Sunday, June 12, 2011

No Truer Friend To Sense-of-Place!

I caught up with a good friend recently when he came to Durham for lunch.  Just six years into my more than two-decade tenure in North Carolina, during my now-concluded career in community/destination marketing, Bernie Mann purchased Our State Magazine some 15 years ago.

He was no newcomer to media or North Carolina, having owned and operated 12 radio stations by then, both here and in Arkansas and in Virginia where he had already risen to become a station manager by age 27.  His experience isn’t solely framed by the South, having graduated from Adelphi University in New York and matriculated at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.mann

A deep love of his adopted home state of North Carolina is evident in his purchase and management of a magazine like Our State which he has grown from 23,000 annual subscribers to nearly 200,000 today.

The magazine had launched in 1933 during the Great Depression and while circulation hadn’t grown much since  World War II, Bernie was impressed that it had an 87% renewal rate, something he has sought to preserve while growing the number of pages in the monthly publication from 48 per issue then to around 200 today. 

Also a past Rotary Club president, Bernie’s quick to note that he didn’t know anything about publishing and it is clear he’s definitely carved an unconventional path at a time when the effectiveness of advertising has long been in steep decline.

If you market a product or service that is closely associated with and reliant on a community or a state, such as any tourism-related organization is, a good way to leverage advertising is to place ads in either official community and state publications or within coop ads in Our State Magazine like the ones frequently assembled by Durham’s official community marketing agency.

Here are a few of the reasons he and the magazine, based in Greensboro, another mid-sized community, nearly 60- miles west of Durham, are such a success:


  • He commits 60% of each issue to editorial content up front and then sells as much advertising support as he can.  Most place-oriented magazines do the opposite, selling as much advertising as they can and then devoting the rest to editorial, usually at best 40%.

Bernie’s always felt the traditional approach is like Kellogg telling you that you won’t have as much Wheaties in the box this month because they didn’t do as well as they hoped.


  • He commits to incredible photography, something he admits that he has so far been unable to use as effectively on the magazine’s website.  Believe me, it is worth buying a single copy to see for yourself.


  • He never overstates his distribution or audience either overtly, or as many do, by insinuation and he is always asking readers their opinions about what makes the state North Carolina special and unique.


  • When you run into Bernie or he visits you, he never makes a hard sell.  He respects that advertising must not only produce a return but it is only one of many marketing elements and may not be even the most important or valuable option for you or your enterprise at the time.


  • Perhaps even more than many destination marketing executives do, he understands and reveres the cultural, natural and man-made characteristics that make a place unique and distinct, especially North Carolina which varies greatly from the coast to the mountains but also within as little as 30 miles.


  • He never sells editorial just to broker more advertising.  He is as likely to editorially cover communities and parts of the state that can’t or don’t advertise as he is those that do.  For him, it’s all about what’s best for the reader.


  • He never stoops like some do in an attempt to poach “low hanging fruit” by undermining official community and state publications.  He understands the important roles of those publications to travelers and newcomers and seeks to make Our State complementary.


  • He never compromises the integrity of community/destination identities and brands by lumping them together with dashes or slashes like non-print media often do.


  • He believes it is important for readers to have a place to go where they can read only positive news and information and therefore he also turns down advertisers that aren’t consistent with a positive perception.


  • He leverages the publication’s commitment to North Carolina’s sense of place by partnering to produce a public television series of the same name; and contributes to and serves on numerous boards of organizations committed to the state.

In my life’s work I’ve been the beneficiary of other “place” oriented publications like Alaska Magazine and I still treasure my collection of Alaska Geographics accumulated while I worked as chief of destination marketing for Anchorage during most of the 1980s.

But no place is more blessed than North Carolina is to have a publication like Our State and a caring publisher like Bernie Mann, still so vibrantly engaged in his mid-70s.

To subscribe to receive print editions or digitally via Zinio or to purchase individual copies of a recent issue, click here.  You’ll be well entertained while at the same time investing in the preservation of North Carolina’s unique sense of place.

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