Just Getting Started
In 2016 Southbay magazine and its parent company,
Moon Tide Media, celebrate their 10-year anniversary.
What began as a single-title magazine company a
decade ago is today a wide and growing network of
media brands and a full-service agency that is a national leader in the burgeoning content marketing category. As they enter their second decade, I sat down with Moon Tide’s leadership team to hear about how they got started and to learn a little about what they have planned for the years to come.
- Edited byJennie Nunn
In 1997 Moon Tide Media founder Todd Klawin was working for a marketing agency in Atlanta when a friendly job referral from his client at IBM moved him to Los Angeles. The first dot-com boom was in full swing, and it was not long before he began his career as an entrepreneur on the founding team at RadicalMail, a venture-funded software company and early leader in the email marketing space. When the company was successfully acquired, Todd found himself looking for the next start-up opportunity. It was 2006 in Manhattan Beach.
Todd Klawin, founder and managing partner:
In 2006, we had recently sold our company, and my wife, Jen, and I were just starting a family. I knew I wanted to start up another business, and I was looking for something that would allow me to stay as close to home as possible. The South Bay was clearly evolving at that time, and we felt like there was an opportunity for a local magazine to establish a position for itself in the market, together with the weekly newspapers that were—at that time—the only media in town. It seemed clear that the community could really benefit from such a product, and our general feeling was: “Why not us?”
Looking for a first employee and someone to help launch the business, Todd reached out to one of his good friends, Emily Baker, who was then living in San Francisco and working for Visa.
Emily Stewart Baker, partner and brand publisher:
He called me one day and said, “I’m think – ing about starting this new company … launching a magazine in the South Bay. What do you think?” The timing was good. I was at my breaking point with the bureaucracy of the corporate world, so I said, “You know, I’ll try it.” I moved down, and we got to work.
When we launched, the South Bay was a newspaper town. We had The Beach Reporter and the Easy Reader. Everyone loved them, and we still do. But there’s just something different about a magazine. Newspapers are purpose-built to deliver the news and then be discarded. Magazines are more durable and more beautiful. They are better suited to tell long-form stories, and at their best they can be art. That was our goal from the beginning: to tell the stories of where we live in a format that did some justice to this amazing place we call home.
With a vision in mind for the new magazine, Todd brought on Darren Elms, a writer he knew through mutual friends. At the time Darren was working in the Los Angeles advertising office of a large national magazine publisher.
Darren Elms, editorial director:
I remember Todd took me to lunch in Marina Del Rey and laid out his idea. I was immediately attracted to the concept, especially as a Los Angeles native. Writing about the people and places of the city I love was too good an opportunity to pass up—even if I needed to keep my other gig at the time to keep my bills paid! I honestly had no idea at the time this would turn into something I’d devote a full decade too. But I’m glad I have.
One of the earliest considerations was the definition of the community to be served by the new magazine. The South Bay certainly included the Beach Cities, but what about the Peninsula? To some, Palos Verdes was a world apart. The team at Moon Tide never saw that distinction.
“South Bay” as a term has been around a lot longer than we have. It has history, and it clearly means different things to different people. We decided early on that our definition would include the Beach Cities and the Hill. That we are different parts of the same community seemed obvious to me at the time, and it still does today.
We never second-guessed that decision after we made it. There is incredible diversity here in the South Bay, and we wanted to tell the stories of all our local communities. That’s one of the things that make this job such fun.
With a skeleton crew assembled and a product ready to launch, it was time to take the leap into the marketplace. But would a community supported by newsprint for decades warm to the idea of a full-color, photo-packed magazine in their mailboxes?
Any time you’re launching a new product, you can’t be entirely sure how it’s going to be received. Fortunately, from the moment we got started, both our readers and the local business community really embraced what we were doing. We couldn’t have been successful without the support of both of those constituencies. After all, ad-supported media products like ours are designed to connect the two. It’s how the bills get paid.
I remember getting our first insertion orders and thinking, “Oh my god, it’s actually working. We can do this.” Then after we got our first issue successfully into the market, things really took off. Once people could actually hold the product and see the quality first-hand, the phones started ringing. It was clear we had a winner.
In hindsight, it was a really challenging time to start a business. Everyone remembers what happened in 2007. The bottom fell out of everything. Luckily we were able to get profitable in that first year and sustain ourselves. Looking back, it’s something I’m really proud of. I think it speaks to us as managers but also to the strength of the product, the idea and our community
Despite the economic headwinds, Moon Tide continued to grow and new team members joined the company. Jared Sayers, now group publisher of the company’s network of owned media, was first hired as a local sales account executive for the new magazine. Jared also grew up in Redondo Beach.
Jared Sayers, group publisher:
All along, we’ve wanted to avoid that “smile-and-dial,” boiler room method of selling. I grew up here. This is our home. We weren’t going to strongarm our local business owners into advertising campaigns that didn’t make sense just to keep our lights on. It had to work for them. We went into market confident that we had a great product—and committed to being honest with the intention of helping our advertisers. Our position has always been that if we help our advertisers grow, then we’ll do just fine too.
From the start the company was committed to partnering with local businesses as well as local nonprofits in ways that would help support, improve and celebrate the community.
Having an editorial platform always comes with some responsibility, and that is particularly so at the local level. The stories we choose to tell have an impact, and it has been part of our editorial and business mission from the start to help support those who are supporting our community.
