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Startup Stories: Breathing New Life into a State Magazine



By
01/04/2006
Maryland Life's glossy stock and affluent readership belies the magazine's humble beginnings;it was conceived when the three principals;co-publishers Dan Patrell, Ross Peddicord and Scott Runkles;met in a community college class on entrepreneurship. In August 2004, the trio launched Great State Publishing and debuted bi-monthly Maryland Life in December 2004 with a January/February issue. While there is no shortage of regional magazines serving Maryland, Great State sought to fill the void left by the folding of statewide Maryland Magazine. "People missed the old Maryland magazine and they wanted to be in touch with what's going in the state," says Patrell. "Our goal for this year was to have 8,000 paid subscribers. We passed that in September and we're approaching 10,000 paid subs by the end of the year."

The principals spent two years creating a business plan, tearing down each version and then building it back up. "We spent two years prior to that researching regional magazines;those that did well like Our State and Down East in Maine, and those that didn't," says Patrell.

The principals divided their responsibilities into three distinct areas; Patrell, a former editor with regional Frederick Magazine, oversees editorial. Runkles a former mortgage banker, is in charge of finance, operations and circulation, and Peddicord, a former reporter and magazine ad salesman, is in charge of sales and marketing. The staff today includes two full-time reps, a production coordinator, office manager, and several contractors, primarily in ad sales.

Great State bucked advice it received from the International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA) on when to launch. "The general consensus was we'd be crazy to launch this magazine in January," says Patrell. "We gave second thoughts to it but came to decisions that this was what we promised people."

The publisher did apply IRMA's advice on using the magazine as a drop mail piece. "Each time the magazine comes out, we're mailing;when we started, it was about 30,000, now it's about 20,000;free issues to our target audience," says Patrell. "Originally we were going to send three free issues of the magazine but [Cottage Life publisher] Al Zikovitz told us don't do that;you'll train them to expect it for free. With every new issue that comes out, we get about 1,000 to 1,600 new subscribers."

Maryland Life has also had success with grassroots marketing, appearing at regional events from art festivals to the Preakness that attract its target audience of older, affluent women. Instead of one big launch party, the magazine hosted 10 different parties around the state;ranging from breakfasts to cocktail receptions to picnics and wine tastings. "Before the first issue came out, we had 2,000 subscribers already," says Runkles. "We don't have a huge number of paid subs, we have to go out and get them. We may go to some fairs and get 350 subs, and at others, only seven." The magazine has also culled an advisory board of community leaders who contribute story ideas and marketing opportunities.

About 8,000 copies of the magazine are distributed on the newsstand, with sell-through averaging 38 percent.

While Peddicord refuses to disclose ad revenue, the original business plan called for 128 pages per issue, and Maryland Life is averaging 144 to 160 pages per issue with a 40 percent ad ratio. Peddicord is considering joining a consortium with other regional magazines to try to woo national advertisers with package buys.

Great State expects Maryland Life to be profitable within three years. "The biggest challenge was getting people to take us seriously," says Patrell. "They always say, ムwe want to see the magazine first.' Okay, here's six well-received issues. The next biggest challenge is growing sensibly;we need to look at partnerships that make sense for the company."

||| TAKEAWAYS |||

Be Skeptical
ユ The principals at Great State Publishing built and tore down the business plan for Maryland Life for over two years before they felt ready to launch.

Don't Underestimate the Power of Grassroots Marketing
ユ The appearance of Maryland Life at key regional events;including the Preakness;put the magazine on the map for its target audience.

Assign a Specific Role to Each Leader in a Startup
ユ Great State divided responsibilities up between principals that play to their strengths but let them continue to work closely together.

By
01/04/2006







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