TIMES CHANGE But Our Readers Are Still #1Jan 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen
As you may know, Natural Awakenings is a franchise business. It was founded by Sharon Bruckman of Naples, Florida, in the early 90s, and it now counts some 50 franchises. Our Atlanta franchise was started in the early aughts, and I am its fourth owner/publisher.
Last week the Natural Awakenings publishers learned that our franchisor, Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp. (NAPC) has been sold to KnoWEwell, a relatively new company in the holistic health space. KnowWEwell has an impressive but not-so-easy-to-describe business. Check it out at KnoWEwell.com.
At this juncture, Natural Awakenings publishers do not know how this change in ownership will impact our magazines. Many of us, including myself, are optimistic that we will be better off in the long run, but that is hope in the absence of information.
Given this uncertainty, I want to reiterate the foundations of Natural Awakenings Atlanta’s operations that will remain as long as I am its publisher.
First and foremost, readers are our No. 1 priority.
This might sound weird to many since nearly all businesses say, “the customer comes first.”
Our customers are advertisers, and what they need from us is eyeballs; in other words, people need to see their ads. So our mission is to create a magazine that people want to lay eyes on. And I work to create content that people look forward to reading, and that engages them enough that they see ads.
Thus, readers are our No. 1 priority.
Sadly, I don’t get to engage with readers much, but when I do, it almost always makes my day. One reader told me that she counts on being “enlightened” with every issue she reads.
Just last week, I was talking with someone about a topic we had focused on in one of last year’s issues. As I spoke, his eyes lit up, and he pointed a finger at me.
“You’re Natural Awakenings??”
He told me he had saved that particular issue because of the depth and quality of information he found in it.
Twice, a gentleman from Tuskegee, Alabama, who travels to Atlanta for an annual event, requested that we send him as many issues as possible so he can distribute them in his local holistic health community.
And, my all-time favorite to remember: After a certain month’s issue had been published, I received five unsolicited calls from readers who told me, quite literally, “I love you.”
This is all to say that I think we do a fantastic job serving readers!
The most obvious ingredient in keeping readers engaged is compelling content. Beyond that, another huge factor is trust.
This franchise operates on traditional journalistic values, the most important of which generates trust. To maintain that trust, we allow no relationship between advertising buys and editorial decisions. I tell current and prospective advertisers the same thing: You could buy a full-page ad for years on end, but that does not guarantee any coverage—ever. The reverse is also true: People who never buy advertising from us might find themselves subjects of our editorial attention.
True, we do write about advertisers from time to time, but we choose to write about them based on certain criteria. For example, one current criterion we have is that the offering must be unique. I say “current” because if we had the wherewithal, we would write more about Atlanta-based companies and individuals—and uniqueness would not need to be present.
Also, full disclosure, when the opportunity arises to explore a given subject matter, I ask writers to interview customers. However, writers are under no obligation to use a customer’s remarks. I always insist that, regardless of its source, we report information that is most useful to our readers.
I also believe that this approach makes a real difference to readers and engenders trust that what we present is as unbiased and untainted as possible.
Conversely, in the world of publishing, there’s something called “pay-for-play.” Basically, editorial coverage is bought and sold, and consumers are not informed that the content they’re consuming is paid advertisement made to look like the outlet’s own editorial content. In my opinion, this is a dishonest practice. Unfortunately, the practice is ubiquitous; a few years ago, I was shocked to learn that one of Atlanta’s major television news providers does pay-for-play, charging thousands upon thousands of dollars to do a feature on a business or person.
Bottom line: Whatever changes occur at NAPC, we at Natural Awakenings Atlanta will continue to consider readers our No. 1 priority and demonstrate the seriousness of this commitment by adhering to the highest journalistic standards.
Happy New Year, y’all! We look forward to creating an ever better magazine for YOU! ❧
Publisher of Natural Awakenings Atlanta since 2017, Paul Chen’s professional background includes strategic planning, marketing management and qualitative research. He practices Mahayana Buddhism and kriya yoga. Contact him at [email protected]