Archive for the ‘A Launch Story…’ Category

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Cuisine Noir: From A Website To A Printed Magazine, And A Brand Where African American Culinary Talents Shine – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Sheree Williams, Publisher & Editor In Chief, Cuisine Noir Magazine…

June 23, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“Also, I love, but just can’t compete with, in some instances, Essence and Black Enterprise and Ebony. They all have forty plus years on me. I’m a newbie in the game. So, there are some challenges there in terms of the advertising dollars and things like that. But, we continue to move forward. I have a wonderful staff of different people around the world, and we continue to believe in the project, what we’re doing and telling the stories that we tell; the stories of some of the heroes that are in these industries that are not necessarily featured in some other publications. That really keeps us going. Unfortunately, there is no walk in a rose garden, but we’re just excited to be able to be in the space and tell the stories that we are able to tell.” Sheree Williams…

Cuisine Noir debuted in the world of cyberspace in 2007, setting a precedent by featuring the talents of African American culinary and wine professionals. The online entity tapped into the world of African American foodies and became a vehicle for showcasing these great chefs from the industry.

In 2009, Sheree Williams took the lead with the website and began to show that not only did African Americans like to experiment with different flavors and food cultures, they also loved traveling, wine and the entire scope of the foodie lifestyle. Sheree raised the bar even more when she took the pixels from the screen and transposed them to the printed page with vibrant life and amazing vision.

I spoke with Sheree recently and we talked about Cuisine Noir and the multicultural message the magazine strives to convey with every page. Showcasing what African Americans are doing around the globe is a cultural movement and Sheree is determined to passionately continue the magazines mission.

From celebrities who are just as at home in the kitchen as they are onscreen or onstage, to unsung heroes who know more about mixing ingredients and producing amazing flavors than they do holding a mike or reading a movie line, Cuisine Noir is the platform that encourages both factions. And shows that African Americans have influence throughout the worlds of food and travel around the globe.

I hope that you enjoy this very “tasty” Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who knows a thing or two about food, wine and travel, but more importantly, about the passion it takes to put that knowledge to the test, inside the pages of a magazine, Sheree Williams, publisher, editor in chief, Cuisine Noir magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Cuisine Noir: I always tell everyone that I didn’t start the magazine. A different chef who is in California started it in the late ‘90s. He’s a chef down in L.A. and just wanted to get more exposure to black chefs. I connected with him in 2007 and, at that time, he had introduced the concept to me. So, we worked together to launch it [the Cuisine Noir site]. Then in 2008, I took it over because he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it.

On whether everything went as she expected, or there were some bumps along the way: I’m sure you know how tough the magazine industry is. We still face that challenge, you know, being a multicultural publication, in terms of dollar allocation. Before, a lot of advertising agencies would have pockets of money just for multicultural initiatives, whether it was black, Latino, Asian, etcetera. Now we’re finding a lot of the agencies are rolling those dollars into the general market and not having that pot anymore, so it is tough.

On whether Cuisine Noir’s platform is about promoting famous chefs or discovering hidden talents: Well, we go in and out. I’ve personally had the honor of speaking to Dr. Maya Angelou; that was an awesome interview that I was able to do. With her two books that she had out, she was all about cooking and entertaining. We’ve interviewed Russell Simmons and Wendy Williams, so we do try and capture the celebrity foodies. We don’t make it just about celebrity foodies, because again there is so much talent among people who are not celebrities. But, we do want to capture what the celebrities are doing.

On how she convinces advertisers that Cuisine Noir is deserving of their dollars: We’ve really tried to present my analytics; we’ve got a great customer base. Unfortunately, there are some stereotypes and there are some perceptions about black consumers, about black travelers, etcetera, that we try to make sure we, in terms of where we’re spending, especially, our disposable income.

On getting traction in the multicultural publications with ad dollars: I have found, not naming any particular brands or companies, but I’ve worked with some in the past and had a good relationship. But then people are always changing in agencies. People are always leaving, and sometimes it’s like a revolving door. You have to ask, “Okay, who is the new person overseeing this account?” and you have to start building that relationship all over again. I think it’s important to have people in these roles that are making the decisions of where these multicultural dollars are going, to understand publications such as ours. Again, you want the quality of trying to reach the consumer—in terms of the quality of the consumer and not necessarily the quantity.

On whether she feels being based on the West coast is helping or hindering her success with the magazine: For me, I think it helps—especially when it comes to the food [industry]. I feel California is a leader when it comes to the food movement, especially around sustainable eating and things like that, and especially when it comes to the wine industry. I feel that I either need to be here or in New York, and luckily I’ve got correspondents in New York that help me make sure that if there’s anything in New York that we’re invited to, then we’re there. I definitely think that we’re in a good place, being here in Oakland and San Francisco that allows us to keep a good pulse on the industry and what’s going on.

On if she had the opportunity to present her sales pitch about Cuisine Noir to a big ad agency CEO, what she would say: I would definitely try to talk about, one: working with someone who is truly about getting their brand in front of consumers and making a difference. For me, it’s not about just taking someone’s money. I understand that there’s a return on investment that needs to come back and that they’re looking for certain things. For me [though], it’s about relationship-building. So, if they [the advertising CEOs] are looking for someone who is going to partner with them to help meet their goals, plus build a really good relationship, that’s who Cuisine Noir is.

On the most pleasant moment so far during her Cuisine Noir experience: It was one of those days where I was thinking, “Oh, you know, nothing is clicking today.” It was just one of those off days. I remember receiving an e-mail from the Smithsonian Channel, and it was one of the producers that was putting together a video for the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C. They wanted to secure one of our covers to be placed in a video that can still be seen today when you go to the fourth floor of the museum. There is a video that talks about African American cuisine, and the cover of Cuisine Noir comes up on the video.

On the biggest stumbling block she’s had to face: I think one of the biggest ones unfortunately, is around engaging advertisers. When there’s an advertiser that you’re trying to engage and, for whatever reason—it could be something that we did, but I try to make sure to fulfill our agreements—but when they decide to go in a different direction, those are advertising dollars that are taken away from you. Those are planned, and so the only thing that I can do is just work harder. It shows you that you really still have to work harder because nothing is guaranteed. No one is guaranteed to stay. That was sort of, I think, an eye-opener.

On anything she’d like to add: I would just say that we really love the people we are able to showcase and the stories. It’s really great. I love getting emails from people who have discovered us. For instance, we just got an email from the comedian Bernie Mac’s ex-wife’s publicist, about doing something with her.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: You would probably, if I’m not on a deadline, find me with a glass of wine, just watching my TV or something. I think sometimes I just try and turn my brain off. I read so much; I’ve got a whole table full of magazines. But, you know, I definitely just like to relax.

On the one thing she would have tattooed on her brain to be remembered about her forever: That I never gave up.

On what keeps her up at night: Trying to figure out how to get my advertisers and my sponsors engaged. That keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sheree Williams, publisher, editor in chief, Cuisine Noir magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Cuisine Noir. How did you come up with the name, and then how did you get from the blog all the way to the magazine?

Sheree Williams: I always tell everyone that I didn’t start the magazine. A different chef who is in California started it in the late ‘90s. He’s a chef down in L.A. and just wanted to get more exposure to black chefs. I connected with him in 2007 and, at that time, he had introduced the concept to me. I was doing my backgrounds in PR advertising and PR, and thought it was a very interesting idea, because I also was writing as well.

So, we connected in 2007 and I told him, because at the time I was in grad school, that the web was about to really blow up and a lot of media properties were going to be on the web. I worked with him to launch a Cuisine Noir site online in 2007. It was really exciting, because that’s when Tre Wilcox was on Top Chef and Aaron McCargo, Jr. had just won Food Network Star and the Neely’s (Gina and Pat) were just coming out. That’s when we were really starting to see diversity in Food Network and things like that.

So, we worked together to launch it [the Cuisine Noir site]. Then in 2008, I took it over because he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with it. From there, I said, “You know what, I want to do food, wine, and travel.” I was an avid reader of Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure magazines, and I just saw that there was a big opportunity to really showcase black food, wine, and travel.

In 2009, as I started to lead the magazine and take it over, that’s when I started to rebrand it. I relaunched it, and relaunched a website online with Carla Hall, so that was exciting. Then, in 2011 is when I said, “You know what? I think we’ve got a good following and a good market, let’s take it into print.” I took it into print then, with Tre Wilcox being our first cover story. We’ve been going ever since then.

Samir Husni: Has it been like a walk in a rose garden for you—everything went exactly like as you expected—or have you hit some bumps along the way?

Sheree Williams: I’m sure you know how tough the magazine industry is. We still face that challenge, you know, being a multicultural publication, in terms of dollar allocation. Before, a lot of advertising agencies would have pockets of money just for multicultural initiatives, whether it was black, Latino, Asian, etcetera. Now we’re finding a lot of the agencies are rolling those dollars into the general market and not having that pot anymore, so it is tough.

Also, I love, but just can’t compete with, in some instances, Essence and Black Enterprise and Ebony. They all have forty plus years on me. I’m a newbie in the game. So, there are some challenges there in terms of the advertising dollars and things like that.

But, we continue to move forward. I have a wonderful staff of different people around the world, and we continue to believe in the project, what we’re doing and telling the stories that we tell; the stories of some of the heroes that are in these industries that are not necessarily featured in some other publications. That really keeps us going. Unfortunately, there is no walk in a rose garden, but we’re just excited to be able to be in the space and tell the stories that we are able to tell.

Samir Husni: It has been said that when it comes to the multicultural—to African Americans, to Latinos, to folks from Middle Eastern descent, like me—that you have a certain color until you become rich and famous. Then, everybody’s color is green. How do you deal with that? Are you featuring the famous? Or, are you working more as the talent discoverer and that’s what the Cusine Noir platform is all about?

Sheree Williams: Well, we go in and out. I’ve personally had the honor of speaking to Dr. Maya Angelou; that was an awesome interview that I was able to do. With her two books that she had out, she was all about cooking and entertaining. We’ve interviewed Russell Simmons and Wendy Williams, so we do try and capture the celebrity foodies. We don’t make it just about celebrity foodies, because again there is so much talent among people who are not celebrities. But, we do want to capture what the celebrities are doing.

We just talked about—we had her on the cover before—Laila Ali. She was on one of my fall covers and just announced that she’s coming out with a cookbook to honor her father that’s due to come out in January, 2018. We talk about Patti LaBelle’s cookbook that just came out. So, we do celebrities, and I think if we can do more, get the brand out there more… I don’t know if the celebrities are going to help us blow up a little bit more? But definitely just more of them communicating to their audiences who will probably help bring more awareness to what we’re doing.

We definitely find as we’re growing, when it comes to the dollars, it seems to be a numbers game. They [the advertisers] want the millions of viewers. Essence has a circulation of over 800,000, and I’m not there yet. When it comes to those dollars, if they’re looking at eyeballs and things like that, then they [Essence] are going to be the obvious choice, and deservingly so. I get it; it’s just a numbers game.

Samir Husni: So, how do you then convince those advertisers and ad agencies that you’re more about the customers who count, rather than counting customers?

Sheree Williams: We’ve really tried to present my analytics; we’ve got a great customer base. Unfortunately, there are some stereotypes and there are some perceptions about black consumers, about black travelers, etcetera, that we try to make sure we , in terms of where we’re spending, especially, our disposable income.

Looking at a snapshot of our reader [base], I try and tell them that our readers are very sophisticated. They love to try different cuisines. They love to travel internationally—and this next print issue that we’re working on is all about travel. We’re all about that, so we talk about that. We talk about the spending power of African Americans, and how it’s in the trillions, and a lot of that is being spent in the food and beverage categories. We really just try to look at our customers, where they shop and what they like to do. I try to make sure, as much as possible, that I can say, “You know what? Here is a customer that is all about trying new products and getting out and trying new experiences,” saying, “This is someone that you definitely want to market to. This is someone that we’re talking to directly.”

We’ve got a very active group on Facebook. We’re sharing recipes all of the time. We’re sharing stories all of the time. Really, we’re just trying to let the advertisers know that the readers are engaged and they’re all about food, so if you’re coming out with a food product or you’re talking about this, then we’re the right people to talk to. That’s what the readers are coming to us for.

Samir Husni: Why do you think this is falling on deaf ears? Why do you think, after all these years, we keep celebrating diversity and yet—when the rubber hits the road—we feel as though we are not getting any traction?

Sheree Williams: I have found, not naming any particular brands or companies, but I’ve worked with some in the past and had a good relationship. But then people are always changing in agencies. People are always leaving, and sometimes it’s like a revolving door. You have to ask, “Okay, who is the new person overseeing this account?” and you have to start building that relationship all over again. I think it’s important to have people in these roles that are making the decisions of where these multicultural dollars are going, to understand publications such as ours. Again, you want the quality of trying to reach the consumer—in terms of the quality of the consumer and not necessarily the quantity.

Sometimes, I have to admit, and I can’t say it for sure, but sometimes I have to wonder are the people making the decisions in some of these agencies, do they truly understand our publications, the influences that we can have in these markets and in these communities? And, if they did, would that change things? Would they say, “You know what? I’m not going to spend a $100,000 here, or $50,000—or whatever they’re spending on some of the more seasoned publications—but I am going to take a risk with you.” Again, sometimes I think it comes down to who is making the decisions and [whether or not] they truly understand what we do and who we reach in order to give us a chance to really knock it out of the park.

