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McMurry Publishing continually expanding through wide variety of products and services.

Chris McMurry, CEO of McMurry Newsletters in Phoenix, got into the newsletter business in a different manner than most publishers.

In 1984, his father, Preston McMurry, created Vim & Vigor magazine while working for Baptist Hospitals and Health Systems. The magazine was spun off into its own entity, Vim & Vigor Inc., with McMurry as president.

In 1989, Preston McMurry purchased Vim & Vigor Inc. and turned it into McMurry Publishing Inc. He had four employees.

Since the magazine had never made a profit, he decided to make some changes. He took a 40 percent salary cut, increased prices by 20 percent, increased staff salaries by 10 percent, and created a profit-sharing environment while reducing costs.

His strategy worked. "I ran it like my house," he is quoted on the website. "Over here, I had a stack of money, and over here, I had no bills, and even I could figure out it was a profitable year."

He built McMurry Publishing into three companies--custom publishing, an ad agency, and, most recently, subscription newsletters--not to mention its real estate division, McMurry Properties.

"Largest in Arizona"

"As a custom publisher, ad agency and PR agency," Chris McMurry told NL/NL, "we're the largest in Arizona. But on a national basis, we're not that large. [Their website states that the company's fiscal 2003 company goal was $37 million in revenue.]

"We thought of newsletter publishing as something we could do to get our name in front of our publics without spending a great deal of money to 'build our brand.'"

On the custom publishing side, McMurry currently produces 30,000,000 pieces a year in magazines and newsletters for 120 corporate clients--including such titles as the Ritz-Carlton's In Room magazine and Amtrak's onboard magazine, Arrive.

Even with their level of business and including all other custom publishers, McMurry noted that only five percent of all U.S. firms outsource any of their publishing activities.

(He is currently president and chairman of the Custom Publishing Council, the association of custom publishers.)

Enters subscription newsletter field

In 1998 McMurry entered the subscription newsletter field with the acquisition of Copy Editor from founder Mary Beth Protomastro. "I know from the title it sounds like 'just editors,'" McMurry said, "but more than 50 percent of the subscribers are people with publishing responsibility at non-publishing companies, our market."

After initially hiring an editor for Copy Editor who, in our opinion, dumbed-down the newsletter, McMurry replaced him with Barbara Wallraff. She is well known in language circles as a language columnist for The Atlantic Monthly and for King Features Syndicate and as the author of the best-selling book Word Court (2000).

"With Copy Editor and our second title, Publications Management," McMurry continued, "we are now reaching 3,000+ subscribers and we are developing a relationship with them that is different from our trying to sell them something all the time.

"Instead, they are learning from us, building up the trust between publisher and subscriber. We are positioning ourselves as helpful and useful to them.

"So, we think we are building our brand awareness--only instead of spending money to do it, we're making some money in the process," McMurry said.

Ancillary services

Continuing the expansion momentum, in recent years McMurry has added ancillary services to their newsletter business. In 2000 they began conducting research into custom publishing, which they offer for resale.

In 2003 they began offering workshops sponsored by Copy Editor and led by Barbara Wallraff (see page 8)--six last year and nine scheduled for this year in major metro areas where circulation is concentrated.

"We're also considering developing an audio version of the workshop to offer to subs who don't live in those areas," McMurry said.

In 2004 they began an awards program.* The Magnum Opus Award, offered in conjunction with the Missouri School of Journalism, will recognize excellence in specific aspects of custom publishing (

Not satisfied with all those ancillaries just mentioned, McMurry recently began a print-buying service, which is called SAV-ON Printing Program. "With our volume in custom publishing, we have a lot of information about print services," McMurry said. "We thought we could help clients by finding them the right printer at the right price.

"Here's where the internet comes in. We had this idea and thought, 'We'll just send an e-mail.' As a test, we sent an e-mail to 1,000 subscribers. We had eight responses and just closed the first deal. The client does about $850,000 annually in print business, and the deal we found will save them $110,000 a year. Of course, they are happy and so are we as we will get $20,000 in commission from the printer ... and get it each year as long as the arrangement continues," he said.


McMurry has also formed a couple of strategic alliances:

* In 2003, it teamed up with Chicago-based Lawrence Ragan Communications to form an alliance giving parties the ability to offer custom publishing services to Ragan's customer base of thousands of corporate marketing personnel.

* In 2002, McMurry and The Reader's Digest Association signed a five-year deal with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC, to publish the hotel chain's in-room magazine. The Ritz-Carlton Magazine is distributed in more than 44 properties around the world.


Then, unfortunately, our discussion turned to marketing. "I'd love to have some ideas for that," McMurry said. "You can quote me, direct mail is getting tougher and tougher.

"What works for us are mailings to our house file, which brings six to eight times the response of any cold list, so we do our best to continually build the house file. We add names of survey respondents who are not subscribers, and our custom publishing group brings in hundreds of new prospects each year," he said.

"A major problem for us with cold DM is that there really isn't a generic title for the person responsible in the firm for custom publishing; he or she is 'somewhere' in marketing, PR, or communications.

"We also tried many of the other forms of marketing--advertising, trade shows, speaking engagements--and all of those are usually good for a few orders, but not big volume."

Print vs. online

"In 2004 we hope to do more online marketing. We have a free job board associated with Copy Editor (, and it gets a lot of hits and drives traffic to our website. We're looking into arranging some links with related sites--doing some co-marketing," McMurry said.

"Our subscribers still prefer print. Less than 10 percent opt for electronic delivery--not that we aren't always offering it to them, but a steadily increasing percentage of our new orders are coming from the website. It isn't a majority but it is growing. Some may be people who get mail and choose to go to the web to respond," he said.

McMurry's subscribers' preference for print doesn't seem like any surprise, given that most of them are involved in editing and publishing primarily print publications.


In summary, McMurry has gone from solely a custom publisher to one that also publishes subscription newsletters and is constantly increasing its brand awareness through research products, workshops, an awards program, a print service, and strategic alliances.

It seems the sky's the limit for McMurry--that big, wide Arizona sky.

1010 Missouri Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85014, 602-395-5850, fax 602-395-5853,

*What is it with journalists and awards? Recognizing that NL/NL has our own longstanding awards program, doesn't it seem that the field has more awards programs per capita than any other profession (including actors)? How do actuaries and tax lawyers go through professional life without at least annual peer group recognitions?--F.G.
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Title Annotation:Publisher's Profile
Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 16, 2004
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