Local media platforms like ours are important to the communities they serve. If they’re doing their jobs right, it’s about more than just telling stories. From the beginning our definition of success with Southbay magazine has not been to just sell advertising and make money but to be a platform for anyone who is helping make our community and its residents in some way better.
I’m proud of the relationships we have built, and I’d like to think we are playing a positive role here in our community. I know that has certainly always been our goal.
With Moon Tide successfully up and running and Southbay magazine comfortably established in its market, Todd continued to look for new ways to grow the company. In early 2010 he met Charlie Koones, the former publisher of Variety magazine, who would become Todd’s business partner.
Charlie and I had a close mutual friend who had been suggesting we meet for some time. I knew he’d have good perspective on the media business we were growing, so I picked up the phone and called him one day to introduce myself. I’m really glad I did. Today we are the best of friends, and we operate Moon Tide as partners.
Charlie Koones, managing partner:
I would describe myself as an accidental corporate guy. I never expected to be working in a big company. It just kind of got going pretty well. So I stuck around. Then one day I was in Tokyo, and I just decided that it was time. So I quit. I went out and started looking at deals on my own. Todd and I met, and we immediately started cooking up some ideas.
From Day 1 we saw eye-to-eye on what we were doing at Moon Tide, and we shared a vision for the right way to continue growing the company. Also, the fact that I can consistently beat him in golf and bar games was a key foundational element of our partnership. We went out and raised a little growth capital, and we’ve been running flat-out ever since.
The first new brand we launched after I joined the company was close to home for me. Having lived in the Valley for a long time, there was no local media serving that market that spoke to us in a voice that we actually wanted to listen to. We saw an opportunity to replicate the success we had seen in the South Bay, and we created the Ventura Blvd brand in 2011.
It was exciting to launch another brand, and luckily we had Linda Grasso to take the reigns and make it her own. She is still the editor of Ventura Blvd today, and her voice has helped make it the success that it is. Todd:
Almost immediately after we got Ventura Blvd into the market, we began work on our next launch. In fact quite a lot of exciting things happened right around that same time.
Over the next two years Moon Tide would launch Southbay HOME and Southbay HEALTH, see the digital reach of their brands far exceed their printed counterparts, produce 40 events a year and, most significantly, launch the agency division that is now the largest part of their business.
In 2011 our biggest category, from an advertising perspective, was home and design. We had been toying for some time with the launch of a stand-alone home magazine, and we knew that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. We approached all of our partners with our concept, and the feedback was encouraging enough that we decided to go for it.
Editorially we knew we had to make this new product distinctive from other shelter brands whose home features were often devoid of people and full of just walls, cool design and architecture. As with Southbay, we instinctively knew our publication needed to put the people first. So with HOME it’s not just about the structure; it’s the lifestyle that thrives therein. The process was quite the same when we launched Southbay HEALTH. We identified a category that needed serving, and we created an editorial product that could do so with the Moon Tide sensibility.
All of our products had online counterparts from the beginning, of course. Charlie and I both brought meaningful digital backgrounds to the company, and I’d say we were as progressive as anyone in our category in that regard. But it was the explosion of the social media channel around that time that really created some exciting new opportunities for us. My wife, Jen, was working at Facebook at the time, and we were fortunate to be quite early in our adoption and use of both organic and paid social media. We learned how to build and engage social audiences, and we got really good at creating content for that channel. It accelerated the evolution of our company. In what feels like just a moment, as I look back on it, we began to think of ourselves as a content company as opposed to a magazine publisher.
As we see it, the key is to deliver content to audiences in whatever medium they prefer to consume it. As a result, we’re really good at digital. We’re really good at print. We’re really good at social. We’re getting really good at film. And yet, we’re not sentimental about any of them. We just want to be able to deliver engaging content in the right medium for each consumer. That approach has served us well with our own products and with the content we produce for our agency clients.
Since it was established in 2012, Moon Tide’s agency division has seen exponential growth and is now the largest part of their business. “Content marketing” has become an industry buzzword, and today the company counts category-leading regional and national brands among its clients.
We were in the right place at the right time. All of the knowledge and resources we had developed translated directly to the new content-first focus of marketers everywhere. As brands wanted to become publishers themselves, we were extremely well-qualified to help them.
Today Charlie and I spend much of our time building partnerships with brands and helping them use content more effectively in their business. It’s a fun gig. This morning we were working on a paid social campaign for a major CPG company that will run during the Rio Olympics. Next week we are meeting with a company that is interested in producing more than 50 branded magazines a year.
We had no idea that our agency would become such a core component of our business. Now we’ve come to see Moon Tide as a next-generation media company that is both a publisher and an agency. We believe that each is essential to the success of the other, and we’re absolutely committed to growing both.
In 2016 Moon Tide is continuing to pursue ambitious approaches to growing its business. The company recently launched the first episodes of two co-branded online film series from its new Southbay Studios and in the fall will launch a fashion-related media brand called Etcetera.
By virtue of our size, we’re scrappy—and I think we’re pretty unafraid. We continue to throw stuff up against the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. We make no apologies for that because when it does, it’s beautiful. That’s our method.
We’ve deliberately tried to build a culture here that is fun and entrepreneurial, where new things are being created all the time and people can genuinely enjoy coming to work and being part of that process. We want to build something enduring that matters for our employees, our families and our communities. It’s an exciting time at Moon Tide. Believe me, we’re just getting started.