Samir Husni: Do you think that being based on the west coast is helping or hindering you when it comes to the magazine’s success?

Sheree Williams: For me, I think it helps—especially when it comes to the food [industry]. I feel California is a leader when it comes to the food movement, especially around sustainable eating and things like that, and especially when it comes to the wine industry. I feel that I either need to be here or in New York, and luckily I’ve got correspondents in New York that help me make sure that if there’s anything in New York that we’re invited to, then we’re there. I definitely think that we’re in a good place, being here in Oakland and San Francisco that allows us to keep a good pulse on the industry and what’s going on.

Samir Husni: If you had the opportunity to meet a CEO of one of those big ad agencies, say, you’re alone with him or her in an elevator and you have 18 seconds to give your sales pitch about Cuisine Noir, what would you tell them?

Sheree Williams: I would definitely try to talk about, one: working with someone who is truly about getting their brand in front of consumers and making a difference. For me, it’s not about just taking someone’s money. I understand that there’s a return on investment that needs to come back and that they’re looking for certain things. For me [though], it’s about relationship-building. So, if they [the advertising CEOs] are looking for someone who is going to partner with them to help meet their goals, plus build a really good relationship, that’s who Cuisine Noir is.

We’re really about those relationship buildings, and we’re really about getting their products in front of our consumers—and I also love getting new things in front of my readers; that’s what it’s all about too. I think it’s a win-win situation. That’s what we’re all about: that relationship-building, trying to be an influencer for them, and then also engaging our readers and letting them know this is what’s new, this is what’s great, and this is what’s out there.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in the history of you and Cuisine Noir. Is there one specific moment you reflect back on and say, “Wow?”

Sheree Williams: It was one of those days where I was thinking, “Oh, you know, nothing is clicking today.” It was just one of those off days. I remember receiving an e-mail from the Smithsonian Channel, and it was one of the producers that was putting together a video for the African American Museum of History and Culture in D.C. They wanted to secure one of our covers to be placed in a video that can still be seen today when you go to the fourth floor of the museum. There is a video that talks about African American cuisine, and the cover of Cuisine Noir comes up on the video.

And that just made me cry. We celebrated that with the opening of the museum last September. My family and I went to the museum a couple of days later to see the cover just flash up on the screen in the museum. That was ad still is definitely a very proud moment for me.

Samir Husni: And what has been the biggest stumbling block you’ve had to face, and how did you overcome it?

Sheree Williams: I think one of the biggest ones unfortunately, is around engaging advertisers. When there’s an advertiser that you’re trying to engage and, for whatever reason—it could be something that we did, but I try to make sure to fulfill our agreements—but when they decide to go in a different direction, those are advertising dollars that are taken away from you. Those are planned, and so the only thing that I can do is just work harder. It shows you that you really still have to work harder because nothing is guaranteed. No one is guaranteed to stay. That was sort of, I think, an eye-opener.

But I also have to admit, too: I have a bachelors in advertising, and I did an advertising internship here in California before I actually moved from Chicago to California. I’m glad that I had that background. I think this whole thing with trying to solve the advertising puzzle and what is really going to get our foot in the door comfortably, is softened because of my background, knowing the lingo, what they’re looking for, and things like that.

I’m constantly having to overcome objections of “You’re too small. You’re great! But you’re too small.” So that’s still a stumbling block that I’m still overcoming right now. I’m actually constantly working on what is a good strategy, and I actually have a meeting with someone who I’m throwing out some strategy ideas to continue to overcome that stumbling block. I would say that’s one of the things I am constantly trying to overcome.

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

Sheree Williams: I would just say that we really love the people we are able to showcase and the stories. It’s really great. I love getting emails from people who have discovered us. For instance, we just got an email from the comedian Bernie Mac’s ex-wife’s publicist, about doing something with her.

We just contributed to something with Steve Harvey’s producer who is a baker. I love being able to tell those stories, when it comes to the community heroes. And also to share the stories of the celebrity foodies who are known for singing or doing something else, but also just awesome in the kitchen. I really am excited about that and just excited to see where we can go. I definitely hope people continue to follow us and join us for the journey and the ride.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your home unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Would you be drinking a glass of wine, eating some Southern cuisine, reading a book, watching TV, on your iPad, or something else?

Sheree Williams: You would probably, if I’m not on a deadline, find me with a glass of wine, just watching my TV or something. I think sometimes I just try and turn my brain off. I read so much; I’ve got a whole table full of magazines. But, you know, I definitely just like to relax.

You’d probably find me, if I’m not out eating with someone, just sitting here on different things. I’ve been trying to catch up on what’s going on, watching some of the culinary competitions on TV to see who’s doing what. Or I’m just organizing. We get so busy sometimes. I’ve got a bookshelf I need to put up, so one evening I’m going to get to the bookshelf that I need to do. It really just varies, but one thing is sure, I’m relaxing. I definitely need to relax.

Samir Husni: If there was one thing you would want engraved or tattooed on your brain, that would be remembered about you forever, what would it be?

Sheree Williams: That I never gave up.

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

Sheree Williams: Trying to figure out how to get my advertisers and my sponsors engaged. That keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Spoonful Magazine: When Passionate Entrepreneurship Is The Prescription For Launching A Magazine, A “Spoonful” Is Definitely The Right Dose – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Kristina Pines, Founder/Publisher, Spoonful Magazine…

June 15, 2017

“The truth is, we didn’t have much time to reflect quietly on the magazine because, as soon as it got printed, we actually had a launch party. I think that I hadn’t even had a chance to read through the entire physical copy of the magazine until after the launch party. At that point, everyone had a copy and everyone was just feeling it. They were feeling that it had a soft-touch glaze and they would smell the pages—there’s something really wonderful about freshly-printed magazines. So they were sniffing it, they were feeling it. There was such a tactile sense to the product that they were literally petting it during the launch party.” Kristina Pines…

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

In 2016, Spoonful Magazine was one of Mr. Magazine’s™ picks for the 30 Hottest Magazine Launches of the year. The passion that radiated from the pages of the unique food magazine was palpable. After talking at length with its founder/publisher, Kristina Pines, I now see where the magazine gets its intense warmth and zeal from.

Kristina started the magazine with a group of friends who had one thing in common: they were creatives who had a strong belief and love for the subject matter they were about to launch into the magazine marketplace. While the business side of publishing wasn’t exactly their forte, the entrepreneurial spirit was certainly something they were riding high on. And when you flip through the pages of Spoonful Magazine, you can see and feel the result of Kristina’s dream.

Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, watching her parents open their home to other immigrants that were living and working in the country, home entertaining became second nature to Kristina and the experience has overflowed into the pages of Spoonful. It’s a unique magazine that uses food and home cooking to bring people together. And isn’t that what magazines do best? Bring people into the circle of communities where they can experience joy and comfort?

I spoke with Kristina recently and we talked about Spoonful and her hopes for its continued production. And while nothing is assured in this crazy world that we live in today, one thing is absolute when it comes to her passion and love for the magazine: a “Spoonful” is definitely the right dose for her dream’s prescription.

And now the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kristina Pines, Founder/Publisher, Spoonful Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

On how she used her own passion for the subject matter to create the magazine: This was a passion project between friends that kind of took over and became its own thing, and became this magazine. We’re hoping that with this magazine we’re giving the modern-home cook—those who don’t have the same luxury of time as in years past—to entertain again in their home by giving them recipes that other home cooks have trusted for years in their own family, giving them time management tips, and giving them other resources that would make it a successful event for them.

On how she took her passionate idea and actually turned it into a magazine: I was always a writer, and I wanted a platform to bring this message out there. I’ve had a blog for a long time. My other friends that have worked in various publications helped me start this. But, we were all freelancers. We had never done this full time. So, we just started researching, asking, “What are the practical measures?” and “How much do we need to raise?” We knew that the concept of the magazine was interesting enough. It was a niche in the food industry that hadn’t been covered yet.

On her most pleasant surprise after holding the finished magazine in her hands for the first time: To be able to kind of step back and watch everyone else who was seeing it for the first time fall in love with it, and to just understand what we’re trying to get… When we say that we’re about celebrating home cooking, it’s such a vague concept, you know? There are a lot of other publications that talk about home cooking and, you know, the different niches that are in home cooking; whether it’s gluten-free or paleo or easy recipes under thirty minutes and that type of thing. But we [Spoonful] are talking about specifically entertaining, and when all of these people who have thrown parties and who have opened their doors for us to take photos of them and show other people how they gather and then they see it all put together, they’re like, “Oh, this is what it is! I understand now.”

On the biggest challenge that she’s had to face: The problem is that we are not as widely circulated. Our distribution is still pretty minimal, compared to a lot of the other publications, so we’re not able to attract the same advertisers. And we kind of held off too long. So, I think the honeymoon started dwindling when we were trying to make this a financially viable project, and it was no longer just a passion project. But it’s all still about passion and just doing it for fun. You know, you kind of throw caution to the wind and say, “Okay, whatever happens happens.”

On the magazine’s current circulation: We have just over 1,000 subscribers, and we have 14,000 circulating as single copies throughout stores. About 500 single-issue purchasers per issue, at least, and then the rest are through our distribution point.

On whether she has any regrets about the magazine’s $20 cover price: I wish that we’d been more pragmatic and immediately dove into trying to get those ad sales. We were hoping, to be quite honest, that we would survive just through subscribers, you know? We were kind of like a “Field of Dreams” philosophy, “If you build it, they will come,” that type of thing. And they are coming, but it’s not as fast as we were hoping it would be, and it’s not as widely distributed as we would want it to be.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening to her home: At the end of the day, I cook. I mean, I cook every single day for my family. Friday nights are my only night off; I’ve decided that’s when we order in stuff. But for every other day, every meal, I cook. That’s what I do, and I find joy in that.

On what keeps her up at night: I think the sense of uncertainty that is in the publishing industry, but specifically for Spoonful; I want this to be stable for the people that are working for me. I want them to continue with that sense of joy and pride, without feeling vulnerable because our product feels vulnerable to the tides of time.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Kristina Pines, Founder/Publisher, Spoonful Magazine.

Samir Husni: I know for a lot of people who publish new magazines these days, it’s more of a passion rather than a business. So, tell me, how did you combine that passion of yours for this specific subject matter, Spoonful, and create the magazine?

Kristina Pines: You’re right, this was a passion project between friends that kind of took over and became its own thing, and became this magazine.

I personally grew up in Saudi Arabia. When my parents moved there, met each other there, and got married, they didn’t really know the people that lived in the area. So, to combat that loneliness, they started inviting people to their home – as a potluck party. Through that, they started building a community in Saudi. That community became their family. And they kept up the tradition.

Soon, they became known as the people that would invite you over if you were new in town. So, if you were a fresh, new immigrant to Saudi Arabia; if you were working there; if you didn’t know anything about the city, and didn’t know anyone else, you were typically invited to my parents’ home. That’s where all of these other immigrants, from all over the world, would come together and they would have weekend potluck parties. That was my childhood.

When I came to America and moved to Chicago, I first experienced that sense of separation—there’s so much space in America, more than I’ve experienced in any other country that I’ve lived. In the Philippines, certainly, everyone lives side by side. So, there you didn’t really have that sense of separation or isolation.

So, when we moved to Chicago my parents did the same thing—they decided to open their doors, invite in strangers, and soon our immediate neighborhood became our community, our family, and our friends. When I moved to Philadelphia, I did the exact same thing. I had moved away from my family, I didn’t know anyone in the Philadelphia area, and I knew the power food had over building communities. I wanted to show that.

So, Spoonful is really the vehicle for me to send that message out there, and it makes sure that people continue inviting people over. Because, these days, you don’t hear people saying, “Come on over for dinner!” They say, “Let’s go out for pizza.” Or, “Let’s go eat somewhere at a restaurant.” Which does build a relationship, but it’s not the same sense of intimacy.

And so, we’re hoping that with this magazine we’re giving the modern-home cook—those who don’t have the same luxury of time as in years past—to entertain again in their home by giving them recipes that other home cooks have trusted for years in their own family, giving them time management tips, and giving them other resources that would make it a successful event for them.

Samir Husni: Besides the family upbringing and all the travels, what gave you the idea to do a magazine? Just thinking: ‘Oh, I know nothing about this magazine business, but I know a lot about how I grew up.’ How did you put the two together?

Kristina Pines: (Laughs) I was always a writer, and I wanted a platform to bring this message out there. I’ve had a blog for a long time. My other friends that have worked in various publications helped me start this. But, we were all freelancers. We had never done this full time.

It really began when we started reading books on how to launch a magazine. We used Lorraine Phillips’ “Publish Your First Magazine” as a guide. That book had very practical tips in it. We also used James B. Kobak’s “How to Start a Magazine: And Publish It Profitably.”

