Beach Happy Magazine: A New Title Bringing The Voice Of Hope & Optimism During A Pandemic

image_pdfimage_print

The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mike Ragsdale, Founder Of 30A & Will Estell, Editor In Chief/ Director of Publishing, The 30A Company…

“We just launched this new endeavor, which again might seem like strange timing, but as Will said, this has been in the works for a very long time. We looked at it and we could have all walked away, but the reality is the world needs optimism. I’m not saying that in some philosophical, mumbo-jumbo kind of way, I’m saying just like fast-food found an anecdote by offering organic, free-range healthy alternatives, we’re going to be one of the first movers in providing a healthy information alternative to all of the toxic news and information that we consume every, single day.” … Mike Ragsdale 

“We’re thinking positive; the sky is the limit. We believe this publication can do better right now  than it would have done 10 years ago. And I think more people in our industry need to have that kind of mindset with what they’re doing.” … Will Estell

The 30A Company and the nationally distributed travel publication, Beaches, Resorts & Parks magazine have merged and created a new title called Beach Happy. The moniker alone makes you smile. And we can all certainly use something to smile about in these uncertain times.

Mike Ragsdale by Peyton Hollis,
Good Grit magazine

Mike Ragsdale, founder of 30A and Will Estell, former founder & editor-in-chief of Beaches, Resorts & Parks is now editor in chief/ director of publishing, The 30A Company and between the two of them have big plans for their new magazine, even during a pandemic.

According to the Beach Happy brand and motto for life, “30A is the official and original BEACH HAPPY brand. Inspired by a two-lane road that meanders along Florida’s Gulf Coast, 30A shares eco-friendly products and stories that celebrate our small beach town way of life.” Mr. Magazine™ couldn’t have said it better himself.

In fact, I didn’t have to. I spoke with Mike and Will recently and we discussed this negativity and doom and gloom that seems to permeate our world today. From Mike’s observation, we’re getting too much toxic information, even during a pandemic, and our brains are in overload. Beach Happy magazine and the brand itself are here to uplift and give us hope and optimism with stories from beaches around the world, not just that two-lane road on the Florida Coast.

Will joins Mike’s sense of buoyancy and exuberates his own optimism by not allowing negativity to enter his thoughts very often. And while this may seem like an inopportune time to start a new print magazine, even with its extensive digital reach as well,  Mike and Will suggest we all have faith and just “Be Happy.”

And now the 24th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Mike Ragsdale, founder Of 30A & Will Estell, editor in chief/ director of publishing, The 30A Company.

But first the sound-bites:

Will Estell

On launching a new magazine during a pandemic (Mike Ragsdale): I’ll be honest, I am an optimist and I believe and have believed for a long time now, more than a decade, that we are suffering a mental health crisis in our nation, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well. I’ve been trying to sound the alarm, at least among my peer groups and our audience, that we have a lot to be happy about and we have a lot to be optimistic about. So, we’re promoting the agenda that news isn’t always negative, it doesn’t have to be.

On how he went from selling Beaches, Resorts & Parks to 30A and then becoming editor in chief of the new magazine (Will Estell): I’m kind of married to this thing and I tell you, there have been times when it would have been a lot easier to jump ship, to sell it out. We had offers in the past to buy Beaches outright that I probably would have gone along with, but this just seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’ve always been a huge fan of the 30A Company, literally going back to Mike’s early days with the company some 10 years ago. I was donning the stickers on my car and wearing the first T-shirt and all that.

On when the first issue will be launched (Mike Ragsdale): We were planning to launch in mid-May and it will be a quarterly publication at first, and so the issue would have been on newsstands in June, July and August, with a follow-up issue in the fall. We’re not going to deviate from that path very far. We’re waiting really until May 1 to make the decision. We’re going to be prepared to go to print on May 1, but if circumstances call for us to wait a few more weeks so we’ll know a little more, then we may push it back.

