Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Southern Accents Series - The Premiere Issue Challenge

Right, New Orleans shotgun from Southern Accents

Walter Mitchell received approval from the board and funding for the premiere issue of Southern Accents in July 1977. The issue date for the first issue was October 15 and the printing deadline was September 16! Not much time to produce a quality magazine. Jim Hooton, the editor, hurried to pull together the needed editorial material (he was really starting from scratch), and Walter Mitchell lead the equally important advertising charge. For a magazine to succeed you need not only subscribers and news stand buyers, but also advertisers. The goal was to have at least 70 pages of editorial content and 50 pages of advertising. Mitchell describes the state they were in that summer of 1977:

"We didn't have any sales reps. We had a six-page brochure and a rate card. If you've never tried Madison Avenue with a brochure, a rate card and an idea for a new magazine, you simply have not been to the mountain."

Tented living room

Dining room

In order to draw in the advertisers Mitchell told the charter advertisers they would have a protected rate through 1980 and if they didn't like the advertising they didn't have to pay. Mitchell also set a goal of 100,000 subscribers by the end of the third year, which was a figure he "just pulled out of thin air" he says.

Southern Accents seemed to attract the right people at the right time - Jim Hooton had the idea for the magazine, Lisa Newsom coaxed and cajoled to get the idea off the ground, and now with the big advertising push for the first issue, in came well-connected Atlanta native Helen Candler Griffith. Walter says: " she calls me up and begs to work on the magazine. I put her to work selling advertising. Sims Bray, who was working in the production department, comes in and says 'put me on a plane to New York and I'll get you some ads.' A girl in our West Coast rep firm is enthralled with the idea and starts beating the bushes out there. Another employee says he'll go to the Carolinas and crack the furniture manufacturers."

Ads from the early years

Mitchell himself worked the phones tirelessly selling the magazine to the business community. He also wrote letters to potential advertisers outlining the incentives for charter advertisers.

"About a million phone calls and a month and a half later (after board approval), we had conned 30 pages of advertising out of 48 advertisers...And so the first issue went to press two weeks late with 30 pages of advertising and 70 pages of editorial."

During the process of putting together the premiere issue Mitchell had assembled a staff for the magazine: Jim Hooton editor, Lisa Newsom and Helen Grifith associate editors, Sims Bray advertising director and of course, Walter Mitchell the driving force behind the magazine, as publisher.


Scalamandre advertisement

The premiere issue of Southern Accents was a huge success. It included eight features, four of them about Atlanta, four special features or departments, and the Editorial and Letter from the Publisher. Of the list of 48 advertisers over half were national. They were mostly (and remained until the end) manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of expensive home furnishings and accessories.

But the real story of Southern Accents is the people behind the pages. The right people came together at the right time with great creativity and zeal - and that is what made the magazine work.

All photographs from Southern Accents, photographed by John Rogers.

All material and quotes from interview with Walter Mitchell, Sallie Smith and Nena Griffith and also from Starting a New Magazine by Martha Faye Melton.

1 comment:

  1. "But the real story of Southern Accents is the people behind the pages. The right people came together at the right time with great creativity and zeal - and that is what made the magazine work."
    It worked. WE-STILL-MOURN
    I wish there was a campaign to bring the magazine back.