Mike McGarry has been in the publishing business for more than three decades.
A principal of Hartford Publications and former Hartford councilman who has run for mayor twice, McGarry has stayed the course in the struggling tabloid industry primarily by identifying high-demand, locally focused publications, keeping costs down, and selling advertisements at “affordable rates.”
“We found here that we can sell more modestly priced ads than sell a few expensive ads. We have a lot of advertisers; we don’t cheat advertisers. They can buy a nice ad for a couple hundred bucks.”
Hartford Publications regularly publishes several tabloids, including: the Hartford News, published weekly; The Journal, published every two weeks and concentrating on Bloomfield; Senior Bulletin, published every two months and focusing on West Hartford; Welcome to Avon, published yearly, and Our Neighborhoods West, published yearly and targeting south end Hartford neighborhoods.
McGarry, a pro at selecting new editorial focuses and understanding the cyclical nature of the publication industry, says his mantra is to establish a diverse product line targeted to a diverse clientele.
Despite achieving exactly that, he thought his enterprise had come to the end of its road this past summer as advertisers cut back dramatically. “As everybody knows, the last part of summer was dreadful,” said McGarry, who runs the business with principals Andy Hart and Jon Harden. “We didn’t think we were going to make it. All of us took very short rations. We somehow got through the worst months for the media I’ve ever seen. But we were able to continue to get it published.”
McGarry noted that the company has never missed an issue despite the tough economy.
He credits the company’s survival this year to taking on a diverse number of small projects that larger publishers aren’t interested in, publishing them at a lower cost and thin profit margin, “working a little harder,” and increasing the number of its publications.
Hartford Publications now publishes about seven program guides per year now, including some for Riverfront Recapture events and an upcoming holiday guide, The Downtowner.
“It’s not terribly profitable, but [the program guides] help with overhead and bring in cash flow. It’s helped in a dead advertising time,” McGarry explained. “We have survived, barely sometimes, by having a real variety of products.”
McGarry expects a new 64-page, four-color glossy coffee-table softbound book, ‘Legacy and Promise,” which McGarry calls “a fancy guide to downtown Hartford, the Asylum Hill and Capitol areas,” will help keep his business in the black.
The book is intended to provide both current and historical information about the area, said McGarry. It has attracted advertisers and its pre-publication sales now count 5,000, with Aetna ordering 3,500 copies, he said.
McGarry and the other principals of Hartford Publications do most of the work themselves, from writing articles, selling ads, taking pictures and even hand-delivering the newspapers.
They publish 15,000 copies of the Hartford News, which was established 35 years ago, McGarry said.
His advice to other small business owners: “Hang in, hang in, hang in. Do whatever you have to do to hang in. Everybody has their ups and downs. You have to do what it takes to stay in business.”
But McGarry sees promise that the toughest of times may be behind Hartford Publications. “We have noticed that things are perking back up.”