So, we just started researching, asking, “What are the practical measures?” and “How much do we need to raise?” We knew that the concept of the magazine was interesting enough. It was a niche in the food industry that hadn’t been covered yet. So much of the food magazine industry currently is focused on celebrity chefs and how they cook at home. And there are other magazines that don’t have that same angle, but we’re really all about entertaining. We knew that at the heart of the concept of the publication, it would work and, at least be attractive to people.

We knew what we wanted—visually. We decided to hunt around for a printer that would partner with us, and we were lucky enough to find Standard Group Analytics that was able to handle our small run. At first, we were looking at larger printers, but they had a minimum of 50,000 and we just couldn’t commit to that.

So, having gotten the numbers and having gotten a practical understanding of what we needed to start it, we began putting together a pitch for investors. Our immediate funders were private investors—people that we knew, family, friends. And, as you put it in that entrepreneur article that I read; we were “Family, friends, and fools.” (Laughs) But, most of them were family and friends. I hope that they weren’t fooled, anyway. They were very supportive of the concept, and that’s how we got our first seed funding. From there, we started building our first issue, which was the ‘Love Affairs’ issue, Spring 2016, and we are now on our 6th issue. We just released our ‘Salt’ issue, with Carla Hall as the feature story.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant surprise that you can recall when the issue came back from the printer and you were flipping through the pages? What was the most pleasant moment for you when you finally held your baby in your hands for the first time?

Kristina Pines: The truth is, we didn’t have much time to reflect quietly on the magazine because, as soon as it got printed, we actually had a launch party. I think that I hadn’t even had a chance to read through the entire physical copy of the magazine until after the launch party. At that point, everyone had a copy and everyone was just feeling it. They were feeling that it had a soft-touch glaze and they would smell the pages—there’s something really wonderful about freshly-printed magazines. So they were sniffing it, they were feeling it. There was such a tactile sense to the product that they were literally petting it during the launch party.

I think the most pleasant surprise was being able to step back that evening and watch their reaction to this thing we’d been working on for a year. We had a year lead time to prep the Spring 2016, so, for me, it was old material. We were already at that point working on our third issue, at least content-wise. So, mentally, I was no longer really attached to the subject of the first issue.

But to be able to kind of step back and watch everyone else who was seeing it for the first time fall in love with it, and to just understand what we’re trying to get… When we say that we’re about celebrating home cooking, it’s such a vague concept, you know? There are a lot of other publications that talk about home cooking and, you know, the different niches that are in home cooking; whether it’s gluten-free or paleo or easy recipes under thirty minutes and that type of thing.

But we [Spoonful] are talking about specifically entertaining, and when all of these people who have thrown parties and who have opened their doors for us to take photos of them and show other people how they gather and then they see it all put together, they’re like, “Oh, this is what it is! I understand now.” And that type of understanding that they had on the concept of the magazine, the support that they’d already given us, plus having that double, even triple that evening was really a pleasant surprise and a pleasant experience.

Samir Husni: What has been the biggest challenge with the magazine? Is the honeymoon phase still going on, or have you had your first fight?

Kristina Pines: (Laughs) I think the first fight happens when you start feeling like it’s not as profitable as you’d hoped it would be. We also didn’t have as much experience with publishing. First of all, we didn’t have 100,000 in circulation. We couldn’t attract the same advertisers that we wanted to at the beginning—at least not the big, national brands. So, we were hoping to build more of a portfolio to attract them, to show them how we are unique, and who all our subscribers are.

Now we’re in our second year and we have a 90% re-subscribe rate, which is amazing. So the people that have signed on with us in the first year, have then actually recruited their friends to subscribe. It’s amazing, really, the reception to the magazine. Once you understand and see the magazine, you fall in love with the magazine.

The problem is that we are not as widely circulated. Our distribution is still pretty minimal, compared to a lot of the other publications, so we’re not able to attract the same advertisers. And we kind of held off too long. So, I think the honeymoon started dwindling when we were trying to make this a financially viable project, and it was no longer just a passion project. But it’s all still about passion and just doing it for fun. You know, you kind of throw caution to the wind and say, “Okay, whatever happens happens.”

But when you start relying on it as a source of income, as a source of stability, your relationship with it becomes tenuous, because it’s now laden with other responsibilities. You’re making it responsible for your livelihood. So, that makes it a little bit more of a difficult relationship. We still love what we’re doing, we still love the product that we’re producing. I think we have a really beautiful product, and with the launch of our summer issue, I think we’ve really hit our stride, in terms of the look and the writing and the aesthetic that we’re trying to put out there. But, at the same time, there is a lot more strain in making this profitable.

Samir Husni: What is your current circulation; how many subscribers do you have now?

Kristina Pines: We have just over 1,000 subscribers, and we have 14,000 circulating as single copies throughout stores. About 500 single-issue purchasers per issue, at least, and then the rest are through our distribution point.

Samir Husni: And, if I may add, your cover price is $20?

Kristina Pines: Yes, it is.

Samir Husni: And what’s your subscription price now?

Kristina Pines: We usually have a 10%-20% off discount, depending on the season. It’s $80 a year standard, but it’s usually around $64 to $72, depending on what promotion we’re putting out there.

Samir Husni: You’re one of the many, what they like to call in the United Kingdom, boutique magazines, where you need to find your cult audience and get them to pay that high cover price, because for the price of one issue of Spoonful, you can buy two years of other food magazines on the marketplace. But, yours is more like the “Kinfolk,” more like the “Jarry” magazines—I mean all of these boutique magazines that have the very high cover price, yet, once the honeymoon is over and you start thinking about the business model, that’s where the rubber meets the road. So, as you look toward the future, do you have any regrets? I mean is there ever a time that that you’ve said, “I wish that I had done this, rather than that?”

Kristina Pines: If we could start over, knowing what I know now, we would have started looking for advertisers as soon as our first issue hit the shelves, and for our second, third, and other issues. We wouldn’t have waited until we’d perfected our writing style or really found our voice.

But, we were hoping that once we kind of put together the perfect package, what we thought was the best work that we could really put out there, that it would just come; that other people would agree; that advertisers would see what we’re trying to do and say, “Yes, I believe in what you’re doing. Here’s some advertising money.”

I wish that we’d been more pragmatic and immediately dove into trying to get those ad sales. We were hoping, to be quite honest, that we would survive just through subscribers, you know? We were kind of like a “Field of Dreams” philosophy, “If you build it, they will come,” that type of thing. And they are coming, but it’s not as fast as we were hoping it would be, and it’s not as widely distributed as we would want it to be.

Samir Husni: If I show up at your house unexpectedly one evening after work, what do I find you doing; sitting on your couch, having a glass of wine; cooking; reading a book or a magazine; watching TV; or something else?

Kristina Pines: At the end of the day, I cook. I mean, I cook every single day for my family. Friday nights are my only night off; I’ve decided that’s when we order in stuff. But for every other day, every meal, I cook. That’s what I do, and I find joy in that. My family would much prefer to eat in than they would eating out. That’s how I relax. After business hours are over, I step away from my phone—I literally turn it off and put it away—because I devote all of my focus on my family at that time.

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

Kristina Pines: I think the sense of uncertainty that is in the publishing industry, but specifically for Spoonful; I want this to be stable for the people that are working for me. I want them to continue with that sense of joy and pride, without feeling vulnerable because our product feels vulnerable to the tides of time. We don’t know if it’s going to survive the test of time. So, we’ll see.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

h1

FourTwoNine: Cracking The 429 Code In Luxury Men’s Magazines – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Maer Roshan, Editor In Chief/Chief Content Officer & Richard Klein, Publisher/Chief Creative Officer, FourTwoNine Magazine…

May 16, 2017

“When people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.” Maer Roshan

“People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.” Richard Klein

You say 007, folks say James Bond. You say 429, folks-in-the-know say the very successful website, dot429, the online network for LGBT professionals, a brand that also manifested itself through the pages of an ink on paper magazine, aptly named FourTwoNine. But where did the name originates from, well, you don’t have to look further than the dialing pad on your phone. Four is for G, Two is for A, and Nine is for Y. Four Two Nine = GAY. However, the magazine focuses on a myriad of topics, from politics to fashion, and touts itself as much more than just a gay-based magazine. According to publisher, Richard Klein, it’s a men’s title and a brand that aims itself at people of all genders.

Editor in chief, Maer Roshan, who has known success at such high-profile titles as Talk, Radar, and Vanity Fair, hopped onboard with Richard and agrees that FourTwoNine is definitely a differentiator among the LGBT magazine communities.

I spoke with Maer and Richard recently and we talked about the factors that make FourTwoNine a game changer when it comes to content, design and audience engagement within the gay magazine space. It was an often fun-filled conversation, but also a very informative glimpse into what each of them think a gay magazine should be. And according to Maer, it’s most definitely not supposed to be earnest, dull, or predictable.

So, without further ado, enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with the powers behind FourTwoNine Magazine, Maer Roshan and Richard Klein.

But first the sound-bites:

On how FourTwoNine is different than other gay media (Richard Klein):

Richard Klein, publisher and creative director, FourTwoNIne magazine

We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

On how FourTwoNine is different than the many other magazines that Maer Roshan has worked at or started (Maer Roshan): I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense.

On how the magazine seems aimed at a very upscale audience (Richard Klein): The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. Brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

On what Maer thinks and says about the magazine at the end of the day (Maer Roshan): Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Maer Roshan):

Maer Roshan, editor in chief, FourTwoNine magazine.

For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print. But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading.

On whether they feel there is still room for print in this digital age (Richard Klein): People like something tangible. The magazine s quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital.

On how Richard balances his roles as both publisher and chief creative officer (Richard Klein): I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with.

On the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue (Maer Roshan): It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have.

On whether Maer believes the journal-like, high cover-priced magazines can overtake the industry (Maer Roshan): I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money, and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

On the comparison of FourTwoNine to Monocle (Richard Klein): Monocle is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

On the origins of the name FourTwoNine for the magazine (Richard Klein): The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

On anything either of them would like to add (Richard Klein): I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

On anything either of them would like to add (Maer Roshan): Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Maer Roshan): That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place.

On what either of them would be doing if someone showed up at their house unexpectedly one evening (Richard Klein): I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

On what keeps them up at night (Richard Klein): There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

On what keeps them up at night (Maer Roshan): Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Maer Roshan, editor in chief/chief content office & Richard Klein, publisher/chief creative officer, FourTwoNine Magazine.

Samir Husni: Richard, since you’re more of the publisher and chief creative officer, which is somewhat of a rarity in the magazine business; if someone were to ask you how you differentiated FourTwoNine from all of the other gay media out there today, what would you say?

Richard Klein: It has changed quite a bit. We’re a small brand, but we’re growing. We don’t really brand ourselves necessarily as a completely gay magazine. We have taken more of a sense that within this landscape right now, there really are no brands, in terms of gender. We see ourselves as more of a men’s title.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve edited several magazines, whether as top editor or in starting your own. How do you differentiate? If someone asked you: you’re the editor of FourTwoNine, how is that different from anything else you’ve done; what would you say?

Maer Roshan: That’s a good question. One of the first magazines that I started right after college was a gay weekly in New York, called NYQ, and it was right in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Eventually, it was sold to Time Inc.

But what made me interested in doing this (FourTwoNine) was how much the gay landscape has changed since I did NYQ. And just the definition of how gay people fit into society and what gay culture means has changed dramatically.

Basically, I know how to do a very limited amount of things. I like making new stuff and pushing the envelope a little bit. And adjusting culture and good writing. So, we try to do the same thing in every magazine, and in that way things haven’t changed.

But I think in the universe of gay magazines right now; when Richard said that we’re not trying to brand ourselves as gay, I think what makes FourTwoNine Magazine a gay magazine is its sensibility more than its entire content. We did a piece on Adam Schiff, and it’s not exactly a gay story. It has interest to gay people; he happens to be a congressman from West Hollywood, but it wasn’t told from a particularly gay perspective. But it’s within our world, so it made sense. And we’ve had a great response. We’re one of the earliest people to cover him in that way.

You mix that with some of the other stories that we’ve done, especially when applying a sensibility, and I think that things now are more political for gay people that it’s been in a while. But it defines itself less just as being gay; it’s part of a larger movement.

One of the things that has always amazed me about a lot of gay magazines is that gay culture is humorous and fun, and kind of pushing the envelope. And gay magazines tend to be so earnest and dull. (Laughs) A while back someone had talked to me about doing Logo, the gay network, and they asked me what Logo should be like. And I said Logo should be Bravo, so it’s not ostensibly a gay network. And if we were to put magazines in that way, we would go to a Bravo model over a Logo model, which is earnest and dry…

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Maer Roshan: …if that gives you some idea.

Samir Husni: Richard, in addition to the great editorial content; even looking at the ads, it seems like you’re aiming at a very upscale audience. Is that by choice or is that another point of differentiation? You’re not a mass magazine, or like you said; you’re not a big major brand, but at the same time, you’re aiming high.

Richard Klein: The magazine was born from Dot429, which was the professional website/social network. When we started that, which was over five years ago now, it was aimed at a very affluent audience within the LGBT community. Really, the professionals. As we built that network, and started speaking to the membership of the network and to partner that with the way we sort of differentiated ourselves from brands like the dating sites that were out there and the hook-up sites, and some of the magazines that aren’t with us any longer, such as “Instinct” or “Next,” that kind of syllabus in the gay landscape.

