h1

Bernie Mann, Publisher, Our State Magazine, To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “People Want To Get Some News That They Know Every Month Is Going To Come In Their Mailboxes, Good News, Happy News, Pleasant News…” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 11, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (31)

“For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit.” Bernie Mann

“You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.” Bernie Mann

Our State magazine celebrates North Carolina. By far, it is one of the most successful state and regional magazines published. For over two decades, owner and publisher Bernie Mann has been doing just that, celebrating the state he loves, and publishing the magazine “the Mann way.”  Today the company is an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership) as he sold it to his employees.  So how is publishing a magazine “the Mann way” is going in the midst of a pandemic. The latter something he never imagined, much less considered living through.

I spoke with Bernie recently and we talked about running a magazine publishing company during these uncertain times and all of the things many of us will never get to do again, like sit in an office together and work. It may sound unreal, but as Bernie said we just do not know what the future holds. In the magazine, he chooses not to mention or report on COVID-19, as he stated everyone else is handling that repeatedly. Instead, he brings the magazine alive with beauty and optimism, everything North Carolina means to him and his audience.

Bernie assured me that Our State is maintaining and putting out magazines. And right now that’s a good thing. With working from home and technology’s assistance, the beautiful magazine that focuses on optimism, nature’s beauty and North Carolina’s culture is still going strong. And Mr. Magazine™ thinks that’s a very good thing.

And now the 31st Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Bernie Mann, publisher, Our State magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how he has been operating during the pandemic: For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit. We talk about the history, the foods and the beauty, and that’s what people expect from us.

On how his work environment has changed with the pandemic and it has effected he and his team: We have had what I enjoy and what we have enjoyed having as a collaborative group of people who love being together and sharing ideas, and we still answer the phone. The door is locked, we’re not having visitors, but the phone is answered by a human from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I think that’s terribly important.

On spending almost half a million dollars recently on advertising for the magazine: We started our campaign in September and continued it through the end of April, very early May. It felt like the right thing to do to promote our magazine. When you ask people to advertise because you tell them it will help their business, if it’s so good, then why don’t you advertise? I think it’s good and advertising is important. It’s terribly important to have the right message in the right place.

On his different approach to the business model: You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.

On whether the pandemic has affected his publishing or advertising schedule: It’s been very painful. We’ve had so many of our clients who have had to close. It’s hard for them to advertise if the store is closed. It’s hard for them to advertise if you can’t go into the restaurant or the hotel or go visit their attraction. So yes, from an advertising standpoint, this has been very painful. But we’ve had gigantic numbers of people who have bought subscriptions. Not enough to make up for the print.

On whether he had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if he thinks someone could prepare for something like it: Never could have imagined this. In fact, now we’re an ESOP, I sold the company to the employees. We have a board of directors and there’s a woman on the board, she and her husband own hotels and restaurants, and she said you know what might happen, we might have to close both the restaurants and the hotels. I asked her how in the world she could even conceive of such a thing. And three weeks later that’s what happened. So, this is a very difficult time for everybody. Who could have conceived this ever?

On what keeps him up at night: The biggest concern I have is number one, that everybody in my company stays healthy, that’s the biggest concern I have. The second is tell me when it’s over. When it’s over, we can plan for what’s going to happen. It won’t be a light switch; it won’t happen all at once. Will my employees ever be back together in the same room for Monday morning meetings at 8:30? I don’t know if that will happen again.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Bernie Mann, publisher, Our State magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re operating Our State magazine during this pandemic?

Bernie Mann: For us, the pandemic is something that’s covered by other people. There’s no need for us to tell more of the same story over and over again. So, we don’t tell that story at all. That’s not for us. What we tell is the story of optimism; the story of beauty; the story of how lovely North Carolina is and what a great place it is to live and visit. We talk about the history, the foods and the beauty, and that’s what people expect from us.

The number of people sending us checks for circulation has never been greater. It’s just been amazing. But people want to get some news that they know every month is going to come in their mailboxes, good news, happy news, pleasant news, stuff that they can enjoy and quite frankly, they can get in their car and go to and see. The issue we had about waterfalls, as soon as the restriction is lifted, you can go there in two hours from almost any place in North Carolina and see these magnificent waterfalls. And in June our issue is going to be about the Coast. On the cover is a long pier that is just beautiful and people will see it and look forward to going and walking on that pier.

Our take on the Coronavirus is that it exists; we don’t discuss it; we don’t deal with it. Our editor, Elizabeth Hudson, she writes a column each month and it’s not like any column because it is strictly her own feelings and impressions, things that have happened in her life. And when she sat down to write the column this month, she said that she wasn’t going to write about what was happening to people, she said I’m going to write about how much I enjoy the feeling of the sand between my toes when I go to the beach.  And that was her column about the things that she remembered when going to the beach.

Samir Husni: How has your work environment changed with the pandemic and how has it impacted you and your team?

Bernie Mann: We have had what I enjoy and what we have enjoyed having as a collaborative group of people who love being together and sharing ideas, and we still answer the phone. The door is locked, we’re not having visitors, but the phone is answered by a human from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I think that’s terribly important. I’m in the service business and if the first impression you get is from a machine, then that doesn’t say very much about the service I’m providing. So, I provide a human who actually talks to you.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that you have spent almost half a million dollars in advertising; why are you spending money now for the magazine?

