It was a cold January day 10 years ago when I got the call that the truck with our first issue of the magazine was stuck on a small South Side street. When I found the driver, his truck was snared in an impossible turn, stopping traffic. On the sidewalk at my feet was a tattered red flag with a wooden handle—left there long ago and waiting for me to pick it up. And so I did, directing traffic and guiding the enormously oversized truck onto Carson Street, jogging ahead waving my red flag, all the way to the depot.
We mailed most of the 40,000 copies of that first issue, but I thought I’d save postage by delivering door-to-door through parts of Squirrel Hill and Shadyside. So I assembled my three kids—12, 14, and 15—and with the little red wagon they’d ridden in as toddlers and my car, we delivered the first issue street by street. Later that day, I got a call from someone who was upset because the magazine had left their storm door ajar, and the gusting cold wind had blown the door off its hinges.
I was thrilled to receive my first advertiser check—from a company with 120,000 global employees. When that check bounced, I was actually somewhat relieved to know that even for the biggest and best companies in the world, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
My next voyage was to every newsstand in the six-county region, persuading them to carry the magazine and negotiating their take. Since those first days of being a “publisher,” I have learned a few things (including using distribution companies). Chief among them is that when you’re trying to do something you don’t know how to do, you need help. So, on the occasion of our 10th anniversary, I’d like to express my gratitude to some people who have helped me.
It starts with the Post-Gazette, where I was business editor after many years as an “investigative reporter.” When the late John Craig was retiring as editor, and I wasn’t named his successor, it was time for a change. I proposed coming up with a new project and Craig, publisher John Block, general manager David Beihoff and new editor David Shribman agreed to give me the time to figure it out. Beihoff, in particular, helped me navigate the early steps.
After creating a business plan, it was time to approach possible investors. A friend suggested I present the risks very clearly. I probably went overboard there, showing prospective investors a study that showed that only one of 10 new magazines lasted more than one year.
No surprise that takers were hard to find. After my fifth meeting with no luck, I met Dick Simmons at his office Downtown. Dick was known as a tough businessman, and unlike my other meetings, in which people nodded, smiled and asked questions, Dick was silent and expressionless. Toward the end, I thought, “Well, I guess I should make ‘the ask’ anyway,” and so I said, “Dick, do you think this might be something you’d be interested in?” Dick excused himself and left the room, and I waited, wondering if my presentation had been that bad. When he returned, Dick said he was prepared to invest an amount that exceeded my rosiest hopes. He said that all the success he’d experienced had come in Pittsburgh, and he was willing to help with something that would help Pittsburgh. When I left his office that day, the magazine was no longer just a possibility. Thanks to Dick, and investors Mark Evans, Jenifer Evans and Art Stroyd, it was actually going to happen.
I worried about hiring an ad staff and advertising manager. What did I know about selling? But at lunch one day, my friend Otto Chu said, “You know, you’ll have to be the chief salesman.” I knew he was right and went to the library and got audio discs about selling—as many as I could find. And I listened to these sales gurus and motivational experts to keep me believing, like the Little Engine That Could.
On a sunny day in October 2005, I had my first advertising prospect meeting, with the late Steve Hansen, Dollar Bank CEO. When I asked Steve toward the end of lunch whether this was something Dollar Bank might be interested in, he said “Absolutely” with a broad smile and a handshake.
Similarly, Mark Nordenberg and Robert Hill at Pitt were decisive supporters in the fragile early days. And the late Bill Dietrich, who couldn’t stifle a laugh when I asked if he wanted to invest, said maybe he could write for us instead. I thought, “Just what I need—a retired steel magnate trying to write.” Bill became our most popular writer until his death four years ago.
Otto also said, “That’s very nice of people to advertise in your first issue, never having seen the product, but if your first issue isn’t strong, you can’t expect them to continue.” Another good point. And I hope readers will forgive me for recognizing the 10 advertisers and supporters who have been with the magazine in every issue: Boyden, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Dollar Bank, Federated Investors, Howard Hanna, the University of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, UPMC, Weisshouse and restaurateur Yves Carreau. Many others have been in nearly all issues, and some just a few—but the business fact is that this magazine exists because of their support. Not many cities have a magazine like this one, and it’s a commentary on Pittsburgh that its business leaders value and appreciate a publication such as this.
When you work at the newspaper for 20 years, you don’t necessarily get a lot of dividends, but one is getting to know the region’s best writers, artists and photographers. The magazine is what it is because of the outstanding work of these contributors. This includes Cathy Rubin, who designed the magazine for its first two years before moving to Philadelphia. I thank all of our contributors, then and now.
We’ve always had a tiny staff—one could hardly call it an organization. But in the past 10 years, we’ve had many people help with sales, business matters and advice. Chief among the latter have been my wife, Marylynn Uricchio, my old mentor John Craig and one of my oldest friends in Pittsburgh, Jeff Fraser. The person to whom I owe thanks above all others is our creative director Jennifer McNulty, who took a fledgling magazine, continues to improve it, and has been my partner in crime the last eight years.
With this issue begins a new era and the launch of a new pittsburghquarterly.com. It’s a departure for us in that we’ll be featuring an array of web-exclusive stories and artwork “between the issues.” I hope you’ll like the new offerings and become a regular visitor.
Finally, I want to thank the subscribers and advertisers who have supported this magazine and contributed their ideas to improve it. Most of the time, I like to think of myself as being just smart enough to listen.