So, brands like Cartier, Lexus and Cadillac have longed to really reach this community and demographic, and we are producing a product that they feel comfortable within. There isn’t a lot out there that they’re able to reach this audience with.

Samir Husni: Maer, I noticed that you’ve assembled quite a team, from your East Coast editor, Hal (Rubenstein), to all the others working and writing for the magazine; at the end of the day, what do you think and say about the magazine?

Maer Roshan: Every day it’s going to be something different. I want something that stands on its own and that people will look at and not just say it’s a good “gay” magazine, but they’ll say FourTwoNine is a great magazine, period. And that’s actually enthusing, because a lot of friends of mine who are not gay, but in the media business, subscribe to the magazine and read it and then get back to me. And the fact that it’s them and they have something to relate to, that’s pretty cool to me. As Richard was talking about; we’re aiming for a high demographic, in the sense that we have a culturally aware audience.

But I also hate pretentiousness, you know? One of the things that I’d talked to Richard about when he asked me to come over here was, when I think about what the purpose of the magazine is I think “Vanity Fair” meets “Vice.” It has great reporting and great production values and great writing. It’s edgier and pushes the envelope and has its finger on the pulse of culture.

Samir Husni: Maer, you’ve worked at some very high profile titles, whether it’s Talk or Radar, which you started. And then we came to a point where everyone was saying print is dead, we’re folding our print edition and going online. Yet, FourTwoNine is almost reverse engineering; it started as a website and now it’s a print magazine. Do you feel that there’s still room for print in today’s digital age?

Maer Roshan: For sure. And you know, I went and did The Fix after Radar, which we sold, and it has done very well. It’s like the biggest recovery website in the world now. Obviously, Radar Online, we’ve worked really hard on, and it’s huge now. And then I work with Tina (Brown) and Women in the World for the Times. So, I love what you can do digitally and it gives you a lot of room for things that you couldn’t do in print.

But, when people say print is dead, I just think that’s idiotic. Print stays relevant in the sense that it needs to provide an aesthetic, sensory and tactile experience that the web can’t. You ought to use print to display gorgeous photography or a deeper read, where you’re not hunched over your cell phone reading. I just read recently that e-books are plummeting, while printed books are really doing amazingly well. And I think what we’re going to see with magazines is similar. I don’t think the newsy magazines, like Time, are going to do very well in this Internet age. But if your magazine is about a more leisurely, substantial read, or about the imagery; you can have great imagery, but on the web it just doesn’t hit you in the same way, you know? In the same way that vinyl and books are back, I think magazines will definitely have a place.

Richard Klein: People like something tangible. The magazine is quarterly right now, and it definitely feels like a coffee table book, but back to the reverse engineering of media; we’re also very focused on our website as well. While we started out as a social network, we’re now a print magazine; a huge event company, in June alone, we’re doing 18 events; and then of course, our digital. Maer is running the contents of the website as well.

Maer Roshan: I don’t think you could have a media property these days and not have web and print and events and all that stuff. The days where you could just have one of those things are over. All of those things play into each other and they’re vitally important . All of these different elements work together and are important in building a community, which we’re trying to do, but also building an ad-base and a web engine base too.

Samir Husni: I started as a graphic designer, even when I was in high school, before I left Lebanon. That was my whole work before I went to college, and now I work more on the business side. How do you balance your roles? Do you work both sides of the brain when you’re the publisher and the chief creative officer? Do you have to change hats or does it just come naturally to you?

Richard Klein: I studied architecture and graphic design as well. When I launched Surface magazine; I launched it as the creative director, but I think in publishing, when you are a staff of a dozen, or less than 20 people, everybody wears a lot of different hats. Maer and I were in New York recently, visiting a number of different partners and advertisers, and focused very much on the business side of things. We both have a clear vision of what the aesthetic of the brand should be; what image-makers we want to work with. While it’s left-lane, right-lane in one sense, they both go hand-in-hand and are very much a brand ambassador to FourTwoNine.

Samir Husni: In the case of the print magazine, I noticed that with the first issue you had different covers; with the second issue, you had three covers that you edited. What’s the strategy behind the multiple covers of the same issue?

Maer Roshan: It’s a general interest magazine in some ways, which is a rarity. It’s obviously a gay magazine, but under that umbrella, we cover fashion; we cover personalities, and many other topics. And what that allows us to do is to showcase different elements of what we’re doing to the different audiences that we have. It’s all tied together by sensibility and point of view, but there are some people who are really interested in one thing and some who are interested in another, so we try and showcase different elements within the magazine that will hopefully resonate with different audiences.

Samir Husni: There is a lot of buzz around these new types of magazines that look like a journal, but read like a magazine. They have the high cover price and the connectivity with the audience; can those types of magazines overtake the industry?

Maer Roshan: I’m glad that you just said that, because there’s one point that I’ve been wanting to make as well, which is, and this is something that I think makes us new, and from just looking at other magazines that are like that, the ones that charge a lot of money and stay longer on the newsstand or are a coffee table magazine, those are not very vital, up-to-date, or in the moment. A lot of times, their content could be from last year and you wouldn’t know, because it’s kind of vague and not trying to keep up with the moment.

And if you look through our issue, we’re as up-to-date as possible. And part of that is because we keep our deadlines really, really late, before we go to press, precisely because we want to stay in the moment. It gives you this rare combination of really good production values and coffee table quality, but most of the content is vital and makes news. Looking at newsstands, which I obviously did a lot before starting this venture, there’s not a lot of magazines that provide both of those things. And that’s what made me interested in this project.

Samir Husni: When I picked up Issue #9 and then Issue #10, the magazine that comes to mind more than anything else is Monocle. I don’t know whether it’s the combination of glossy and matte paper or the design; am I way off here?

Maer Roshan: I could see where you would say that. What you should look at as maybe a better example is Monitor. I like Monocle a lot; it’s very packaged and glib. I’m hoping that we’re less that. When I hold Monocle, I love what it says about me, but I’m not sure that I would be an avid reader of the magazine. Does that make any sense?

Samir Husni: Yes.

Richard Klein: “Monocle” is such an iconic brand today, and you mention Monocle to somebody and they know exactly who the reader is and where the magazine fits in the landscape. And I think that’s really important for what we’re doing too. And while we’re a print magazine and events and the website; we’re really creating this brand. And when someone picks it up or we talk about FourTwoNine, we know who we are.

Maer Roshan: “Monocle” also seems a bit earnest to me at times. I think that we take a little bit more liberties and that’s because of our content and our audience. We have a little bit more of a point of view. But it’s beautiful and very well-conceived and put together. And it’s a compliment for you to compare us to it.

Samir Husni: To me, Maer, FourTwoNine is one of the best magazines that you have created so far.

Maer Roshan: Thank you.

Samir Husni: Richard, what is the origin of the name FourTwoNine? It isn’t the area code.

Richard Klein: The number 429 on the telephone keypad spells GAY. So, when we launched the social network, we wanted to create a name that wasn’t hitting you over the head, but it was kind of like a handshake, if you will.

Samir Husni: Is there anything that either of you would like to add?

Maer Roshan: I think we covered everything; the combination of things that we’re doing. The fact that it’s not just in one sphere, it’s all these different spheres at once.

Richard Klein: I think the only thing that we really didn’t touch on is the West Coast sensibility.

Maer Roshan: Oh, thanks. You know me, I’ve been an East Coast boy for many years, and then I moved to the West, along with a lot of other people. Back in the day, you would have gone to L.A. and thought of it as kind of a second-rate version of New York, but that has changed. Particularly with the political energies; the cultural energy, there has been a big shift westward.

And while we’re a national magazine, I kind of look at it like when I was in New York, working for “Talk” or “Vanity Fair.” You covered the nation, but it was from a distinct New York/East Coast sensibility. It’s kind of amazing to me how few magazines are like this, are rooted in the West Coast ideas and values, but cover the world from that. It’s not really a regional magazine, but takes the best of what the cultures are doing on this coast and magnifies it in coverage and everything else.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at either of your houses unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading a book; watching TV; cooking; having a glass of wine; or something else?

Maer Roshan: That’s an interesting question; I would be working. (Laughs) Funny enough, recently, I was on my way home and I drove by this theatre here; the Director’s Guild, and I wondered what was going on there. As it turned out, that was where James Comey was supposed to speak. And so I called one of our reporters and told him that he had to get there, because that was where he was supposed to be. So, we both found our way into this place. (Laughs) Most of the reporters were waiting outside, but we were saying that we might possibly want to join the FBI, so they ended up letting us in and then I got kicked out. (Laughs again) They checked my ID. But my reporter went in and I think we were one of the only people to be reporting from the actual location of where James Comey was supposed to be. And it’s on our website now.

I go out with friends and try to keep up with the culture, because that’s my job, but also because I love it. A lot of it goes into the things that excite me, and that ends up making me a good editor, I think. Curiosity brings a lot of different stuff. I try to keep up with all the appointments, television, things like that. I still read books, because I’m old school that way. And I hang out with friends.

Richard Klein: I moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco a year and a half ago. And I’m exploring the city almost every night. But as I said, we do a ton of events. And there’s always something going on in Los Angeles. We have a really close relationship with Soho House. There’s seems to always be an event or a talk going on at Soho House. A friend of mine just launched a gallery; a kind of popup gallery at her loft. There is literally always a major event going on in Los Angeles. It’s a lot of friends and things are popping up all over the place here.

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

Richard Klein: There are a lot of things that keep me up at night. (Laughs) If you’re asking what my worries are; we are holding this with a very careful team. We’re kind of in the throe of that, while we’re starting to see really great traction. It’s still quite a bit of work. But we’re keeping at it. And then just the issue of how to keep us alive. But, as I said, we’re getting it and it’s going well.

Maer Roshan: Donald Trump. (Laughs) That’s about it. But I wake up every morning excited about being a journalist, so for that, I guess I should thank him.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Coloring With Mommy: A New Magazine From Bauer Media That Offers Moms & Daughters A Return To That Special Bonding Time That In Today’s Busy World Is Often Hard To Come By – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Brittany Galla, Editorial Director, Bauer Media Group’s Youth Division…

April 10, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“Right now there isn’t a digital component for Coloring with Mommy, because it’s really print and paper-driven. It’s a book that digitally, even if you printed out a comic book page, it wouldn’t be the same quality and it wouldn’t have the heart that we put into the magazine, because it’s not just coloring book pages. It’s that bonding time and the extra stuff that makes the magazine feel more special.” Brittany Galla…

“… But of course with our other launches, such as Bake It Up! with our digital team, there have been things such as recipes that they’ve put on Facebook live, and there are things to promote the magazine and the content on there, but really we are looking at targeting the newsstand reader and the newsstand parent with these new launches.” Brittany Galla…

Bauer Media’s youth division has been offering up new print titles throughout the last few years as though digital was simply a extensional platform that could complement print or offer a different perspective than its ink on paper counterpart – and what do you know, I do believe they’re right. Brittany Galla, editorial director for the media group’s youth division, said their latest title “Coloring with Mommy” offers something that Bauer strongly believes in, a break from “screen time” and that bonding experience that many mothers and daughters find elusive in this fast-paced digital age.

I spoke with Brittany recently and we talked about Coloring with Mommy, and about the other titles that are growing up under her wing. With this latest launch, Bauer is targeting the loyal readers of Star-tastic Coloring Book, and Brittany said that the new magazine featured 28 beautiful side-by-side, outward facing images for mom to color along with her child, while bonding and spending quality time together, something she feels parents need today.

Brittany added that while Bauer is very excited about its digital division, these new launches are targeted strictly for newsstand and, as with Coloring with Mommy, offer something that both children and parents need in this busy time we live in, a moment to escape and exhale from the bombardment of information that we all receive second-by-second onscreen.

So, sit down, relax, and take a breath from your busy schedule and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brittany Galla, editorial director, Bauer Media Group’s Youth Division.

But first the sound-bites:

On why Bauer is putting out more and more print magazines for teens and children in this digital age: What’s going on here is that we’re just bursting with creativity and ideas, and I think in a time when we do see a lot of digital growth, which we’re excited about for our digital sides of the brand, we also see a lot of opportunity to concentrate and focus on print and what’s on the newsstand and what’s not really being offered to readers right now.

On where the ideas for these new magazines come from: Honestly, it’s a mix of different things. An idea comes from a focus group or where we’re talking to 10 or 12 girls and Sebastian (Raatz, executive vice president of Bauer Media Group) and I are taking notes and they’ll say something about a hobby that they love and everyone talks about it and discusses what that could mean on the newsstand. Some ideas do come to me at night as well and some ideas come to my great staff and then they present it to me.

On how she brings the idea to life: Time-wise, it was probably over a span of three to four months, from beginning to end. First, we decide if it’s really a good idea, such as with Coloring with Mommy, which is a way to get a child and her mom to bond more. It’s something more than just a coloring book they’ll find on bookshelves. It’s different and it means more than that. And it has more reselling factors.

