Celebrating a decade in St. Louis
When we wrote the very first issue of ALIVE, we weren’t setting out to create a widely distributed fashion, culture and lifestyle publication for St. Louis. We weren’t planning on producing large-scale events in the city, or launching anything like Saint Louis Fashion Week. That isn’t to say we didn’t take ourselves seriously…we just didn’t know where that first little issue would lead us. We set out with a mission to share useful information, and, like most ambitious young people (we were 20, 25 and 30 at the time), we were open to the serendipity that life and business bring you when you’re really passionate about something…and just a little fearless.
Kelly: I met Elizabeth in 2001 when I showed up to apply for a part-time job at Attilio’s Discount Supplements, the emerging retail chain Attilio had started a few years before that was a competitor to GNC.
Elizabeth: We grew very quickly over the next few years and expanded from just a few stores to 12. We noticed that we were getting more calls every day from people who were not only interested in our vitamins and health products, but information on how to live healthy lifestyles. We talked about starting a newsletter for our customers to inform them how to eat healthy and exercise, which would help them get better results.
Kelly: I remember sitting on the stoop of Attilio’s Central West End house, and Elizabeth saying, “Let’s go on a trip; we need a vacation anyway. We’ll hole up in a cabin, and come up with things to write about. It’ll be fun.” Attilio told us that when we got back, he’d figure out how to lay it out and get it printed.
Road Trip of a Lifetime
Elizabeth: Our company lawyer, Mitch Margo, told us we could use his cabin in Vail, CO, for a few days. So, we road tripped it to the mountains. It was August 2002, a beautiful time to be there. We listened to John Denver as we rolled through Golden and stopped off in Boulder for a night. In Vail, we spent two days punching out the four or five articles that went into the first issue—one on yoga, one on eating healthy and one on weight loss.
Kelly: We weren’t sure how it would be put together, but I imagined it would fit nicely into one of the Microsoft Word templates, or, if we wanted to get “fancy,” we could invest in Microsoft Publisher. When we got back, Attilio taught himself rudimentary Adobe Illustrator skills and laid it out using some stock images and a header that said “Alive: Your Journal for Personal Wellness.” We had a name. Back then, we had no concept of high-res imagery or how text-heavy our articles really looked. Jim Bowe from Trio Printing helped us print our first issue, and we beamed with pride when the first 5,000 copies arrived.
Elizabeth: People started picking them up and asking when the next one would come out. We knew we had something that people wanted, so we started looking at how we could put them in more distribution locations. Printing was expensive, so we decided to find someone in a similar industry who might want to help sponsor the printing. Without necessarily recognizing it, we were looking for advertisers, which created a new business unit for us—with its own very unique challenges.
Building A Dream Team
Elizabeth: We knew we didn’t have a chance unless we hired people who knew the industry. Luckily, we found ourselves quickly connected to some of the top talent in town. A few of those initial conversations with key staffers stand out. We sat down with Jill Gubin, our first advertising salesperson, at Starbucks in Olivette. She flipped through the magazine, pointing out things she liked and things she didn’t. She told us about some of the influential people she knew in town. (Her trademark was that she always knew everyone’s phone number by heart.) “Sure, I’ll help you,” she said. At that moment, we felt like we had struck gold. Here was an experienced person in the industry who wanted to come work for us, a new pub with no ads. Within just a couple of months, she already had sold dozens of ads for the next issue, and had taught us how to set up our advertising production team.
The Write Stuff
Kelly: At that time, we were writing everything ourselves, and because we were adding pages with each issue, we needed writers. We met Cristy Miller, who was finishing up her degree in nutrition. Cristy was the perfect fit because of our health-focused content, but quickly became an integral part of the ALIVE team and our managing editor. She helped us build the editorial department from the ground up and approach our operations, which were rapidly becoming more complex. We also hired Natalie Kurz, an editor with national experience, to help take our content to the next level.
Elizabeth: To complete our core team, we really needed a strong photographer, especially for our covers. I knew some local photographers from when I was a Talent Plus actor, so I called up Rick Gould and asked if he’d help us. He was reluctant at first,
but, after seeing how excited (and crazy) we all were, he agreed to give us a shot (literally).
Kelly: It wasn’t long before we met Darin Slyman. Darin had been working in the fashion, media and photography fields for years and had contacts to whom he recommended we reach out. We were considering local celebrities to shoot for our first official magazine cover, and he suggested Heidi Glaus, who was on “Show Me St. Louis” at the time. I remember feeling nervous calling KSDK—back then, no one really knew who we were, and we were not confident media types yet! But, she agreed, and I remember that first cover shoot with Heidi at Suzy Gorman’s Midtown studio very well. Rick photographed Heidi for a few hours, then took our first staff headshots. Rick continued to shoot all of our big features and every cover for the first few years. We owe a lot to him; he really helped us set a tone for how we wanted to approach editorial photography, and taught us all a hell of a lot about how to concept larger-scale shoots and to communicate with all the creatives we would come to work with over the years.
