The International Regional Magazine Association’s annual conference just concluded in Oklahoma, and what had to be the magazine industry’s single longest event (six days) was also one long immersion in a primordial soup of ideas for a sector marked by vibrant publishing entrepreneurship.
IRMA, as it’s known to members, has long been about free, frank and open idea-sharing for magazines like Albemarle: Living in Jefferson’s Virgina, Lake Superior, Wisconsin Trails, Southern Breeze, Mississippi Magazine and Down East. And the 2007 event—hosted by Oklahoma Today in Oklahoma City, Quartz Mountain Resort Arts and Conference Center and various points on the legendary Route 66—was no different.
Keynotes were provided by Samir Husni, the University of Mississippi professor known as Mr. Magazine, whom one attendee described as a “print zealot,” and by CXO Media vice president Bob Melk, who represented the e-media opportunity. While some IRMA members, such as Arizona Highways, have significant Web operations, others don’t, and it seems that for this corner of the industry, Web development is not as high a priority.
But even in the print realm, IRMA members displayed an energetic entrepreneurial spirit. (IRMA members are typically smaller than the big-name city magazines in the City and Regional Magazine Association, and IRMA has a non-compete feature—meaning that effectively, members of the association have veto power over the admission of a competitor as a member. The result is that members are much more willing to share deep insights into their businesses.) A session on “Hits and Misses,” where attendees described what worked for them and what did not, demonstrated that dynamic. Down East’s Paul Dioron, for example, told how his magazine experimented beyond its usual outdoorsy and seafaring fare with themed issues that also spotlighted non-core ad categories. They worked well, with some top-selling covers, he said.
Maryland Life’s Dan Patrell stressed that his magazine has “become good friends” with the local tourism agencies and convention and visitor’s bureaus, because those relationships produce both ads and in the long-term, custom-publishing opportunities. “It’s a great extension of our brand,” Patrell said. “We do relocation guides, county guides and visitor’s guides.” Another good idea, he said, was the concept of an “Endangered Maryland” issue. In it, a panel of recognized experts “chooses places to save today, and we publish the list,” he said.
On the “Miss” side, Mississippi Magazine’s Richard Roper described a photo contest that no one entered, and so he had to fill the pages with photos taken by staffers. “When [Cottage Life’s] Al [Zikovitz] says hire people smarter than you, that’s good advice, but sometimes you need to hire people a lot smarter than you,” Roper said. “I read about the management theory called ‘Managing By Walking Around.’ I walked down to the park three times and couldn’t tell any difference at all.”
Then there was Louisiana Life’s Kelly Faucheux, who described how her company’s owner bailed on the business after Hurricane Katrina, and so she and two colleagues bought the company. It’s now thriving, she reported.
The conference had about 90 people in Oklahoma City, and 75 at Quartz Mountain, according to conference host and Oklahoma Today publisher Joan Henderson. “The highlight for me is getting together every year with people who share things with me,” she said. “To me that’s what’s most valuable—connecting with people who do exactly what I do.”