Interview: 614 Media Success with Print and Digital

614-warcover2Mr. Wayne Lewis is having tremendous success with 614 Media in Columbus Ohio. We’ve had the privilege of working with him for many years. I asked Wayne about his success during these difficult times. Here’s what he had to say:

David: Wayne, please tell our audience your history and success with 614 Media.

Wayne: The company started as a campus newspaper at LSU in 1997. After establishing that paper into what is now Baton Rouge’s Alternative Weekly, I moved to Ohio to duplicate that product at OSU. With its quick success, we moved into the next-stage demographic with (614) Magazine in 2009. It’s success has spawned two sister publications in the market along with other brand cornerstones such as Restaurant Week and ColumBest – perhaps the largest Reader Poll in the nation with over 25,000 participants. The company has also built a strong digital portfolio as well with more than 70,000 monthly uniques, 80,000 email subscribers and social media reach of over 91,000 – all in Columbus.

David: How has 614 Media grown during these difficult times for publishers?

Wayne: We’ve focused on quality over quantity. Though, that focus has certainly led to growth in quantity as well. (614) Magazine for example, has seen its circulation grow by 60% since its launch in 2009. That magazine has seen its average page counts grow as well – also by 60%. We’ve also taken chances too – starting new titles, launching new websites, new events. The last few years and certainly today is no time to play it safe. If you’re not growing, you’re dying as they say.

David: What do you think the secret to success is for City and Regional magazine publishers?

Wayne: I’m a big believer that if you put out substantially better quality than your competitors – in every facet – editorial, photos, printing, circulation and customer service. With those things you can’t lose. This requires investment and risk taking for sure but the alternative is to end up like the daily newspaper business.

David: You are very active online. How do you feel the media landscape is changing? How do you feel print continues to play a role to your product mix?

Wayne: I really see print and online as two completely different universes. The experience of producing and consuming media between the two is so different that quality products in each realm can stand on their own. Financially, there is no comparison between the revenues and profits a quality local print product can deliver versus an online one. Publishers have come to realize this I think. That’s why I see our online products as the ones playing a supporting role for our print products, not the other way around. The day you can show me, or I discover, how to get local businesses to spend 1-$2,000 per month, every month, online – then I might sing a different tune.

David: What about mobile? Are you trying to do anything different with that media channel?

Wayne: Our demographic is on the younger end so mobile is king. That’s why every online product we build is fully responsive. We moved to Word Press as our content engine over a year ago and I highly recommend it – that and having a fulltime web developer in house doesn’t hurt either.

David: What are your thoughts on native ads and sponsored content in your magazines?

Wayne: We typically don’t do sponsored or native-style print ads – maybe because we don’t try to sell them. We have a few online but it’s a really small piece of the mix.

David: What ways has 614 Media supplemented revenue? Have you added any new events or services this year?

Wayne: Our Restaurant Week event has really grown and now generates in the six-figures of revenue and is a profit center for us. We’ve also found that ticketed events are the way to go. Readers want experiences so we team up with clients to bring them exclusive events like beer and cocktail tastings, fitness classes, etc. We have sold something like 98% of all our tickets for events like these. These intimate events are great for our clients because they see our ability to drive paying customers to their venues – and yes, we make money on these events as well. Our largest hosted event to date will take place on May 20 where we will sell tickets to our first annual ColumBest awards party. We hope to get 700+ people in attendance.

David: What has been one of your greatest achievements at 614 Media? What goals do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Wayne: When I look back 6 years ago, the idea of a free, glossy monthly was ridiculed by many. It was a recession and the city already had tons of publications. But I saw a gap in the market, had an editorial vision, risked my own money and hired the best people I could afford. The result has been very rewarding. We employ nearly two dozen fulltime people, our products are thriving and last year (614) won Best Monthly in Ohio from the SPJ. The future is tough to predict but as long as we stay focused and committed to quality in every aspect of the business and take enough risks we’ll have success.

David: Thank you Wayne.