A Focus on Fashion
Elizabeth: In 2004, with more and more fashion boutiques opening around town, it felt important to add a style component to the magazine. Our readers, who were 25 to 55 and mostly women, weren’t getting info on where to find the trends locally—but the stores were there, and we felt fashion was just not getting the attention it deserved.
Kelly: So, we went on a search for a fashion writer. I put ads out in the RFT and got scores of emails from aspiring writers. Jill Manoff was one of those. I asked her to write a “how-to” on at-home pedicures as a test. As good as it was, it was really her amazingly written cover letter and memoir piece she had already submitted that landed her an interview. And, once we met her, we knew she had to be a part of the family. Her trademark effervescence, wit and smart writing launched our fashion department, which soon became a central part of ALIVE’s identity.
Elizabeth: As ALIVE started to grow, it felt like the business we were creating was all happening at the right time in the right place. Saint Louis City was starting to see a real renaissance—loft developments Downtown were opening their doors and selling their units at a rapid pace, more fashion boutiques were opening each year (and in more neighborhoods) and more independent restaurants were emerging around the city. St. Louis was changing, and we saw that ALIVE could—and should—change along with it. There was a new opportunity emerging to speak to the young professionals and active people who were out and about, engaged in the community and enjoying the momentum that was building around the city.
Kelly: We became a cheerleader for St. Louis…and a mirror. We felt like we were just showing St. Louisans what was cool and exciting about their own city. We took that on as our job, and people really started to respond to that approach. It’s no secret that St. Louisans can sometimes be down on the city—not seeing all the great things we have here. To be honest, we get a thrill from changing that perspective a bit. By 2004, we had expanded our editorial content significantly, adding stories on local personalities, cultural events, fashion and, of course, party pics.
On The Scene
Elizabeth: It was around that time that marketing and public relations guru Cheresse Pentella reached out to me, and we scheduled lunch at Sekisui across from our office on
Grand. She was very glamorous in her fur coat—she looked like a supermodel. Because we were drawing the attention of the young professional and fashionable crowd, she thought we should consider throwing parties. Sipping my Diet Coke, I sat there hoping that we could pull off an event half as cool as she thought we could. She asked us to be a partner on a party she was planning for her client, Miso. We called it “Miso is ALIVE.”
Kelly: I remember the excitement of having about 400 people arrive to that event, and for the first time, really seeing our readers en masse. They came out in droves, and we realized that events would be a big part of ALIVE’s future. We hired Maggie Rasp Pearson, who helped us get a marketing and events department off the ground.
Elizabeth: The first party we actually produced was “Rock It Like It’s Haute” at Pepper Lounge, which was also just a few years old at the time, and was the hottest place to party in town. Nightlife godfather Amit Dhawan and DJ Andrew Mullins helped us piece together our first event strategy. Not only were we producing a party, but we were also going to put on a fashion show. I remember Andrew pointing to Pepper’s VIP area and explaining how the stage would be set up for the fashion show. It all seemed like a dream—who were we to be putting up stages and taking on fashion shows? At that time, there really weren’t fashion shows happening in St. Louis, at least not for the 20- and 30- somethings. But, the party and show were a hit! The crowd loved seeing the local models on stage and seeing the pictures in the magazine the next month. Thankfully, this was the first of many events we produced with Amit, and our combined passion for putting on good events has changed the way St. Louis throws parties.
Kelly: We assembled a board to help us answer some questions we were having around our place in the market. At one board meeting later that year, we sat around our conference table talking about ways we could further differentiate ourselves from the other lifestyle magazine in the city. We felt like something we really loved to do—and that we did well—was featuring people, so we decided to have national celebrities on the cover of every single issue. I remember walking out of that meeting feeling excited by the challenge, but a bit daunted. The only national celebs with a St. Louis tie that people were really talking about were Nelly and John Goodman. (This was before “The Office” or “Mad Men”). But, the hunt began, and soon, wrangling and interviewing some of the hottest up-and-coming entertainers for our covers became a favorite part of my job. And, most of the time, they were just as excited to be spotlighted in a glossy fashion and culture magazine in their hometown.
