Growing up, Josh Elrod always knew that he had a talent and passion for art. He often wondered how he could capitalize on that interest as a career.
At the age of 25, after earning a degree in Graphic Arts, Elrod saw a need for a full-service ad agency in his hometown and decided to start a local business. “Ignite Media Group began out of a desire to show businesses that great advertising is the small spark that can ignite their growth and success.”
During a meeting with his family, he shared his idea to also create a community-based magazine serving Saline County. Appropriately, it would be called Saline County Lifestyles.
“I was from the county, and at the time, niche magazines were really coming into their own,” he said. “I had a number of connections with local business owners and leaders. I either had gone to school with them, or knew them as acquaintances of my parents or through mutual friends.”
So Elrod gathered a prospective team at a Starbucks in February 2008. It was a big idea, but one that didn’t carry big expectations in the beginning. “I remember in that first meeting just wanting to successfully get out one magazine. After we did that, my goal shifted to just getting one full year under my belt.”
Ten years later, Saline County Lifestyles is still going strong. It’s interesting to note that 9 out of 10 new publications will fail, according to Cheryl Woodward, author of Starting and Running a Successful Magazine. Elrod pointed out, “Benjamin Franklin helped write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, yet Franklin’s own publication, General Magazine, folded after six issues. Magazines are a tough business.”
“Our magazine has grown every year over the past six years,” he said. “We have not had a down year during that time. I’m busier than ever with more than 20,000 readers, and I often ask myself, ‘How do I even do this?’”
“What started out so small has grown into a publication averaging a viewership of over 20,000 per issue, including seven writers, designers and monthly photo shoots. My goal is to produce a magazine with a big city feel on a small-time budget,” he added.
It’s a great success story and a testament to perseverance, but as Elrod remembers, the entire project almost derailed early on. The first was the result of a downturn in the U.S. economy.
“I started this magazine two months before the recession hit,” he said. “When I talk to community clubs, business leaders or high school seniors, I tell them all that, come to find out, 2008 was the worst possible time to begin an advertising-based business because it had to survive on other businesses’ thriving.
No denying it was bad luck, but the magazine soldiered through. The second misstep, Elrod admits, was a combination of early ambition and an unexpected hurricane.
“It was just my second issue ever, and it was dedicated to the Salt Bowl,” he said. “In addition to the magazine, we decided to do a Salt Bowl program and specially designed t-shirts.
“I paid out-of-pocket for several thousand t-shirts and a similar number of programs,” he added. “We had no idea Hurricane Gustav would be coming through at that time. Instead of being the usual sellout at War Memorial Stadium, there were only around 3,000 people at the game. Normally, there would be close to 40,000 fans there.”
When the wind and rain moved on, Elrod and his company were left with several thousand dollars worth of unsold merchandise and an uncertain future before ever really getting off of the ground. “It was like going all-in at the blackjack table early and losing,” he said.
Thankfully, the magazine survived, and with it, came some needed perspective for Elrod.
“Never get too down or take yourself too seriously,” he said. “That’s not to say that I don’t take every issue of the magazine seriously, because I do. If a column is off, a word misspelled or a photo out of place, it eats me alive. The magazine goes out, and readers may not realize it, but I do. Even though it happens, I try to remember that this is a great community service, and it’s a real privilege to be able to do this work.”
Elrod will also tell you that his company’s success affords him other opportunities that go far beyond the printed page. It allows him to support his family and be a hands-on father to his three-year-old son, Jett.
“Everything I do is for my family,” he said. “We’re so fortunate that my wife gets to stay home as a mother, and because I am a small business owner, I get to work from home a lot. It’s so important that we’re able to be there and be involved with raising our son together.”
So, you may wonder, where do things go from here for Elrod, Ignite Media Group and Saline County Lifestyles?
“This business is a lot like my child,” he said. “I now have a 10-year-old, and I want to see it continue growing. There is no reason for it to stop, and it’s my goal to keep going strong as long as the community supports it.”
It’s a story that has it all… a big idea, determination and the will to push through the hardest times.
While it may sound like Elrod’s business had an easy birth, it was actually the result of what some might consider a disappointment.
In November 2007, he had just received word he didn’t get a job he’d spent more than a month interviewing for in Little Rock.
“It was with a large publishing group there. I got a long way into the interview process and lost out to an intern who had already been with the company,” he said.
It was disappointing news, but was an experience that Elrod would not let deter him. “Going through four rounds of the interview process taught me a lot about the magazine business and inspired me to go my own way.”
“What I learned from that experience was that what appeared to be a road block turned into my life’s work, the result of a decade of determination.”