On whether there is a digital component for Coloring with Mommy: Right now there isn’t a digital component for Coloring with Mommy, because it’s really print and paper-driven. It’s a book that digitally, even if you printed out a comic book page, it wouldn’t be the same quality and it wouldn’t have the heart that we put into the magazine, because it’s not just coloring book pages. It’s that bonding time and the extra stuff that makes the magazine feel more special.

On what she feels the role of print is in today’s digital age: I feel like the role of print is to really give these young kids and tweens across America and the world something that they’re not getting digitally, and it’s a way to still connect and to bring families together, still speak and relate to their lives. And I think that it’s also just a chance to be creative and to challenge digital. There are many great things happening digitally and at Bauer XCEL, but I think that there is still a lot of growth and room to succeed on the newsstand and it’s time to challenge what we can do and what we can offer readers.

On whether as an editor she believes that there is a responsibility to help with the digital addiction that many children are reported to have: I do. Speaking from a personal sense, my mom is actually a teacher and a reading specialist, and has been for many years. It’s so important to read books. And it’s constantly encouraged by teachers in schools to read the sight words and practice index cards. And there’s something about reading a book together, with your parent, with your mom or dad, as opposed to just everybody being connected to their tablets or phones. It’s so important to have that communication and to have those times together to read.

On whether she feels that she has a social responsibility and a duty to push reading on paper: I feel like I do. I oversee J-14 Magazine and I feel that way when I think of the teenaged reader that I’m targeting. I do think a lot about the reader and a lot about the families that are buying the magazines and what they need and what’s going on. How stressed they could be and maybe they just need 10 minutes with their child to bond, and that’s what I think about every day. I think of the reader and how we can help them bond with their daughter, or their mom, to feel a bit more connected.

On what makes her tick and click and get out of bed each morning, looking forward to her day: It’s the reader. I have wanted to work in magazines since I was a young teenager growing up in Long Island. I read all of the magazines: YM, Cosmo Girl, and they weren’t just magazines to me, they were much more. I lived by every word. They really were my bible. They told me about myself and they empowered me. And that’s what drives me. When I think of the reader that I once was and what magazines were able to provide for me, escape, advice, just being a big sister; when I get out of bed every morning, I’m thinking about that same reader and how I can connect with them. And I think about what our reader needs. That really drives me every day.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly at her home one evening: I’m obsessed with my dog. My husband and I have a rescue dog named Bo and he’s a Black Lab/Rottweiler mix, and we are just completely obsessive. So, if you were to find me at our house, I would be playing with him or hiking with him or just walking him.

On what keeps her up at night: I usually just fall right asleep because I’m so tired from the day, but if I do toss and turn a little bit, it’s usually just thinking about all the new ideas we have and how to put them in motion.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Brittany Galla, editorial director, Bauer Media Group’s Youth Division.

Samir Husni: What’s happening at Bauer; are you all crazy, putting more print magazines out there for teens and children when everybody is telling us the entire future is digital?

Brittany Galla: (Laughs) What’s going on here is that we’re just bursting with creativity and ideas, and I think in a time when we do see a lot of digital growth, which we’re excited about for our digital sides of the brand, we also see a lot of opportunity to concentrate and focus on print and what’s on the newsstand and what’s not really being offered to readers right now.

We do a lot of focus groups and we talk to a lot of moms and daughters; tween girls who are not on their phones just yet, they might have iPods, but it doesn’t always connect to Wi-Fi, of course, and they don’t have iPhones until fifth or sixth grade, or even later. Some parents are really insistent that they don’t have a cell phone before fifth grade, so we do see these ages who are younger who really do need magazines and are looking for something to read and to do during their free time.

And I think here, what’s been going on in the past year is we sat down and thought about how we could attract a reader who is not being targeted on the newsstand right now in different ways, just getting new readers. And we have a lot of conversations with girls and moms who are not really spending the time together that they used to, because things are so busy with sports and school. The moms are on their phones a lot too, and admit that.

So, we really wanted to create products where we are bonding the family together. We think that family time is really important and so we created products like “Bake It Up!” and even “Star-tastic” and now with “Coloring with Mommy,” you can really sit down with your mom. With “Bake It Up!” it was baking and making cute stuff in the kitchen together, and now with “Coloring with Mommy” it’s a different type of coloring book, where the left side of the page is more difficult and detailed, and the right side is an easier replica of the same image. So, it’s a coloring book that they can share and do together. They’re working on the same page, but the mom has a bit more of a detailed one and the daughter has a little easier one and they’re sharing and doing it together.

And then the mega poster that we have is an image that they can fill in together; it’s completely joined on one giant page, so they can do a beautiful mega image together. And we also added content in the book, and we call it “Bonus Bonding” time. There are 10 questions where both mom and daughter can interview each other, such as “What is your biggest fear?” “What was your favorite childhood toy?” Questions that someone may have never asked their mom. I’m 31 and there were questions that I didn’t even know about my mom that I asked her. Just little ways to spend time with your mom and have these special moments that you don’t always get because life is so crazy right now.

Also, in the mega we have a little list where they can write 10 reasons that they love their moms and then a place where the moms can write 10 reasons why they love their daughters. Then they can cut it out and color it. We really wanted it to be a magazine that makes them happy and makes them have that warm and fuzzy feeling inside that I think a lot of girls can identify with. In 2016, we launched five new titles, and this is our first for 2017, so really excited about it being on newsstand.

Samir Husni: Who comes up with these creative ideas for the new magazines? In the last two or three years, you have been putting out one new title after the other aimed at a segment of the population that almost everyone else has written off. As the editorial director, how do you come up with these new ideas? Is it a group effort or do you have this dream at night and wake up and say we need to do this Coloring with Mommy magazine?

Brittany Galla: Honestly, it’s a mix of different things. An idea comes from a focus group or where we’re talking to 10 or 12 girls and Sebastian (Raatz, executive vice president of Bauer Media Group) and I are taking notes and they’ll say something about a hobby that they love and everyone talks about it and discusses what that could mean on the newsstand. Some ideas do come to me at night as well and some ideas come to my great staff and then they present it to me.

Over the last year, Sebastian and I have really worked together quite a lot and we met on a weekly basis and we had a list of over 100 ideas. We would write everything down, from the simplest and most obvious ideas, to the craziest and most extreme ones. And we’d keep this running list that we would add to and then choose which to focus on. With the coloring, obviously, it’s no secret that coloring has been huge on the newsstands for magazine publishers in both 2015 and 2016. And so we thought about how we could make it different and that’s when Star-tastic Coloring Book came into play, so people could color their favorite celebrities.

And then we just thought about what we could do in the coloring section that was a little different from Star-tastic, such as going a bit younger like the Coloring with Mommy, and where it’s not just a coloring book. If you look at the adult coloring books, those could be way too complicated for a little girl with all of the fine detail. She may could do it, but it would be very time-consuming. And then the kid coloring books are very easy, almost too easy. So, this was a way to combine both, where it’s not just an adult coloring book or one for just the child, it’s a coloring book that you can enjoy together and that’s perfect for your age group. It’s perfect for the parent to do, and then the page right next to mom’s is perfect for the daughter to color. And it’s sometimes the same image, just easier, and takes the same amount of time to finish.

So, really, the ideas do come to us in a variety of different ways. I think being creative and thinking outside of the box is something that Bauer has always really encouraged since I’ve been here. And just talking with readers and understanding what’s going on in their lives and finding out what they need and talking to moms. Also, I have six nieces that are my go-to when I have a lot of questions about what kids like and want to see. And all of those things just help form an excellent idea.

Samir Husni: Can you take me through the process of actually bringing the idea to fruition, maybe relive that a-ha moment when you decided that you were definitely bringing Coloring with Mommy to life?

Brittany Galla: Time-wise, it was probably over a span of three to four months, from beginning to end. First, we decide if it’s really a good idea, such as with Coloring with Mommy, which is a way to get a child and her mom to bond more. It’s something more than just a coloring book they’ll find on bookshelves. It’s different and it means more than that. And it has more reselling factors.

So, once we’re a 100 percent go on that, I pitch a bunch of ideas for the title, Coloring with Mommy was one of a few. My team also pitched some and Sebastian picked maybe one or two favorites. Then we presented them to the focus group to make sure that they liked them and that they spoke to the reader. And then we check to make sure that the title we’ve chosen can be used. After that, our art director, who is excellent, and we have an art pool of designers that we use, and we start a style guide for the magazine. For this one, it was almost like a “Girls’ World” type category, we used a lot of the “Girls’ World” fonts and bright colors.

And really, in just a few hours we had the templates and the images ready. I thought about the “Bonus Bonding” content, and then really the magazine was designed pretty quickly, I would say. When we have an idea, there are little tweaks here and there, and then I show Sebastian and the team, make any other tweaks that are needed and we go through the magazine together, and then that’s it.

Samir Husni: You’re newsstand-driven, but is there a digital component, or do you think that print is enough?

Brittany Galla: Right now there isn’t a digital component for Coloring with Mommy, because it’s really print and paper-driven. It’s a book that digitally, even if you printed out a comic book page, it wouldn’t be the same quality and it wouldn’t have the heart that we put into the magazine, because it’s not just coloring book pages. It’s that bonding time and the extra stuff that makes the magazine feel more special.

So, with Coloring with Mommy there’s not a digital component, but of course with our other launches, such as Bake It Up! with our digital team, there have been things such as recipes that they’ve put on Facebook live, and there are things to promote the magazine and the content on there, but really we are looking at targeting the newsstand reader and the newsstand parent with these new launches.

Samir Husni: From an editor’s point of view, what do you feel the role of print is in today’s digital age?

Brittany Galla: I think that digital has obviously opened up many avenues of different creativity, but I think that there’s still a need for families and kids to unwind. We’ve read about kids literally being addicted to social media and all of these apps. In an article in the New York Post, it was basically called digital heroin by a psychologist.

I feel like the role of print is to really give these young kids and tweens across America and the world something that they’re not getting digitally, and it’s a way to still connect and to bring families together, still speak and relate to their lives. And I think that it’s also just a chance to be creative and to challenge digital. There are many great things happening digitally and at Bauer XCEL, but I think that there is still a lot of growth and room to succeed on the newsstand and it’s time to challenge what we can do and what we can offer readers.

Samir Husni: Based on the research you’ve done, and all the studies we’re beginning to see, we’re starting to learn that millennials do read, and yes, while they do spend a lot of time on their digital devices, they’re also engaged in reading ink on paper. As an editor do you believe that there is an obligation to help remove the addiction or help with it a little bit?

Brittany Galla: I do. Speaking from a personal sense, my mom is actually a teacher and a reading specialist, and has been for many years. It’s so important to read books. And it’s constantly encouraged by teachers in schools to read the sight words and practice index cards. And there’s something about reading a book together, with your parent, with your mom or dad, as opposed to just everybody being connected to their tablets or phones. It’s so important to have that communication and to have those times together to read.

I do think that we can play a role in encouraging the reading. In our magazines we have fiction stories in Girls’ World and little starred facts and even puzzle fun targets the sight words. Puzzle fun is for kindergartners and it’s great as a kindergarten prep. So, there really is a call for us to be able to offer this educational content. And with Coloring with Mommy we’re helping with that bonding time and helping them to connect more than they would be if they were just sitting there with tablets looking at screen time. It’s a way to give a screen time break, which I think is something that many families are craving right now.

Samir Husni: Do you feel then that in addition to being an editorial director in charge of the magazines that you also have a social responsibility and a duty?

Brittany Galla: I feel like I do. I oversee J-14 Magazine and I feel that way when I think of the teenaged reader that I’m targeting. I do think a lot about the reader and a lot about the families that are buying the magazines and what they need and what’s going on. How stressed they could be and maybe they just need 10 minutes with their child to bond, and that’s what I think about every day. I think of the reader and how we can help them bond with their daughter, or their mom, to feel a bit more connected.

In terms of my other magazines, there are so many topics that we cover in J-14 and in Girls’ World, and it’s always about the reader and purpose and how we can make their lives better. And that’s always what I’ve seen my job as.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and get out of bed each morning, looking forward to your day?

Brittany Galla: It’s the reader. I have wanted to work in magazines since I was a young teenager growing up in Long Island. I read all of the magazines: YM, Cosmo Girl, and they weren’t just magazines to me, they were much more. I lived by every word. They really were my bible. They told me about myself and they empowered me. And that’s what drives me. When I think of the reader that I once was and what magazines were able to provide for me, escape, advice, just being a big sister; when I get out of bed every morning, I’m thinking about that same reader and how I can connect with them. And I think about what our reader needs. That really drives me every day.

Samir Husni: If I showed up at your house unexpectedly one evening after work, what would I find you doing; reading on your iPad; watching TV; cooking; reading a book; or something else?

Brittany Galla: I’m obsessed with my dog. My husband and I have a rescue dog named Bo and he’s a Black Lab/Rottweiler mix, and we are just completely obsessive. So, if you were to find me at our house, I would be playing with him or hiking with him or just walking him. I go home and it’s all about Bo. (Laughs) I do some work, but in the mornings I hike with him and as soon as I get home, he just has so much energy, I become completely obsessed and that’s what I’m usually doing after work.