A Saint Louis Fashion Week
Elizabeth: Meanwhile, our events were taking off. We hired Damon Johnson, who I’d known since middle school, to help us build a real marketing and events department. We were talking with Ecco Domani about how we could work together to market their wines. Within the hour, Liquid Style, our signature fall fashion event, was born. We hosted the first one in fall 2006 over the pool at Chase Park Plaza. It was our biggest fashion show to date, and we had all the local boutiques showing their collections. The turnout was insane; about 800 people were there. We were praying for no rain, and for no hitches, and we got it. Thankfully, we worked with event expert Sam Foxman. I’ll never forget walking out onto the stage, heart beating, legs trembling. I distinctly remember seeing our new friends Sharon and Kim Tucci, Susan Sherman and Andy and Kellie Trivers, as well as our board members, Karen Carroll, Craig Kaminer and Stacie Mullen. They were looking up at us beaming, and their smiles made me feel like I could actually get the words out.
Kelly: That really showed us that fashion was going to be our thing. We were already owning it in print, but we set out to help support and build an actual fashion community here. Attilio and Jill made it their mission, and soon, we were bringing together the local boutiques regularly for fashion shows, integrating fashion shows into other parties and hosting launch events for the boutiques that were opening. I remember the day Attilio said, “We should just have a Fashion Week!” Elizabeth and I were half thinking (half hoping) that he was joking because we were already producing an event every month as it was. But he wasn’t, and within the year, we hosted the first Saint Louis Fashion Week, which featured five days of events and brought in national designers and brands. It became a major part of our business, and helped our big clients reach the fashion-conscious set of STL.
Surviving and Thriving
Elizabeth: Then came November 2008. You probably remember it as well as we do. It was the culmination of the financial crisis that affected everyone. Our big corporate partners halted their marketing plans, and our small business friends and partners were on shaky ground, which meant we were, too. We felt that it was only going to get worse, and knew we had to make a plan—and fast.
Kelly: The only way we were going to stay “ALIVE” was if we could help our clients stay in business. On a Saturday that November, we sat around the table at our office in Maryland Plaza and talked about what had to be done. We pored over budgets and created Plan Bs, Cs, Ds…I think we ended up on something like a Plan G. It was going to be tough, and we knew it. Nothing seemed certain, and none of the possibilities seemed ideal.
Elizabeth: We hunkered down and asked ourselves the tough questions: How do we remain relevant? How do we help our clients through this difficult time? That’s how we approached our survival. We had a lot of great partners and advertisers who considered us an important part of their staying in business, too. Together, we’re now back on track to thrive. We just feel so fortunate to work with such good people.
A Fresh Approach
Kelly: As we were rebuilding, we met David Hsia, an art director at Momentum. David talked to us about our magazine’s design and identity, and together, we began working on a new look for the magazine. We added more color and gave ALIVE a new logo, one that was more unique and gave us a stronger identity.
Elizabeth: With the print business suffering, we also had the time to finally focus on overhauling our website, which was years behind where it should have been. We worked with Jen Rieger and Chris Rubin de la Borbolla of 963 Collective on the new ALIVEMag.com, which re-launched June 1, 2010, with all the capabilities we had wished for. I remember poring over the wireframes that we’d drawn up and making decisions about what widgets we needed and where. It was one of the most exciting product launches I can remember, and it led to spinoffs like ALIVE Daily Fix, the ALIVE Blog Posse and ALIVE Dates.
Elizabeth: Over the last two years, we’ve been working to really improve our print and web products to give readers more of what they expect from ALIVE. We’re excited about the new look we’re launching this month (kudos, Associate Art Director Kristin Kellogg!) and to be expanding our editorial pages (with some very exciting additions) under the direction of Jennifer Dulin Wiley.
Kelly: We’re insanely lucky to have an amazing team of staffers with us every day at the ALIVE HQ—our editors Jennifer Dulin Wiley and Gwen Ragno, designers Kristin Kellogg and Stephanie Terry, our advertising rock stars Brigid Pritchard, Gina DeGenova and Molly Ross, our marketing and events manager Giana Calvello, Daily Fix coordinator Brian Donahoe, business and office manager Ellen Ramey and contributing creative director David Hsia. I can’t thank all of our contributing writers and photographers enough—we are so lucky to work with them every month. And, being around this long means we have some kick-ass ALIVE alumni around to continue working with in new ways.
Elizabeth: It’s impossible to really tell the whole story of the last 10 years…the word count has to be managed at some point.
Kelly: What about the experience at the Playboy Mansion, the retreats in Miami or the annual retreat party buses?
Elizabeth: That’s “off the record.” But, we can promise a night to remember on April 13…
Kelly: Shameless plug: Road trip it Downtown to Peabody Opera House for the biggest party of ALIVE’s lifetime. Then, just stay tuned, as we imagine the next decade brings even more exciting things for our city—and we intend to be a part of it!