An important lesson in the launch of any business or new product is to learn everything you can about your target consumer, and that’s exactly what Mike Atkinson did when he bought the Office Guide to Phoenix 25 years ago. He approached leaders in the community in such industries as health care and law, and asked them what they wanted and needed from a local business magazine.
“I took reams of notes and what came out of it was Arizona Business Magazine,” Atkinson says. “The research led me down a path of this is how it should look and read.”
Atkinson was inspired to enter the publishing arena because it presented the chance to exercise his artistic abilities. He wanted to create “a product that was fundamentally art-related and a product that could help inspire, excite and help educate,” he explains. “I’m an artist at heart, so the magazine’s pages were like my mini-canvases.”
Initially, Atkinson was the sole employee of the publication — he wrote the stories, shot the photos and sold the ads. Today, however, the company has increased to nearly 30 employees and publishes an additional six titles, including AZRE: Arizona Commercial Real Estate, Ranking Arizona, Experience AZ, People to Know, Creative Designer and Scottsdale Home & Design. The flagship publication has also undergone many changes over the years, including its frequency, which has gone from quarterly to bimonthly, and in February 2008, to monthly. The company has evolved as well, and last year was re-named AZ Big Media.
Atkinson didn’t limit his creativity to the magazines, however. In 1991, the company launched its first Arizona Home & Building Expo, which is now in its 18th year. AZ Big Media also hosts a series of awards and events that honor various segments of the business community, from health care to finance. In March 2009, the company held its inaugural Southwest Build-it-Green Expo & Conference. AZ Big Media’s newest venture, the Home & Design Idea Center, opens this summer. The company is also building a strong presence online with its new Web site, www.azbigmedia.com, where readers can find many of the stories featured in each magazine.
“If you go to our Web site, you’ll see ‘online’ is where we’re heading in the future,” Atkinson says. He adds that the future will include more home shows when the market is ready for them. He also hints of possibly even adding a radio station.
If he could go back in time and change one thing, Atkinson says, it would involve the company’s interaction with its audience online.
“At the time, we were just learning about the Internet, and I remember one of my editors came in my office and said ‘Guess where I was today? I was on the computer and I was talking to people all the way in Italy!’ and he began to describe how it took him to different places,” he says. “I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn’t have the foresight to say, ‘This computer Web thing just might turn out to be something really big!’ ”
Looking back on the past 25 years, Atkinson says his success is due to two key things: “Hard work and surrounding myself with the right people.”
Here’s to one day cashing in this 25-year silver achievement for gold.