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“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

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That’s how I used to feel every day as a publisher. It’s been my job to make sure our company stays at the audience table and it’s not an easy task. Tastes change like the roster of the NY Yankees and sometimes the audience just gets up and leaves for another table. I’m talking about you, Internet. It’s an invigorating challenge for sure because publisher is just another word for ‘problem solver’.

I started my journey in newspapers – way back in 1997 on the campus of Louisiana State University. The school paper was the local juggernaut but I quickly found that a bit of innovation and authenticity could compete rather nicely. We were one of the first full color newspapers on a U.S. campus – we sold ads modularly, not by the column inch – and we were tabloid, rather than the clumsy broadsheets of those days. We ran no wire copy and steered clear of the ‘news cycle’. Some of this is standard today but back then, enough to be a game changer. We eventually grew the small, weekly (42x) title to over one million in annual revenue.

Fast forward to today and not only have tastes, culture and technology changed, some argue the table has been replaced by platforms.

What the platform overlords need, like Dracula needs blood, we have. Social sharing is on its way down, don’t you know? Platforms need what our teams produce best – real, authentic and locally relevant content. You can’t crowdsource that. There’s no algorithm to serve it up and “big data” is virtually meaningless in a local context. Plus there are only so many funny cat videos to be watched. So playing on someone else’s platform and their rules… well, I see nothing but Oliver Twist begging for scraps, frankly.

Forget the table/platforms. Instead, own the menu.

Create something unique. Keep it insanely local and authentic. Be familiar and comforting but take chances. And whatever you do, use only the best ingredients. Do this and consumers and advertisers will flock to you. Authentic content is the product of investing in the people of your local community to tell their stories in unique and beautiful ways. It’s what’s required if you are to break through the noise of everyday life. And breaking the “noise barrier” has real value and cannot be commoditized like a cheap banner ad.

In Columbus, we’ve proven this thesis over the past 7 years with our stunning and growing portfolio of magazines. We believe that in a world of incessant noise and gumball-machine-content, quality wins. It provides our audience with meaningful interlude between their fleeting social media sessions. It’s what connects locals with the community and reinforces their affinity for it. Consider 614’s annual ColumBest poll – this year we received nearly one million votes cast from 26,000 voters. That’s the result of being authentic and relevant to our audience. As a result, we are able to provide our clients with the kind of meaningful interaction that advertising was created for.

We believe so much in it that tomorrow will be the final product we ever serve on newsprint. After nearly 20 years as a weekly newsprint product, DIG Magazine is getting more than a facelift. It’s embracing our worldview that quality trumps quantity and local transcends networks or platforms. It will be monthly to give our writers time to dig beneath the surface and tell great, original stories about the Baton Rouge Experience. Tens of thousands of local hands will wrap themselves around the thick, luscious stock and they’ll ‘take us home to mom’. We will speak in a conversational and culturally-minded tone our under-50 audience can relate to. Most importantly, it will be personal, intimate and quiet – all of the things the internet can never be. Yes it will have a website – we’re not anti-internet – but one with a totally different (yet, important) mission than its magazine sibling.

I no longer fret the table and certainly don’t fear the platforms. DIG, like other local, high-quality magazines are resetting how local audiences connect with their communities and how advertisers engage with them in meaningful ways. We have our own adventure underway and we know exactly where we’re headed and how to get there. Our mission isn’t small. It’s to make DIG Magazine the finest city magazine anywhere. Why? Because that’s just how our company rolls.

See you in June, Baton Rouge and Keep it 100.

 

AUTHOR

Wayne Lewis

All stories by: Wayne Lewis