Monday, April 19, 2010

Southern Accents Series - Inspiration from Lisa Newsom and Walter Mitchell

Image from Spring 1982 Southern Accents

In 1976,the year before Southern Accents was published, there were two main concerns for publisher Walter Mitchell. The first was financial(to convince the board to pay for the magazine) and the second was the format and quality of the magazine.

Funding a magazine by an already existing publishing house is different than a start up magazine. With a start up, you have to go raise the seed money from investors (and that often means begging). With an already existing publishing house, you have to convince the board of directors that your magazine is worth publishing - but this is not always an easy task. Only one in ten magazines succeed - so what sets one apart from another? In the case of Southern Accents, Mitchell had to convince the board that this magazine had something different, something special that would set it apart. He had to show why WRC Smith Publishing should take the risk on a new Southern magazine. Mitchell managed to persuade them to let him "experiment with the idea."

Living room from Tudor House, Spring 1982

The first step was testing the market place to see if there was an audience for a Southern interiors magazine. They put together a direct-mail test (four-color, six-page brochure, cover letter, and questionaire) and purchased a mailing list of fifteen hundred "connoisseurs." The test mailing received a poor response - Mitchell says "we put the idea on the back burner." What happened then? Was there an audience?

Enter Lisa Newsom in the Spring of 1977. Newsom was an Atlanta housewife and "socialite." She called Walter Mitchell because she had seen the brochure in an antique shop and wanted to know where she could get a copy of the magazine. Mitchell told her the idea had been shelved because of a poor response to the direct mail test. Lisa told Mitchell that he had mailed to the wrong audience and that she could come up with names of cultured people who would buy the magazine. She put together a list of 3000 names for Mitchell. This second direct-mail test was the same material as the first except the price of a year's subscription was dropped to $10 from $12. There was very positive response from this list and in July 1977 Mitchell was then able to convince the board to give him sixty thousand dollars to try an issue!

Dining room of the Tudor pictured above.

Truly, there would have been no Southern Accents without Lisa Newsom or Walter Mitchell. Lisa pushed for the second direct mail test and with those positive results Walter was able to persuade the board to give the magazine a try. The first issue of Southern Accents acknowledged Lisa's influence:
"And Lisa Newsom. Particularly Lisa, without whose efforts there would be no Southern Accents. Lisa was the spark, the gadfly who kept the project going when the more timid of us shrank back from the tremendous task. She demanded, insisted, begged and pleaded for the magazine. And here it is, thanks to Lisa."

This is the same Lisa Newsom who after leaving Southern Accents founded and then edited Veranda magazine for 20 years and whose daughter founded the company Wisteria. Clearly, Lisa had and has tremendous vision and ability in the shelter magazine arena.

Recently, it was announced here that she will be stepping aside as editor in chief of Veranda magazine. She will remain at Hearst as an editor at large and oversee Veranda related books.

Next in the Southern Accents Series - How they got the premier issue ready to go in three months!

All information and quotes obtained from an interview with Walter Mitchell, Sallie Smith and Helen C. Griffith, and also from Starting a New Magazine, Two Case Studies, by Martha Faye Melton.

Photography by Max Eckert


  1. Thanks to Lisa Newsom and best wishes on her new ventures.

  2. Nothing wrong with begging and pleading! And oh what a success story. Hmmmm, gives me an idea ~

  3. Great post Helen. I'm really enjoying this series. The bite-sized chunks of history are just the right amount of info for a post.

    Is that Tudor house the one near West Wesley and Habersham? It's interesting to see a picture of it before all of the landscaping has matured to the point it's at now.

    I ride past that house a couple times a week and am not sure if I had noticed the diamond pattern in the brick gable. I recently got a great book about 1920s houses and one of the houses that really spoke to me was one with a similar diamond pattern in the brick. Do you have a larger version of the image?

  4. That is the house on the corner of West Wesley and Habersham - good eye!

    I'll send you the image I have - not sure if it will blow up well.

  5. What? No FOCUS groups to determine a magazine's viability? Just kidding...