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

Brittany Galla: I usually just fall right asleep because I’m so tired from the day, but if I do toss and turn a little bit, it’s usually just thinking about all the new ideas we have and how to put them in motion.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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ChicagoMod Magazine: A New Luxury Title That Promises To Deliver On Its Tagline By Showing Us How To Have A “Life Well Lived” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Shannon Steitz, President & Publisher, ChicagoMod Magazine…

April 5, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“The first five years of any business is never a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) I knew that when I set out to do this, so I was never expecting a walk in a rose garden. Also, this industry is a challenge. As you mentioned earlier, there is a lot of competition out there, and there will continue to be, regardless of the misconceptions about print. And certainly, around niche publications, I feel there is a heavy misconception.” Shannon Steitz (On whether launching two print magazines has been an easy endeavor)…

A luxury magazine geared toward the ultra-affluent market, ChicagoMod joins its sister publication, HudsonMod, and gives us a glimpse of modern-day luxury for the Chicago metropolitan area, while also offering international perspectives for its very niche audience.

Shannon Steitz is president and group publisher of MOD Media, the company that produces both ChicagoMod and HudsonMod and said that their newest publication presents a fresh and different look at all the things that pique the interests of individuals who have a minimum annual income of $500,000, which she is the first to admit, is a very niche audience indeed, but one that isn’t being served in the way that ChicagoMod delivers.

I spoke with Shannon recently and we talked about this latest endeavor and how her company, which includes a custom publishing division, focuses on partnering with its clients to meet key marketing objectives, something that Shannon said is a must in the luxury magazine business. She hopes ChicagoMod will create opportunities for its brand partners to connect with Chicago’s most discerning audience and present the “Windy City” as a sought-after worldwide market for them.

The magazine will be distributed six times a year through exclusive in-home delivery to Chicago’s most affluent residents between the ages of 35 and 55, at high-profile events in the Chicago area, and through placement in-room at hotels and resorts and in high-end establishments, such as luxury retailers, spas and private jet terminals. It’s a beautiful, glossy publication that promises to deliver on its tagline of showing its readership how to have a “Life Well Lived.”

So, I hope that you enjoy this up close look into a luxury market magazine and the woman behind it – the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Shannon Steitz, president & publisher, ChicagoMod Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether people have asked her if she’s out of her mind for producing another luxury title for an already crowded Chicago market: I’ve heard that Chicago is a crowded luxury market before, but I don’t really view it that way. Greenspun and Modern Luxury are there, that’s two publications, and there are some others that we’re certainly aware of as well. But I think that’s just an indication that it’s a viable market, really. Competition is good; I’ve always viewed it that way.

On how her luxury titles differ from the others already in the marketplace: From a content standpoint, people will see a distinction there, in that while it is a Chicago magazine, and we certainly have a lot of Chicago content, there is also international content to serve the discerning appetites of our ultra-affluent readership.

On whether she thinks print is still the best way to reach that readership: I think a customized, multimedia solution is the best way to reach any audience, including the ultra-affluent. Print is one of many pieces of the puzzle, and that’s how we approach all of our client relationships.

On what she offers in that multimedia approach: We approach each relationship with a comprehensive needs analysis, really trying to understand our clients’ objectives and coming up with custom-tailored solutions to meet them. And that’s different for every client.

On what some of those solutions are: It really ranges, but at the end of the day, it’s really about tapping into their perspective buyer who has the ability based on demographics, and we’re able to deliver that more effectively, I feel, than most other media companies.

On the magazine’s tagline “Life Well Lived” and what it means: As far as the meaning of a “Life Well Lived,” we’ve learned over the years by interviewing many, many people and asking them what luxury means to them, it’s so subjective and it means very different things to various people.

On who would be standing in front of her if she could strike the magazine with a magic wand and turn it into a living, breathing human being, and would it be her: It wouldn’t be any one person. I think, certainly, my opinions weigh heavily, in terms of our publications, but at the same time, I look toward others on my team to collaborate and ensure that we’re putting out the very best quality product that we can possibly produce. I’m the type of person that sits in meetings and encourages feedback from my staff, realizing at the end of the day that I don’t know everything, and it’s impossible to stay on top of everything that we have to cover.

On whether her last five years in the publishing business with HudsonMod and now with ChicagoMod has been a walk in a rose garden, or she’s had to face challenges along the way: The first five years of any business is never a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) I knew that when I set out to do this, so I was never expecting a walk in a rose garden. Also, this industry is a challenge. As you mentioned earlier, there is a lot of competition out there, and there will continue to be, regardless of the misconceptions about print, certainly around niche publications. I feel there is a heavy misconception.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the mornings: What makes me most satisfied is when I see that our services and our products are working on behalf of our clients, and that we’re having a positive impact on their business. As a former CFO, there’s nothing better than that.

On what’s next for her company: That remains to be seen, but there will certainly be another market next year, and we’ll continue to also grow the custom publishing division of MOD Media as well.

On anything else she’d like to add: I think Chicago is a great city and I’m so thrilled that we chose it for this magazine. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Aside from all of the statistics that support us moving into that territory, it’s just a place that I now consider home myself.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly to her home one evening: I’m rarely at home, you’d be lucky to catch me there, but you would certainly find me with my dog, Missy. I have a rescue that is half Shar-Pei and half Yellow Labrador. Her pen name is Hudson Maddie, as she grew up in the office of HudsonMod. So, I’m certainly with my dog and my children, when they’re not off playing sports and doing their thing, because they take a lot after their mother, so they’re rarely home as well.

On what keeps her up at night: Just thinking about the things that I wasn’t able to get to during any given day. It’s never fast enough; it’s never good enough; it could always be done better, quicker and differently. So, I’m always looking to, basically, enhance and elevate all that we do as a company, in each and every publication.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Shannon Steitz, president and publisher, ChicagoMod magazine.

Samir Husni: Do people ask are you out your mind because you published a print magazine five years ago, and now you’re doing another one in a very crowded luxury market; what gives?

Shannon Steitz: I’ve heard that Chicago is a crowded luxury market before, but I don’t really view it that way. Greenspun and Modern Luxury are there, that’s two publications, and there are some others that we’re certainly aware of as well. But I think that’s just an indication that it’s a viable market, really. Competition is good; I’ve always viewed it that way.

And we do offer key points of distinction and unique offerings to our clients, so I think there’s room for another publication, and there is certainly room for ChicagoMod.

Samir Husni: When you say there’s room for other publications and other points of differentiation; tell me the DNA of ChicagoMod, and HudsonMod, since you’ve been doing that title for five years now, and how are your titles different from the other luxury titles in the marketplace?

Shannon Steitz: From a content standpoint, people will see a distinction there, in that while it is a Chicago magazine, and we certainly have a lot of Chicago content, there is also international content to serve the discerning appetites of our ultra-affluent readership. In order to receive ChicagoMod, one has to earn a minimum of $500,000 annually, so we want to ensure that we’re serving those appetites with insider perspective and content written by industry experts.

Samir Husni: Do you think print is still the best way to each that audience?

Shannon Steitz: I think a customized, multimedia solution is the best way to reach any audience, including the ultra-affluent. Print is one of many pieces of the puzzle, and that’s how we approach all of our client relationships.

Samir Husni: Can you describe that multimedia approach in your client relationships; what are you offering besides the content of the magazine that is a different experience than they can get with Modern Luxury or Greenspun?

Shannon Steitz: We approach each relationship with a comprehensive needs analysis, really trying to understand our clients’ objectives and coming up with custom-tailored solutions to meet them. And that’s different for every client. More times than not, given our track record on the events side, our clients do want us to host events. So, we typically produce events on their behalf, in addition to digital and other strategic marketing offerings.

Samir Husni: Can you name a few of those solutions?

Shannon Steitz: It really ranges, but at the end of the day, it’s really about tapping into their perspective buyer who has the ability based on demographics, and we’re able to deliver that more effectively, I feel, than most other media companies.

Samir Husni: You’re tagline is “Life Well Lived.” And your Letters from the Publisher are so personalized, they actually reflect your life well lived. Do you see yourself as the persona of the magazine and it’s a reflection of you?

Shannon Steitz: As far as the meaning of a “Life Well Lived,” we’ve learned over the years by interviewing many, many people and asking them what luxury means to them, it’s so subjective and it means very different things to various people.

As far as what I view myself as, that’s an interesting question because I’ve never thought of it. What is top of mind is, I view myself as a businesswoman and an entrepreneur; I love what I do and I think that represents a piece of that “Life Well Lived,” loving what you do every day.

Samir Husni: If you could strike the magazine with a magic wand and turn it into a living, breathing human being, who would be standing before you afterwards? Would it be Shannon Steitz?

Shannon Steitz: It wouldn’t be any one person. I think, certainly, my opinions weigh heavily, in terms of our publications, but at the same time, I look toward others on my team to collaborate and ensure that we’re putting out the very best quality product that we can possibly produce. I’m the type of person that sits in meetings and encourages feedback from my staff, realizing at the end of the day that I don’t know everything, and it’s impossible to stay on top of everything that we have to cover. So, at the end of the day, yes, I think the magazine, of course, represents a fair amount of me personally, but also my staff.

And on our staff we have experts. If there’s an auto feature, it’s written by Ferrari magazine’s former editor in chief, Dom Miliano. He’s an expert and has driven every make and model car prior to writing about it. So, I really look toward my staff quite a bit to ensure that the quality level is there in this publication.

Samir Husni: Has it been a walk in a rose garden for you these last five years with HudsonMod and now with launching ChicagoMod, or have you had some challenges along the way?

Shannon Steitz: The first five years of any business is never a walk in a rose garden. (Laughs) I knew that when I set out to do this, so I was never expecting a walk in a rose garden. Also, this industry is a challenge. As you mentioned earlier, there is a lot of competition out there, and there will continue to be, regardless of the misconceptions about print. And certainly, around niche publications, I feel there is a heavy misconception.

I think we’ve been very fortunate, and we’ve been very blessed at the same time to have had the five years that we’ve had. Part of that is probably luck, and the other part is our hard work. We live this. There is a lot of blood, sweat and tears in every client relationship; in every publication that we produce, especially on our custom publishing side. So, nothing is a walk in the park. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: What makes Shannon click and tick; what motivates you to get out of bed every morning and look forward to another day in a life well lived?

Shannon Steitz: What makes me most satisfied is when I see that our services and our products are working on behalf of our clients, and that we’re having a positive impact on their business. As a former CFO, there’s nothing better than that.

Samir Husni: You began with New Jersey/New York, now Chicago; what’s next?

Shannon Steitz: (Laughs) That remains to be seen, but there will certainly be another market next year, and we’ll continue to also grow the custom publishing division of MOD Media as well.

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

Shannon Steitz: I think Chicago is a great city and I’m so thrilled that we chose it for this magazine. I’ve spent a lot of time there. Aside from all of the statistics that support us moving into that territory, it’s just a place that I now consider home myself. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

In fact, we’re premiering the magazine in Chicago very soon and Taylor Kinney and the cast of “Chicago Fire,” a number of athletes and other celebs will all be lining the red carpet.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what do I find you doing; reading a book; watching TV; having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; or just playing with your dog?

Shannon Steitz: I’m rarely at home, you’d be lucky to catch me there, but you would certainly find me with my dog, Missy. I have a rescue that is half Shar-Pei and half Yellow Labrador. Her pen name is Hudson Maddie, as she grew up in the office of HudsonMod. So, I’m certainly with my dog and my children, when they’re not off playing sports and doing their thing, because they take a lot after their mother, so they’re rarely home as well.

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

Shannon Steitz: Just thinking about the things that I wasn’t able to get to during any given day. It’s never fast enough; it’s never good enough; it could always be done better, quicker and differently. So, I’m always looking to, basically, enhance and elevate all that we do as a company, in each and every publication. Occasionally, does that keep me up at night? Absolutely. But not often, because typically when my head hits the pillow, I’m out, preparing to go onto the next day and the next adventure, which I love.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Good Day! Magazine: The National Grange’s New Magazine That Offers A Positive Message To People Who Desire The Grass Roots Beneath Their Feet – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Amanda Brozana, Editor, Good Day! Magazine…

March 25, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“Getting that first printed copy. I think that has to be the most pleasant moment for anybody who has done a magazine. I loved when I opened the box, and it was in Connecticut at our president’s conference. And I got to see the first one and put it into my hands and smell it. Maybe that makes me a print geek, and I’m okay with that. That was definitely the most satisfying moment, even more satisfying than when our president said, wow, this is a real magazine. And I think we’ve really received a lot of that initial shock reaction. And I get really excited when I hear people say that we really can do this.” Amanda Brozana…

The National Grange was founded as a fraternal organization for farm families in 1867 and today is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The icing on the cake for this milestone occurrence for the Grange is the organization’s latest endeavor, the launch of a new print magazine called Good Day! Amanda Brozana is editor of this new publication and is a staunch advocate for all things sustainable and community-oriented, a mindset that aligns perfectly with the 150-year-old, member-based organization. And while the National Grange may be member-based, the magazine is not.