Bernie Mann: We started our campaign in September and continued it through the end of April, very early May. It felt like the right thing to do to promote our magazine. When you ask people to advertise because you tell them it will help their business, if it’s so good, then why don’t you advertise? I think it’s good and advertising is important. It’s terribly important to have the right message in the right place. When you advertise a magazine like ours, it’s not easy to just say: let’s buy some radio or billboards or some television advertising. We have been very specific in what we have done. And very narrow-focused.

And then we do it with a lot of repetition. We always tell people you need repetition in your advertising. Okay, if we think it’s so smart, then we should do it too. It’s just using basic techniques. We’re not that smart. They used to say about Vince Lombardi, people should play a Vince Lombardi football team, everybody knew exactly what he was going to do, he just implemented it with consistency. And that’s what we do. We’re very consistent; we’ve set up some guidelines for what is important to us and it seems to be important to our readers. And it is constantly promoting North Carolina. We say it in our name: Our State Celebrating North Carolina. We celebrate. And our TV commercials celebrate the beauty of where we live.

Samir Husni: Tell me about your different approach to the business model. I know you don’t use ad agencies, your team calls on advertisers. Tell me how this works.

Bernie Mann: When I look around me in the industry and I see such wonderful magazines, and they keep getting thinner and thinner. And then good magazines like Esquire are six timers per year. And so many of the others have either dropped out or gone smaller. And I know it’s not because there isn’t enough content, there’s plenty of content. Why are they getting smaller? Because they don’t have the advertising. Why don’t they have the advertising? Because for years and years there has been a plan, you go to ad agencies and pick up your ads.

Now the ad agencies, God love them, are in business to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that. And they’ve found that they can make money by doing other things than print advertising. So, my girlfriend is no longer my girlfriend. What do I do next?

They don’t do anything next. And the ads get smaller and smaller because the ads have gone away. If you rely on the ad agency as your girlfriend. And I don’t fault the agencies because there’s nothing better than digital for the ad agencies. I always think of it as the Three C’s: costly, digital is costly, digital is cool, and digital is confusing. It’s the best thing that ever happened to an ad agency. (Laughs)

My girlfriend has gone away. So what do I do?  I find another girlfriend. And who is my best girlfriend? It’s the client, because the client still loves print. The client loves seeing their ads in beautiful color, on wonderful paper, and they know that’s how you build brand. You build a brand by constantly having the right message in the right places. So, that’s what we do. We go straight to the client. And that may be easier for us because most of our clients are in North Carolina, but I would dare say that if you live in New York and your clients are in Michigan, up until a few months ago, you get on an airplane and you go there.

But I don’t think too many of the salespeople for the magazine industry have done that. And they’ve relied on going to the same places on the same streets. They go to pick up their ads and they tell them we have no ads for you. And then they go back and are told the ad business is terrible. No, no, the ad business isn’t terrible, it’s the people who used to spend money with you who aren’t anymore. So, you find someone else.

Samir Husni: Has your publishing or advertising schedule been affected by the pandemic:

Bernie Mann: It’s been very painful. We’ve had so many of our clients who have had to close. It’s hard for them to advertise if the store is closed. It’s hard for them to advertise if you can’t go into the restaurant or the hotel or go visit their attraction. So yes, from an advertising standpoint, this has been very painful. But we’ve had gigantic numbers of people who have bought subscriptions. Not enough to make up for the print. We make most of our money from print, but it’s nice to know that at least there’s a secondary source.

This is very funny; we have a little store, has about 750 sku’s and one of the items that we sell in our store is a jigsaw puzzle. Normally, we sell about 40 or 50 of them a month and they’re puzzles depicting North Carolina. Last month, in April, we sold 1,200 puzzles. If you go on Amazon right now, you can’t even buy them, they’re sold out because people need something to do just sitting at home. And they enjoy doing puzzles. But it’s just funny that there are certain things that sell. There’s always someone who is going to make money during a difficult time.

We’re not making money during this time and it’s painful, but at least we’re not out of business like some people I know.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and can you prepare for something like that?

Bernie Mann: Never could have imagined this. In fact, now we’re an ESOP, I sold the company to the employees. We have a board of directors and there’s a woman on the board, she and her husband own hotels and restaurants, and she said you know what might happen, we might have to close both the restaurants and the hotels. I asked her how in the world she could even conceive of such a thing. And three weeks later that’s what happened. So, this is a very difficult time for everybody. Who could have conceived this ever?

But everyone we have who can work from home is working from home. We’ve set up computers and thank God for Zoom. So we have conferences all the time. And we’re putting out magazines.

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

Bernie Mann: The biggest concern I have is number one, that everybody in my company stays healthy, that’s the biggest concern I have. The second is tell me when it’s over. When it’s over, we can plan for what’s going to happen. It won’t be a light switch; it won’t happen all at once. Will my employees ever be back together in the same room for Monday morning meetings at 8:30? I don’t know if that will happen again. We always enjoyed that; we enjoyed the camaraderie of being together. I don’t know if that will happen.
I don’t know if we’ll be able to sit in an office with people near each other. I don’t know if I can take my clients to lunch with a mask on. What do I do, lift the mask and put the spoon in? I don’t how that’s going to work. But maybe I’ll learn. We’re in difficult times. I don’t think many people have ever even imagined.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: