional publication versus a national one?

gulfshore-life-celebrateBrett Wilson: It’s been a Godsend for me personally. The national business, the last 12 or 15 years of my career, I felt like it was pretty much a yearly undertaking to downsize my staff. It was death by a 1,000 cuts in the national space, well-documented by yourself and others. I’ve worked everywhere from USA Today to Time and Sports Illustrated, and in each one of those jobs we had to do more with less, which is what all businesses have to do. But it’s been a difficult time in the last 10 or 15 years. Time Inc. was where I spent 21 years of my career and as stories will be written and have been written, changes they are dramatic.

In the regional world, I think we’re seeing resurgence in the interest in the magazines. We think of ourselves as craft beer or craft cheese; it’s handmade in a region, and people love the handmade aspects of what we do in the magazine business in the region. They’re passionate about it.

Samir Husni: Do you think that print showcases that “handmade” aspect more than digital or it’s hand-in-hand?

gulfshore-life-holiday-wish-bookBrett Wilson: It’s hand-in-hand and it depends on the user. We do know that a lot of people depend on our digital assets to plan their weekends. Since we’re a monthly, we’re not as timely in the print product, so they definitely use our digital aspects to plan what restaurant they’re going to review, when they look at past issues of our magazine.

But they still curl up with our magazine and I think in many ways they like having it on their coffee tables. They like the fact that they’re part of the community, even though they may only live in that community eight months out of the year.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you since becoming publisher and president of Gulfshore Life?

Brett Wilson: What has been so pleasurable that I haven’t experienced in the last five or six years of my life was sitting down at a table and having the chef of a restaurant come over and introduce himself and try to provide me a free meal or try and buy me a drink because he’s so enamored of the magazine that we publish.

The love and the attention that our magazine gets in our region makes you feel very special. So, it’s not just one moment, it’s a daily walk through the community, where they have a respect and it’s probably akin to the old-time newspaper publisher in a town where everyone needs each other and it’s a symbolic relationship. And it’s been great. That has been a very pleasurable part of all of this; the happiness that we bring to people.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest stumbling block for you and how did you overcome it?

Brett Wilson: I came down about a year ago and I had starry eyes, thinking that I could bring a lot of my “big” magazine experience to make it work in a microcosm like what we do in the region. And I stumbled a little bit. I have to be sure that what I do now is not just because it worked in a big magazine format. A lot of what we did in the big scale; it’s not just as simple as scaling it down for the local. And so I’ve had to adapt the way I look at business and be much more attentive to what my existing staff tells me, and to listen more. It’s been humbling for me.

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

Brett Wilson: I can tell you that we’ve redesigned the magazine, which was a great process for all of us on my staff to go through. We increased the size of the magazine; we gave it a new, modern, fresher look.

But I can tell you the obituary for the death of magazines has been written way too soon. We can see the longevity of magazines, not only with Gulfshore Life, but with all of Open Sky’s magazines; Austin Monthly, Marin Magazine, San Antonio Magazine and Oklahoma City. We can see a bright future for the regionalism of magazines.

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

Brett Wilson: I am very proud to say that I’m 53-years-old and almost every day I go to an outdoor community swimming pool and take 45 minutes to exercise in an outdoor pool and that’s year-round. I couldn’t do that in Connecticut. (Laughs) And you may catch me with a glass of wine, watching a beautiful sunset off of the Gulf Shore coast, which is also something that can’t be missed and I try at least twice a week to catch one of those sunsets.

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

Brett Wilson: Making sure that my staff and our business model is looking ahead and being as bright as we possibly can be for the light that we need to shine on our community. And making sure that we don’t get complacent and making sure that we don’t turn into only a fashion magazine. That we talk about what’s important in our community and that’s a broad reach of topics. That keeps me up at night. I like to think about what we can do better. And we can always do better.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] his new work with Open Sky Media. The new president and group publisher of Gulfshore Life was interviewed by Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni recently, and offered some keen insights on the role of regional media. To begin with, he is very […]



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