I spoke with Amanda on a recent trip to Washington D.C. and we talked about the fact that the print magazine is geared toward anyone who believes in a grass roots effort of sustainability when it comes to their food and their lives and community caring for all, not just Grange members alone, but the public in general. With its positive title that beckons all of us to have a “good day” and its contents that are written in a wider, more enveloping context, where everyone is included, not just Grange members, the magazine is a breath of fresh air on the newsstand shelves. In a world of chaos, confusion and, oftentimes, a frigidity toward our neighbors, Good Day! Magazine actually succeeds in its encouragement of all to have a “good day.”

And now, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amanda Brozana, editor, Good Day! Magazine.

*Truth in reporting: Proud to report that Amanda Brozana is a former student of mine…

But first a Mr. Magazine™ minute with Amanda Brozana followed by the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Good Day! Magazine: Good Day! is actually a magazine under the umbrella of the National Grange, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year of being a fraternal family organization. And the concept was that we would introduce the Grange to people who may or may not have heard of it, but also to make our members more aware of what was going on in Granges throughout the country and reconnect them in a way that they haven’t been in several decades.

On the folding of the Grange’s monthly publication and the relaunch of the publication Good Day!: We had the other publication for more than 50 years and it had kind of cleaved itself from the organization as a whole and became almost an entity unto itself. And like many publications, it had its own financial troubles. And so, that was resolved in the ‘50s or ‘60s, I can’t remember exactly when. Introducing the publication again allowed us to bring back a little bit of that heyday and that nostalgia, but also allowed us to connect the primary membership that would be really interested in what was going on nationally with the Grange.

On who came up with the name Good Day! for the magazine: We talked quite a bit here in the office about what the name should be, there’s only a small staff of us, about six, and we had gone through the iterations of Grange News and Grange Monthly, and all of the Grange-oriented ones, but since we wanted to be more of a general interest publication, I had pitched Good Day! along with a couple of others. And we came down to that because it wasn’t used here in the states, and it was available. But also it gives a very positive vibe and right now, the way that our society currently is, we’re not happy; we’re pretty negative. So, I think all of us are looking for that positive news, those positive connectors and connecting moments.

On all of the different movements that are going on across the country today and how she plans on addressing those types of issues and whether just Grange members will be able to access that information: Obviously, our core audience right now are Grange members, just by virtue of who found out that we were going to be publishing, but this magazine really is oriented towards anybody who is interested in both the new food movements that you referred to, or sustainability. As well as issues in their own communities, that idea of volunteerism and being a little bit more than just yourself.

On her most challenging moment: We are a staff of six full-time here in the national office and we have an intern who has been here since February who has really helped us put this publication together entirely from the concept, Kim Stefanick from New Jersey. And I think the biggest challenge is the fact that this publication is just one part of an already full platter, a job that used to be three or four people’s jobs here even ten years ago. Juggling your normal day-to-day and adding this brand new thing, in addition to the other elements of our 150th birthday celebration, it was really a challenge when it came to time management, which I always felt that I was pretty good at, but it was stressful.

On her most pleasant moment: Getting that first printed copy; I think that has to be the most pleasant moment for anybody who has done a magazine. I loved when I opened the box, and it was in Connecticut at our president’s conference. And I got to see the first one and put it into my hands and smell it. Maybe that makes me a print geek, and I’m okay with that. That was definitely the most satisfying moment, even more satisfying than when our president said, wow, this is a real magazine. And I think we’ve really received a lot of that initial shock reaction. And I get really excited when I hear people say that we really can do this.

On anything else she’d like to add: I think that we play a really unique role and I hope that Good Day! helps reflect that. I hope that the magazine is something that can go way beyond our membership, because there is a need for people to look and think about what they’re doing to improve the lives that they’re living. Many of us talk about whether or not we want bigger government or other organizations involved in making decisions for us or doing things in our lives, and the only way that we get away from that is doing for ourselves and doing for others.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Probably cooking for the household; I have a couple of roommates. I am also playing with my dog or at the dog park with the dog, you never know. Hopefully, as soon as the weather breaks, we’ll have a garden in the back and I think that’s very reflective of what people my age and my generation are doing.

On what keeps her up at night: Besides the fact that I work directly next to the White House and I realize that I have to drive an hour in everyday? No, honestly, what keeps me up at night is that I’m part of a 150-year-old legacy here, and I worry about having 150,000 members, instead of the one million members that we used to have. I worry about what that means for the Grange and what it means in general.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Amanda Brozana, editor, Good Day! Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Good Day! Magazine.

Amanda Brozana: Good Day! is actually a magazine under the umbrella of the National Grange, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year of being a fraternal family organization. And the concept was that we would introduce the Grange to people who may or may not have heard of it, but also to make our members more aware of what was going on in Granges throughout the country and reconnect them in a way that they haven’t been in several decades.

Samir Husni: There used to be a monthly publication for the National Grange Society, why did that magazine fold and why did you decide to bring back another publication?

Amanda Brozana: We had the other publication for more than 50 years and it had kind of cleaved itself from the organization as a whole and became almost an entity unto itself. And like many publications, it had its own financial troubles. And so, that was resolved in the ‘50s or ‘60s, I can’t remember exactly when.

From then on, you could notice in trend on all of these organizations like us, where there was a peak of membership in the ‘50s, and that meant that many people were entering the Grange and other organizations like us at 20 and 30 years of age. Those people have stayed with the organization and have aged, so we’re now talking about people who are in their 70’s, 80’s or 90’s, who are a part of the organization. So, their primary mode of connection and communication is still print, yet we were servicing them mostly through digital means, which didn’t make a lot of sense.

So, introducing the publication again allowed us to bring back a little bit of that heyday and that nostalgia, but also allowed us to connect the primary membership that would be really interested in what was going on nationally with the Grange.

Samir Husni: Who came up with the name Good Day!?

Amanda Brozana: We talked quite a bit here in the office about what the name should be, there’s only a small staff of us, about six, and we had gone through the iterations of Grange News and Grange Monthly, and all of the Grange-oriented ones, but since we wanted to be more of a general interest publication, I had pitched Good Day! along with a couple of others. And we came down to that because it wasn’t used here in the states, and it was available.

But also it gives a very positive vibe and right now, the way that our society currently is, we’re not happy; we’re pretty negative. (Laughs) So, I think all of us are looking for that positive news, those positive connectors and connecting moments. And that was the one chosen in the end.

Samir Husni: There are all kinds of movements taking place in the country right now, in terms of things like, returning to the good old days, raising chickens on your balcony, putting a beehive on your roof, all those good things. How are you going to address these issues and do you have to be a Grange member to access the magazine or get that information?

Amanda Brozana: Obviously, our core audience right now are Grange members, just by virtue of who found out that we were going to be publishing, but this magazine really is oriented towards anybody who is interested in both the new food movements that you referred to, or sustainability. As well as issues in their own communities, that idea of volunteerism and being a little bit more than just yourself.

Maybe, it’s because I’m about to turn 35 and I think when you get to your mid-thirties you start having a legacy complex. I don’t have kids, so I have to figure out how to leave my mark, but I think that organizations like the Grange allow you to have those outlets, and so the magazine is allowing us to focus on people who are doing things for others. And also who are having some of the similar values that we have, which is figuring out how to be back to nature a little bit; back to being rooted in community and in your home and sustaining yourself, those types of things.

Certainly, you don’t have to be a member, we hope that everyone gets introduced to what the Grange’s values are what the organization is all about, but that doesn’t mean you have to become a member either. We hope that people enjoy the publication and that we’re a little bit more of a hometown and an in-home used name again.

Samir Husni: In the process of launching the magazine and getting the first issue out, what was the most challenging moment and how did you overcome it?

Amanda Brozana: We are a staff of six full-time here in the national office and we have an intern who has been here since February who has really helped us put this publication together entirely from the concept, Kim Stefanick from New Jersey. And I think the biggest challenge is the fact that this publication is just one part of an already full platter, a job that used to be three or four people’s jobs here even ten years ago. Juggling your normal day-to-day and adding this brand new thing, in addition to the other elements of our 150th birthday celebration, it was really a challenge when it came to time management, which I always felt that I was pretty good at, but it was stressful.

And the way that we overcame it was really compartmentalizing what needed to be done, by whom, and at what point in time. And where could we get assistance? So, we actually reached out to some freelance writers, something that I wasn’t expecting to have to do. I was thinking that we could do all of it in-house, but it just wasn’t going to happen, if we were going to be sure that we had the publication coming together with the quality content that we wanted.

But, I would also add that I think having those outside people writing gave it the shape and perspective that we wanted, of it being not just Grange. So, when we talk about family traditions in this first issue, we talked about the idea that the story would be about more than just Grange members’ experiences with this, but the fact that we had a non-member writing the story allowed them to pull in other resources and other contacts to put into it, that we wouldn’t have probably thought about or had otherwise. And that makes the story more appealing for somebody who doesn’t know a lot about the National Grange.

Samir Husni: What was the most pleasant moment throughout this first issue journey?

Amanda Brozana: Getting that first printed copy. I think that has to be the most pleasant moment for anybody who has done a magazine. I loved when I opened the box, and it was in Connecticut at our president’s conference. And I got to see the first one and put it into my hands and smell it. Maybe that makes me a print geek, and I’m okay with that. That was definitely the most satisfying moment, even more satisfying than when our president said, wow, this is a real magazine. And I think we’ve really received a lot of that initial shock reaction. And I get really excited when I hear people say that we really can do this.

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

Amanda Brozana: I think that we play a really unique role and I hope that Good Day! helps reflect that. I hope that the magazine is something that can go way beyond our membership, because there is a need for people to look and think about what they’re doing to improve the lives that they’re living. Many of us talk about whether or not we want bigger government or other organizations involved in making decisions for us or doing things in our lives, and the only way that we get away from that is doing for ourselves and doing for others.

And people don’t seem to see that. So, I think the Grange and organizations like us have a real place and we just need to refocus in on that. If we had magazines like Good Day! and other ones that tell people how to be more engaged in their communities and show them what it means to really be a good neighbor and a good citizen again. It’s stressful. I drive an hour to go 14 miles every day. It’s hard to go home and think about what I can do to help my own community. Do I really have the time or the patience to do that today? But it’s important. And so I’m hoping that this magazine is part of that revolution to get people to say what do they need to do to make sure that they have the life and the community that they want to live in.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing?

Amanda Brozana: Probably cooking for the household; I have a couple of roommates. I am also playing with my dog or at the dog park with the dog, you never know. Hopefully, as soon as the weather breaks, we’ll have a garden in the back and I think that’s very reflective of what people my age and my generation are doing. We have roommates maybe, instead of large families or small children, and we have pets. We have gardens and we have ways that we are kind of reengaging, getting involved in little things in our communities.

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

Amanda Brozana: Besides the fact that I work directly next to the White House and I realize that I have to drive an hour in everyday? No, honestly, what keeps me up at night is that I’m part of a 150-year-old legacy here, and I worry about having 150,000 members, instead of the one million members that we used to have. I worry about what that means for the Grange and what it means in general.

I don’t know if any of your readers have ever read “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, it’s a 15 or 16-year-old book now, but he documented the disengagement basically of people from civic and social life and from civic organizations. And we’re still there. We’re still on that downward trend and I don’t know what we will look like if we don’t have organizations figuring out how to get prescription eyeglasses to kids who are in need or socks to the homeless, or anything like that. I don’t know what the country will look like if we don’t have people engaged with our communities. It really disturbs me to think that the Grange and any other organization like us would struggle to survive, and what we would look like without these organizations.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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Afropolitain Magazine: A New Afro Lifestyle Magazine That Inspires To Bring All Africans & People Of Color Together Under “One United States Of Africa” – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Nsayi Keziah Makoundou, Founder & Creative Director, Afropolitain Magazine…

March 20, 2017

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story…

“We want to do both, (print and digital) because a lot of people were asking us where they could find our print magazine. And every time I would tell them to just pull up the website, they were insistent that they would rather have the print version. So, we’re definitely going to do both. But just to make sure that we reach as many people as possible, we’re going to pursue digital more, because there are a lot of countries right now where people do not have access to the print, so if we’re digital they can just grab their phones and access the content.” Nsayi Keziah Makoundou…

“Everybody was telling me not to do print. I heard that at least 2,000 times, maybe more. But there is something inside of me that has always said that somehow, print is not dead. Obviously, I’m a big fan of magazines and books because of my background, but I feel like the people that I’m trying to reach, they’ve never really had a product like this. So, I won’t say that print is dead, because a lot of people have been asking for the printed magazine. If we’d listened to what everyone had said, we would have never moved forward. I usually go with my gut feeling, and my gut was telling me that I should definitely do the print magazine.” Nsayi Keziah Makoundou…

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou (Keziah) had a dream: launching her own magazine. Keziah comes from a magazine background, working for publications such as Popular Mechanics, UPTOWN Magazine and Vibe. But when the entrepreneurial bug bit, she literally stopped everything she was doing to focus on this project, Afropolitain Magazine.

I spoke with Keziah recently and she told me that what motivated her the most was that she realized there was a lack of a good Afro lifestyle magazine – especially in France, and in a lot of countries in Europe, hence the bilingual aspect of the publication, every issue is half English and half French. So, ignoring the naysayers and the fact that her creative side was much, much stronger than her business side, Keziah took a risk and launched Afropolitain’s first issue. And soon, Issue #3 will hit newsstands.