On how they’re going to take the large social media base, the radio base, the merchandising, and curate all of that onto the pages of a printed magazine (Will Estell): That’s something that we’re still working through, but the positive aspect is that we do have to be concerned about that. In other words, those things exist, so this magazine is not in a startup phase, standing alone, and having to go out there and find Reader One from Day One. It will be more of a pairing of both sides, where the other side of the 30A Company, be it the apparel or the decals, or people following the website to find events; all of that will promote the magazine just as the magazine will promote all of that.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

On whether the creation of 30A was a walk in a rose garden for Mike or he had some challenges along the way (Mike Ragsdale): It’s interesting, I’ve had a couple of really amazing successes and I’ve absolutely buried those with the failures I’ve had in business. I received my master’s degree in advertising and public relations, but I couldn’t get a job, despite sending out all of the resumes I could send and doing a few interviews, but I just wasn’t able to secure anything. So, I became an entrepreneur by accident and out of necessity to pay the bills, scrounging to stay afloat.

On anything they would like to add (Will Estell): The only thing I would add is for all the negativity and all the doom and gloom that’s talked about in the industry, and I know you’re a huge advocate for the growth and continued success of magazines, what we’re doing with this and what a lot of the companies that have learned to survive are doing is we’re finding new ways to get our message out, still be a magazine, but do it in  different ways.

On what keeps them up at night (Mike Ragsdale): Right now, of course, I’m concerned during my waking hours about the fact that we have a business that’s struggling like everyone is. Our three stores are closed; our 380 wholesale partner stores are closed; our digital advertisers, from restaurants to rental companies are shut down. And so we’re not expecting to see them paying any bills.

Mike Ragsdale

On what keeps them up at night (Will Estell): I do not lay in bed and worry about things. I don’t lay in bed and worry about the fact that the world has stopped spinning for a period of time right now. I don’t worry about the fact that we’re not out selling advertisers left and right. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about those things, but I have learned to be more solution-oriented in my thinking than problematic. It takes the same amount of energy to find a solution than worry about the problem.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Ragsdale, Founder Of 30A & Will Estell, Editor In Chief/ Director of Publishing, The 30A Company.

Samir Husni: You’re launching a new magazine during a pandemic, what are you thinking?

Mike Ragsdale: I’ll be honest, I am an optimist and I believe and have believed for a long time now, more than a decade, that we are suffering a mental health crisis in our nation, and perhaps in other parts of the world as well. Despite living in the greatest time in human history and despite the fact that so many amazingly good things are happening in the world despite the current circumstances, we’re seeing an alarming increase in depression and suicides.

I believe personally it’s because about 10 or 15 years ago, we began consuming information at a rate that our minds simply aren’t accustomed to. We are absorbing so much negativity and bad information and stressful, anxious information that, despite the fact that we live in the golden era of humankind, we’re increasingly depressed and increasingly suicidal and anxious. I believe that we’re going to find in the years ahead that consuming so much information, good, bad, indifferent, consuming so much information is skewing our worldview and it is causing a great deal of suffering.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

I believe it is going to be akin to the ‘70s and ‘80s when people began to come to the realization about the health risks of smoking and then later with fast food consumption or foods that haven’t been grown under the right circumstances which causes heart disease and other health issues. So, I think consuming so much information as we do today is like eating one Big Mac after another. And we’re going to realize that the mental toll it’s taking on us individually and collectively is immense.

I’ve been trying to sound the alarm, at least among my peer groups and our audience, that we have a lot to be happy about and we have a lot to be optimistic about. So, we’re promoting the agenda that news isn’t always negative, it doesn’t have to be. But unfortunately, and you know this as well as I do, no one writes about the millions of planes that land safely, they write about the one that had the issues. And that’s the nature of where we’ve come with news. And news has really stopped becoming news, it’s more entertainment. It’s no longer Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather talking for 22 minutes a night and that’s it.

When I was growing up the news that we were consuming had to be bundled within 22 minutes of time. And if it didn’t make that cut, then you never heard about it. But now we hear about every single awful thing because we’re in a 24/7 news cycle. And not just that, we have pushup notifications and breaking news alerts, so we hear every awful thing that happens.

So, Beach Happy the brand is something that we’ve been promoting internally. And then when Will comes along with this publication that has this great distribution and great reach, it just seemed like a perfect marriage for us and to say, let’s take what we’re already doing on the digital side, kind of a bastion for optimism and positivity, and let’s reach all new audiences across newsstands. We’re already doing the work of content writing; we’re already doing the work of photography and content creation, we might as well add an additional platform. And

Will has really been brilliant in the way he has architected his business, in that it doesn’t require as much overhead as the more traditional publications, so we don’t view it as a risky proposition at all. We view it perhaps as the perfect message at the perfect time. And we certainly wouldn’t wish ill on anyone else who is on the newsstands, but we also know the impact on those companies that have massive overheads, so we’re lean and mean and we’re looking at it as an opportunity to present a platform for happiness and positivity.

