How two publishing newbies found the road to travel brand success.
Joe Diaz and Greg Sullivan knew they wanted to launch a travel magazine, but they didn’t know how. “We had a steep learning curve,” Diaz says, “because we didn’t come from a publishing background or media background or even a travel industry background.”
Their learning started when they found the book How to Start a Magazine and Publish it Profitably, and then met with the author, James Kobak, who emphasized the business side of magazines. Armed with Kobak’s guidance and their own passion for the project, Diaz and Sullivan launched Afar in 2009—just as the country was grappling with a massive recession.
Five years later, Afar has evolved into an award-winning, multi-platform travel media brand. But getting there wasn’t easy. Here are a few key lessons Diaz and Sullivan learned along the road to success.
1. Have a Clear Vision
“One of the things that Jim [Kobak] stressed was to make sure we had our idea crystal clear—what is Afar, who is the Afar reader,” says Diaz. That vision then became the filter for larger decisions, he explains, such as creating a team. “Finding the right people to bring this vision to life was the biggest key to our success,” he says. Differentiation was also important. “Other travel brands have been there for quite a while,” says Diaz. “It’s really an established category, but we felt there was something missing—there was a hole for us personally in the travel content we were consuming.” That hole was experiential travel—an up-close, authentically grassroots experience based on connecting travellers with locals.
3. Start With a Magazine
“It was very important to us that we launched a print magazine first,” says Diaz. “We felt that a real print title had advantages over digital.” One such advantage, he says, is a strong, engaged audience. “Anyone who is willing for pay $20 for seven issues of Afar and then spends more than an hour reading it is seriously engaged,” he says. The average Afar reader, Diaz says, is 46 years old, has a household income of $160,000, takes 20 trips per year—10 of which are international—and spends at least 62 nights a year in hotels. “I don’t think we could have attracted that kind of an audience without a print publication.”
4. Think As a Brand
Attracting that strong audience has enabled the Afar team to expand the brand, including online, a mobile app, experience travel packages and partnerships with hotel and travel companies. But all of this growth, Diaz stresses, flows through the filter of the original vision for the Afar brand. “We exist for a specific reason,” he says. “We don’t do the same thing as the other guys do. Everything we’ve done and will continue to do is based on who is the person who is engaging with our brand.”