If passion and belief in your product makes a success, then look out world, Afropolitain is on its way, because Keziah has an ample amount of both. And her entrepreneurial spirit is no more pronounced than her philanthropic one, as she wants the magazine to be a tool that unites all Africans and people of color together to see what a difference they can make in business, fashion, and any other interest that grabs them, by amplifying each of their strengths. It’s a beautifully done magazine and one that Mr. Magazine™ is very excited to see on the newsstand.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with a woman who believes, as the magazine’s tagline reads, that her magazine provides “The Afro of Today For Tomorrow,” Nsayi Keziah Makoundou, founder and creative director, Afropolitain Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Afropolitain Magazine: I worked in the magazine business and I had always wanted to do a magazine that spoke to me and to African people. And with me being in the industry and working for all kinds of different magazines, I just decided to jump in the pool and start my own magazine.

On how she actually created the magazine: It was probably 2010 when the idea took hold in my mind, and I realized I needed to create a prototype, so I talked about it with some of my friends. It had been in the back of my mind for quite some time. And I worked a little bit on it, stopped, and then a couple of years ago I actually did a different prototype for someone who wanted to start a magazine for black women. And I think doing that prototype gave me a wakeup call, where I asked myself, instead of doing prototypes for other people, why don’t you just finish your own project? Who don’t you just push it until this project becomes a reality?

On the DNA of the magazine: Basically, Afropolitain represents the young, modern African that’s competitive, travels, has a good job, whether they’re in Africa, Europe or America. To me, Afropolitain is for people like us who are educated and who change the game in what we do. It’s to show the younger generation, and really, everybody, that you can be black, African, and be great at everything that you do. We just need to let people know that in every industry, there’s a black or of color person who is on a higher level.

On whether launching the magazine has been simple and easy for her: Oh, no, no, definitely not easy. The team is very, very small and we just started, so right now we’re just trying to put our name out there. We’re growing carefully, but we really need to be out there everywhere, on social media, but make sure that we’re consistent with the magazine. And we’re actually looking at a digital version of it, which will come out soon.

On the most challenging moment for her throughout this journey: Everything is challenging. I’m a woman and African, and trying to be a businesswoman. I’m an artist more than anything else, so being a businessperson is very new to me. It’s a big challenge to focus on the business side of the magazine, but it’s a learning process and I am learning it. It’s also challenging to be an African woman and to try and launch a business; is everyone taking me seriously, especially when you deal with African men.

On why she decided to make the magazine bilingual by creating half in English and half in French: There is a big break between Africans who speak English and Africans who speak French, in general. I feel like there is a lot about the English-speaking part of Africa that people in the French-speaking part don’t know about, and vice versa. For me, it was about trying to unite the continent.

On any conflict she finds between her creative side and her newly acquired business side: So far, the only conflict that I have is in doing the business part of it. Sometimes it can take away from me being creative, and that’s why in the context of growing, I want people who know how to handle the business side of the magazine better, so that I can focus on the product that we have and in making sure it’s always excellent. There are some problems with any beginning enterprise.

On launching with print first, and then considering digital: We want to do both, because a lot of people were asking us where they could find our print magazine. And every time I would tell them to just pull up the website, they were insistent that they would rather have the print version. So, we’re definitely going to do both. But just to make sure that we reach as many people as possible, we’re going to pursue digital more, because there are a lot of countries right now where people do not have access to the print, so if we’re digital they can just grab their phones and access the content.

On whether anyone asked her had she lost her mind for launching a big, thick print magazine in this digital age: Everybody was telling me not to do print. I heard that at least 2,000 times, maybe more. But there is something inside of me that has always said that somehow, print is not dead. Obviously, I’m a big fan of magazines and books because of my background, but I feel like the people that I’m trying to reach, they’ve never really had a product like this. So, I won’t say that print is dead, because a lot of people have been asking for the printed magazine. If we’d listened to what everyone had said, we would have never moved forward. I usually go with my gut feeling, and my gut was telling me that I should definitely do the print magazine.

On anything she’d like to add: Just that with Afropolitain, I want to unite people because I feel like being African, we don’t come together enough and in doing this product it brings us together. Everything you see in the magazine is done by Africans or black people: the photographers, the writers; my editor in chief is from Congo, my art director is from the Caribbean, so it’s really a black-made, African-made product. And I really want people to know that and to understand how we can come together and do something great. And I think that’s what we need in our communities. To come together and do something, instead of always trying to outshine or hate on the next black or African next to you.

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up at her home unexpectedly one evening: It’s really very simple, you’d find me sitting on my couch, on my computer, doing something for the magazine or emailing people or looking for different things to do. But most likely you would catch me working.

On what keeps her up at night: Being successful. Making sure that our magazine will always move forward and that people find out about us. Thinking about the next plan and the next move. My main focus right now is to be out there and reach the max number of people. My ultimate goal is that I want this magazine to become the top magazine for our community, so that’s what keeps me up at night. What is the next move for us to get there?

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Nsayi Keziah Makoundou, founder and creative director, Afropolitain magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me about the genesis of Afropolitain.

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: I worked in the magazine business and I had always wanted to do a magazine that spoke to me and to African people. And with me being in the industry and working for all kinds of different magazines, I just decided to jump in the pool and start my own magazine.

Samir Husni: So, was it as easy as just deciding it? One day out of the blue, you created your own magazine, just like that?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: It was probably 2010 when the idea took hold in my mind, and I realized I needed to create a prototype, so I talked about it with some of my friends. It had been in the back of my mind for quite some time. And I worked a little bit on it, stopped, and then a couple of years ago I actually did a different prototype for someone who wanted to start a magazine for black women. And I think doing that prototype gave me a wakeup call, where I asked myself, instead of doing prototypes for other people, why don’t you just finish your own project? Who don’t you just push it until this project becomes a reality?

That’s when I decided to quit my job and focus on Afropolitain and do the prototype. And from the prototype we did Issue #1 and now the second issue just hit the market and we’re working on the third one. So, it was that wakeup call that motivated me to stop wasting time and to just do it.

Samir Husni: How did you come up with the name and what is the DNA of the magazine?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: I was looking for a unique and different name and a friend of mine, who is an artist, were having the conversation about what the name should be. I wanted something modern and that spoke to young Africans, young black people, and we were exchanging ideas when my friend suggested “Afropolitain” and I thought it was perfect.

Basically, Afropolitain represents the young, modern African that’s competitive, travels, has a good job, whether they’re in Africa, Europe or America. To me, Afropolitain is for people like us who are educated and who change the game in what we do. It’s to show the younger generation, and really, everybody, that you can be black, African, and be great at everything that you do. We just need to let people know that in every industry, there’s a black or of color person who is on a higher level.

And that’s what we hope to do with Afropolitain, I want the magazine to become a tool for people, so that they can grab the magazine and get advice for business, beauty, travel, recipes; learn things about African tradition, modern traditions, just a mix of lots of things. We’re in those Western countries too, so we need to bring everything together to make a great product.

Samir Husni: You’re working on Issue #3 now, so was it a walk through a rose garden for you with the first two issues? I mean, was it that easy?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Oh, no, no, definitely not easy. The team is very, very small and we just started, so right now we’re just trying to put our name out there. We’re growing carefully, but we really need to be out there everywhere, on social media, but make sure that we’re consistent with the magazine. And we’re actually looking at a digital version of it, which will come out soon.

It’s an everyday challenge, but it’s worth it. We get a positive reaction from people and we’ve received positive critiques, so it’s good to know that we’re getting somewhere. We just have to keep pushing.

Samir Husni: What has been the most challenging moment for you throughout this journey?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Everything is challenging. I’m a woman and African, and trying to be a businesswoman. I’m an artist more than anything else, so being a businessperson is very new to me. It’s a big challenge to focus on the business side of the magazine, but it’s a learning process and I am learning it. It’s also challenging to be an African woman and to try and launch a business; is everyone taking me seriously, especially when you deal with African men.

So, every step of the business is challenging. There are mistakes that we did with the first issue that we corrected with the second issue. And we’re working very hard on the third issue now. Every issue is a challenge for us to make sure we do better each time.

Samir Husni: Why did you choose for the magazine to be bilingual? You have half in English and half in French.

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: There is a big break between Africans who speak English and Africans who speak French, in general. I feel like there is a lot about the English-speaking part of Africa that people in the French-speaking part don’t know about, and vice versa. For me, it was about trying to unite the continent.

It was really important to me to have French and English, because I wanted to be able and touch the whole continent, not just the French-speaking countries or the English-speaking countries. Or people just in America or Europe. That’s why it was very important to do both French and English, and to really include everybody from the continent.

Samir Husni: Where are you originally from?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: My origins are Congo Brazzaville (my dad’s side) and Côte d’Ivoire (my mother’s side).

Samir Husni: Being a creative person; being an artist, and being a creative person myself, I know that we think more with passion and our hearts than anything else, yet we have to apply a business type of thinking to most things. Do you feel a conflict between the two when it comes to Afropolitain?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: So far, the only conflict that I have is in doing the business part of it. Sometimes it can take away from me being creative, and that’s why in the context of growing, I want people who know how to handle the business side of the magazine better, so that I can focus on the product that we have and in making sure it’s always excellent. There are some problems with any beginning enterprise

But for me, I will say that there can be a little havoc that can take away from me wanting to be creative, such as doing a photo shoot. But, as I said, it’s a learning process, and the longer we go, the better I will learn how to balance the business side without taking away from the other.

Samir Husni: You’ve managed to create almost two magazines in one; it has that flip quality, where on one side it’s geared more toward men and the other side is geared more toward women. And you started with print first, and now you’re considering digital.

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Yes, we want to do both, because a lot of people were asking us where they could find our print magazine. And every time I would tell them to just pull up the website, they were insistent that they would rather have the print version. So, we’re definitely going to do both. But just to make sure that we reach as many people as possible, we’re going to pursue digital more, because there are a lot of countries right now where people do not have access to the print, so if we’re digital they can just grab their phones and access the content.

So, it’s very important to have a digital presence, but we’re going to continue to do both. We’re going to continue making sure that our print magazine is great, but also that people have access to the content wherever they want it.

And the fact that we do men and women, I think with my research into ethnic magazines, I felt like I never really saw a lifestyle magazine just for men, something where men can go and read about business, fashion, traveling, and relationships. Most of the magazines that are geared toward African men are more about politics and the economy. I’m not going to say they’re boring, but I felt like in today’s world African men travel, they go shopping , they like fashion, and they enjoy good restaurants. So, it was important for me to include men too, and that’s why I sort of divided the magazine into two parts, one for men and one for women.

Samir Husni: And when you talked to people about your idea of launching this print magazine, and a hefty-sized one too, we’re not talking about a 96-page publication; Afropolitain is a substantially thick, big magazine, did anybody ask you had you lost your mind for what you were about to do? You were launching a print magazine in this digital age.

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Everybody was telling me not to do print. I heard that at least 2,000 times, maybe more. But there is something inside of me that has always said that somehow, print is not dead. Obviously, I’m a big fan of magazines and books because of my background, but I feel like the people that I’m trying to reach, they’ve never really had a product like this. So, I won’t say that print is dead, because a lot of people have been asking for the printed magazine. If we’d listened to what everyone had said, we would have never moved forward. I usually go with my gut feeling, and my gut was telling me that I should definitely do the print magazine.

The print product is a great-looking one and we’re going to progress and do better and better, and keep pushing forward. The people that were telling me that print was dead weren’t even in the magazine industry, they were just going by what they had heard or the little bit they did know about the industry. It is more expensive to do print, but it costs money for digital too. To have an app up and running; to make sure the product is good, that’s expensive too. Right now, I want to keep doing both, and in the next year or two, we’ll see if doing print was a good idea or not. But so far, people are reacting very positively to it.

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

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Just that with Afropolitain, I want to unite people because I feel like being African, we don’t come together enough and in doing this product it brings us together. Everything you see in the magazine is done by Africans or black people: the photographers, the writers; my editor in chief is from Congo, my art director is from the Caribbean, so it’s really a black-made, African-made product. And I really want people to know that and to understand how we can come together and do something great. And I think that’s what we need in our communities. To come together and do something, instead of always trying to outshine or hate on the next black or African next to you.

If we understand that teamwork is important. I’m a creative person, but I can’t write. I have an editor in chief who can write and writers that are terrific, so they make the product look good. That’s another message that I want people to understand, working together is the future. If we want Africa to do better, we have to combine our strengths and create a unit that’s going to move forward together, not just country by country or tribe by tribe. It’s a group effort.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly to your home one evening after work, what do I find you doing; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else?

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: It’s really very simple, you’d find me sitting on my couch, on my computer, doing something for the magazine or emailing people or looking for different things to do. But most likely you would catch me working.

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

Nsayi Keziah Makoundou: Being successful. Making sure that our magazine will always move forward and that people find out about us. Thinking about the next plan and the next move. My main focus right now is to be out there and reach the max number of people. My ultimate goal is that I want this magazine to become the top magazine for our community, so that’s what keeps me up at night. What is the next move for us to get there?

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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