Will Estell

Samir Husni: Will, I read the press release and you sold your Beaches Resorts & Parks to 30A Company, which Mike heads, so people might think you’re jumping ship. But then when I finished reading the press release, you’re editor in chief of the new magazine. Can you explain what happened?

Will Estell: I have managed through four different iterations of Beaches Resorts & Parks and of course, you were familiar with the magazine when you tracked it that first year. In 2013, you named us the New Launch of 2012, with the highest newsstand sell-through at the time, and the magazine continued to do really well. There were four different iterations of ownership, including one period where I solely owned it on my own, which by the way, was not an easy thing and not the way I would ever want to go again.

You know though, I’m kind of married to this thing and I tell you, there have been times when it would have been a lot easier to jump ship, to sell it out. We had offers in the past to buy Beaches outright that I probably would have gone along with, but this just seemed like the perfect opportunity and I’ve always been a huge fan of the 30A Company, literally going back to Mike’s early days with the company some 10 years ago. I was donning the stickers on my car and wearing the first T-shirt and all that.

I’m a lot like Mike in that I’m an optimist too, so I saw this as a great pairing. Actually, we’d been talking about this, I guess our first conversation was about the potential of 30A doing the magazine, probably about six years ago. But then we really got serious about this around last June and again talked about it. I can’t think of a better entity to be able to acquire the Beaches Resorts & Parks magazine than 30A. I’ve worked for quite  a few publishing companies outside of partnerships of my own, some large companies and some small companies in the past, and I’ve never had the ability to work for a company that had a magazine that already had a brand and a consumer reach that 30A does already built around it. So, we’re super-stoked about what we think this can do and the people it can reach.

And that’s part of the opportunity. Will had newsstand reach; he obviously had decades of print experience that we did not have. But we did have 1.5 million social media followers; we’ve got a quarter-million newsletter subscribers; we have orders that are being shipped to all states every day out of our fulfilment warehouse. So, we have the ability to take Will’s newsstand reach and combine it with our digital audience.

Mike Ragsdale: As Will and I were working through this, we realized we have an audience size that very few people can touch. There are some companies out there that have big established, decades’ worth of audiences, but to be able to come in with Issue One and have a print reach that Will has and have a digital reach of 1.5 million fans is a great platform to build upon.

Photo By Lauren Athalia

Samir Husni: When will the first issue be released?

Mike Ragsdale: We were planning to launch in mid-May and it will be a quarterly publication at first, and so the issue would have been on newsstands in June, July and August, with a follow-up issue in the fall. We’re not going to deviate from that path very far. We’re waiting really until May 1 to make the decision. We’re going to be prepared to go to print on May 1, but if circumstances call for us to wait a few more weeks so we’ll know a little more, then we may push it back. But we’re not going to push it off more than a month. One way or another we’ll be in May or June and we’re just waiting to see what happens with COVID-19 and the travel restrictions.

To us, and this is why it’s important that the launch isn’t really predicated on the physical; in my mind, again, Will comes from a little bit of a different place with the prior magazine, it really was focused on a lot of destinations, and we’re certainly going to have destination information in the magazine, but it’s as much or more about lifestyle.

In a regular week, the 30A brand; we do not think of ourselves as a travel or tourism brand. We’re a lifestyle brand that keeps people in touch with the beach when they can’t be there. So, whether you want to talk about Margaritaville or Disney World, you can’t be at Disney World every week. Our target audience is not people who are here on this beach and it’s not people who are coming to this beach next week. Our target audience is the people who wish they could be on the beach, whether it’s this beach, Key West, or whether it’s a fantasy beach in their mind.

So, we’re all about reaching that person who’s landlocked, wherever they may be. We want to reach that person who is having a tough time, be it their mortgage, boss or because they’re freaking out about the pandemic, we’re about giving them a moment of vacation in their minds, even if they can’t be on vacation at the moment. And that’s really what we build our products around. We have 30A Radio, which plays uplifting beach music 24/7; we have recycled apparel, shirts, hats, drinkware; we have all these things that I liken to Corona or Red Stripe, no one drinks Red Stripe beer because it’s great beer, they drink it because it mentally transports them to an island, Jamaica typically. And never mind that it’s brewed in Pennsylvania. It’s a way for them to step away from the pressure of their jobs or anything that is stressful, it enables them to take a beach vacation.

And Beach Happy, the magazine is the same thing. It’s really not about booking immediate plans and coming down to spend a week with us in Florida, we want to bring stories to people that make them happy and make them smile, give them a little bit of relief during what can only be described as some of the most stressful times we’ve seen as a nation in recent memory.

Photo by Lauren Athalia

Samir Husni: How are you going to take this large social media base, the radio base, the merchandising, and curate all of that onto the pages of a printed magazine?

Will Estell: That’s something that we’re still working through, but the positive aspect is that we do have to be concerned about that. In other words, those things exist, so this magazine is not in a startup phase, standing alone, and having to go out there and find Reader One from Day One. It will be more of a pairing of both sides, where the other side of the 30A Company, be it the apparel or the decals, or people following the website to find events; all of that will promote the magazine just as the magazine will promote all of that.

So, we’re being careful within the magazine not to let it come off like a glorified marketing piece or a catalog, if you will, for the 30A Company, but instead to, obviously, show a lot of what we offer and to show what the 30A Company is about, while also integrating that with everything else that has to do with the beach too.

I think in a lot of ways the magazine will be a lot like any other travel magazine, except beach-oriented, it won’t be a heavy push on necessarily promoting only 30A,  just the beach in general. I don’t think we’ll have to do a whole lot different than if we were just launching any travel magazine. It just has the backing of the rest of the brand behind it.

I would also say that obviously, a lot of people who would know about this or hear about this might think that we’re ignoring the fact that we’re a publication that’s launching in what could be deemed a bad time, if nothing else than economically speaking, because it’s no secret that advertisers aren’t jumping through hoops with any publication right now to put ads out there. But we do believe that the lifestyle surrounding the beach will be something that comes back quicker than anything else in our current economic situation.

So, we made that commitment to go ahead and put that issue out like Mike told you, however, we think as soon as everything opens up, advertisers are going to want in the issue. We don’t have any doubts about people buying the issue, but back to Mike’s point about the timing being potentially better than ever, I think after all of us have been cooped up for 30 to 45 days, we haven’t left our homes and we haven’t taken vacations, we haven’t even been able to walk in a store and buy our favorite apparel or anything, everyone is going to be ready for some good news and nothing is better to some people than the whole lifestyle surrounding the beach.

Mike Ragsdale by Peyton Hollis,
Good Grit magazine

Samir Husni: Mike, was creating your company 30A just a walk in a rose garden for you or did you have some challenges along the way?

Mike Ragsdale: It’s interesting, I’ve had a couple of really amazing successes and I’ve absolutely buried those with the failures I’ve had in business. I received my master’s degree in advertising and public relations, but I couldn’t get a job, despite sending out all of the resumes I could send and doing a few interviews, but I just wasn’t able to secure anything. So, I became an entrepreneur by accident and out of necessity to pay the bills, scrounging to stay afloat.

The first business I started was a success, it still took seven or eight years to build it and to exit at the right time, but it was a trial by fire and a wonderful thing to experience as a young person, the ability to grow a company from a literal idea into 70-person operation, then to be able to sell it. It was awesome.

But it was also a curse, because as a young arrogant person who went through that process, you think that was easy, I’ll be able to do that easily enough again. But the reality is that’s not how entrepreneurship works, you can have the best business plan in the world, you can have the best minds and a great idea, but it just doesn’t always work.

I spent the next 10 years just absolutely striking out, having failure after failure. And although it was painful and demoralizing to go through, it also enabled me to understand what things I’m good at and what things I’m not. And to stay away from the things I’m not good at and recruit other people. A great example, there’s not a chance in the world that I would have gotten into the print business if Will was not staying on. This merger would not have happened if Will’s experience wasn’t part of the package, because I don’t want to go in and learn a business; I can’t learn his 20 years of expertise myself. I don’t have that kind of time or inclination.

I have learned some important things and what I have learned is to focus on what I do very well and what I don’t do well, either stay away form or partner with someone who does do it well. And Will certainly does print publications well.

In some ways we’re really looking at Beach Happy as a cooler, hipper version of some of the more traditional publications, such as Coastal Living. I’m not knocking Coastal Living, but one of the things that we’re doing is integrating our audiences. We’re making it more fun, some of the themes we might have are : Five  Beach Beers You Need In Your Cooler This Summer. Fan comments: If This Were Your Beach Ball, What Would You Name It? That way, we make our fans some of the stars in the new publication.

It’s not a catalog; it’s not a 30A mouthpiece, and it’s not even about the particular stretch of beach we live on. I tell our team all the time, we’re like Coastal Living, we just happened to headquartered on a beach as opposed to being headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. But being on our beach doesn’t mean we can’t share incredible stories from Bali or Turkey or Ecuador or other beaches around the world.

Will Estell

Samir Husni: Is there anything either of you would like to add?

Will Estell: The only thing I would add is for all the negativity and all the doom and gloom that’s talked about in the industry, and I know you’re a huge advocate for the growth and continued success of magazines, what we’re doing with this and what a lot of the companies that have learned to survive are doing is we’re finding new ways to get our message out, still be a magazine, but do it in  different ways.

And one of those is all the ways we have of reaching people through digital means. It’s no secret that Beach Happy magazine will reach a lot more readers digitally than in print. Although we hope to grow the print way beyond what I ever had with Beaches Resorts & Parks. I’m saying all this because everyone in the industry, no matter what point they’re at, whether they’re an editor in chief or writer coming right out of school or a publisher in the business for 20 years, everyone has to rethink how we’re doing things. I would love to hear an end to the doom and gloom and just have more people think about new ways to do stuff. And that’s with every industry, not just  magazines.

We’re thinking positive; the sky is the limit. We believe this publication can do better right now  than it would have done 10 years ago. And I think more people in our industry need to have that kind of mindset with what they’re doing.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you both up at night these days?

Mike Ragsdale: Right now, of course, I’m concerned during my waking hours about the fact that we have a business that’s struggling like everyone is. Our three stores are closed; our 380 wholesale partner stores are closed; our digital advertisers, from restaurants to rental companies are shut down. And so we’re not expecting to see them paying any bills.

We just launched this new endeavor, which again might seem like strange timing, but as Will said, this has been in the works for a very long time. We looked at it and we could have all walked away, but the reality is the world needs optimism. I’m not saying that in some philosophical, mumbo-jumbo kind of way, I’m saying just like fast-food found an anecdote by offering organic, free-range healthy alternatives, we’re going to be one of the first movers in providing a healthy information alternative to all of the toxic news and information that we consume every, single day.

This is an immense business opportunity. We’re going to start to see that information is causing slowly and in small bites, in fact, so slowly we don’t even realize it, to affect our minds. Once those studies start to come out, once we realize the suicides and depression are related to the ingestion of information, people are going to be unplugging. We’re already seeing that happen on our own, but they will be seeking healthy sources of information. And positive sources of information.

So, we view Beach Happy as being right in that first mover just as if someone was coming out with the first free-range organic product on the grocery aisle. We’re going to be one of those first movers to give people a sense of hope and optimism and a sense of escapism on a crowded shelf, competing with people who are peddling in scandal, sensationalism and division.

Will Estell: I go to bed at night and many times lay there for about two hours. The last time, for example, that I looked at my phone this morning was about 2:00 a.m. and I fell asleep right after that.

But all that to say, I do not lay in bed and worry about things. I don’t lay in bed and worry about the fact that the world has stopped spinning for a period of time right now. I don’t worry about the fact that we’re not out selling advertisers left and right. Now that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about those things, but I have learned to be more solution-oriented in my thinking than problematic. It takes the same amount of energy to find a solution than worry about the problem.

So, I stay up at night, but I am brainstorming mostly. I’m thinking of a new article to write or a new way to reach people or how to do something no one else has done, even within our industry. Coming up with something that hasn’t been done does occupy my thoughts.

You will never find a piece of negative information within the pages of Beach Happy. There will not be an interview where we put someone down.  And I think people are ready for that. And that’s what keeps me up at night.

If there’s any negativity in my world right now, even with what we’re going through with this pandemic, it would be that I have three children, one in Atlanta, Georgia, one in Birmingham, Ala. and one that lives with his mom in Oxford, Ala. And the only thing that does keep me up at night from a negative standpoint is the fact that I haven’t been able to see them through this for about six weeks now. Other than that, nothing negative on my part.

Samir Husni: Thank you both.