A Magazine and a Mission Founded on a Spirit of Giving: Metro Magazine Publisher Andy Hoig Celebrates Philanthropy
As a contributing writer to newspapers and magazines for going on 25 years I’ve had about every kind of assignment imaginable. However, there’s always room for a new first. The following story is just such a case. Metro Magazine publisher Andy Hoig asked me to write a story about her publication, which is celebrating 20 years in print. I’ve been a regular contributor to the mag for a couple years and I appreciated her thinking of me for a project that meant a lot to her. As a freelancer I don’t usually get to know very well the publishers and editors and staffers at the various pubs I contribute to because I essentially work out of my home and the vast majority of my contact with these clients is by email and phone. It’s the same with Metro, though in working on this assignment I do feel I got to know Andy and her team a bit better. Of course, there’s something to be said too for keeping a professional distance in these matters. In preparing the story below I felt like a distant third cousin writing a family history I was only dimly aware of before, and that is I think how it should be. I now feel more invested in that family, an apt word for Metro because it was actually started by Andy’s father, veteran newspaperman Bob Hoig. I first met Andy while working for her father’s Midlands Business Journal and for what was originally called the Omaha Metro Update, later known as the Metro Monthly. And so, you see, I’ve always been a part of the family, though there was a 20-year interruption in our relationship while I went off to pursue other freelance options and Andy grew the publication in wonderful new directions. We’re together again and I value the reunion.
A Magazine and a Mission Founded on a Spirit of Giving: Metro Magazine Publisher Andy Hoig Celebrates Philanthropy
©by Leo Adam Biga
Published in the January/February issue of Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com)
2011 finds the intrepid creatives behind metroMagazine releasing a collective sigh of relief after the tumultuous events of last year.
What was to have been a celebratory milestone marking the magazine’s 20th anniversary became a time to regroup and express gratitude. A January 7, 2010 middle-of-the-night fire destroyed the offices of ALH Publications along with three neighboring businesses in the Boardwalk mall. No one was hurt.
Ironically, a magazine whose niche is chronicling the charitable scene suddenly found itself in need. With the community rallying behind it, Metro continued publishing without interruption. After 10 months in temporary digs Metro has a new home and a rededication to fulfill its mission to “inform, educate and inspire.”
The night of the fire was one of the coldest on record. Publisher Andy Hoig and creative vice president Rob Kilmer arrived to survey the smoldering devastation as firefighters pumped water. Hoig saw everything she had built up being lost.
“I was crying,” said Hoig. “It wasn’t really crying for me. Fire is such a powerful thing and when you’re watching it burn your stuff there’s an emotional connection.
“I just remember laughing and saying, ‘You know, this would be a really respectful way to end this if I wanted to. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, maybe this is a sign.’ Well, within 24 hours I knew this was not one of the reasons this happened, because people just started coming out of the woodwork.”
The outpouring of support began while the fire still raged and news reports leaked out.
“It wasn’t an hour after the fire started I started getting text messages,” said Hoig. “I got phone calls and emails. People genuinely wanted to help.”
Detailing how the giving community addresses myriad needs is what Hoig does for a living. Being on the other end things of took some getting used to.
“It was something I didn’t really know how to handle at first,” she said. “I’m used to being the one who says, How can we help? Now I was on the flip side of having people reach out to me. I actually learned that by receiving gracefully is a gift you actually give people. By not receiving we’re denying the person who’s giving to us.”
The expressions of concern gave her a new perspective on the value of her work.
“You know, you do what you do and you do it every day, and you get so far into it you don’t see outside of it. I often times wondered, Does anybody really even care about this?”
A tangible demonstration of how much metroMagazine matters came at a Feb. 22 Omaha Community Playhouse event that raised funds to assist Metro.
“Some friends of the magazine put on this event,” Hoig said, “and all these people showed up because they actually cared about what the publication’s doing. I remember mentioning that I thought about discontinuing it and people were like, ‘No, you cant do that,’ and I was like, OK, so we have been doing something here.
“It’s funny how it takes a catastrophe to affirm what you’re doing has made a difference. Out of this whole situation that was the biggest gift I could have ever received.”
Veteran Omaha charitable professional Ellen Wright was there. She said the event was a show of appreciation.
“When you pick up the Metro you know you’re going to be reading about the nonprofits in the community and the community leadership,” she said. “It’s become THE source, THE number one place you go. It’s an opportunity for nonprofits to talk about what they do. It gives people a chance to read about agencies and their missions. It lets people see how rich the community is with volunteer and charitable opportunities to give your time and treasure to. It fills an important niche. It’s something we didn’t have before.”
Hoig said, “The vision has always been to inspire people to make a difference, whether you look at something and say, ‘I want to be a part of that,’ or, ‘That looks like fun,’ or reading stories about people who are doing inspirational things.
“I look at the magazine as having this ripple effect. I want people to have an emotional experience reading it and when they’re done to kind of sit back and self reflect. It’s really about who’s getting involved, how are people getting involved, and how can you get involved.”
Hal and Mary Daub are big fans. The couple consider Metro a lifeline to happenings.
“My wife and I like the current events nature of it,” said Hal. “It keeps us up to speed on what’s going on. It gives us a great deal of pride every time we finish reading it about how much is going on in our community we want to be sure to catch up to. It always portrays Omaha in such a positive way — the volunteers, the organizations. We love the volunteerism of this town. The magazine captures all that.”
Wright said the way the philanthropic community responded to Metro’s setback was an expression of how much it would be missed if gone.
“I think the fire shook us that this precious little jewel could have been lost, but Andy wasn’t going to let that happen. People recognized how she’s extended herself to so many and how she’s filled a huge gap for us and how we are so incredibly fortunate to have this vehicle.”
Methodist Hospital Foundation president and CEO Cynthia Peacock said Metro “is a champion of collaborative community betterment. They are to be applauded for their continued commitment.”
As Wright sees it, Metro reflects Omaha’s famous generosity.
“People in Omaha care so greatly. I feel philanthropy makes this city, makes this state function. Business and philanthropy are intertwined, and Andy’s been able to mirror that. Her motivation is sincere. She wants not only to do good but she sees the importance of these agencies.”
Although there’s always been a philanthropic focus, it took Hoig some time before she felt invested in the giving culture herself.
“Eventually over the years it became a passion,” she said. “I myself personally started getting involved. The business got more involved.”
What many don’t know is that Metro was launched by her father, Midlands Business Journal publisher Bob Hoig. Originally a tabloid-format newspaper, it began as the Metro Update in 1990 and became the Metro Monthly. Andy got her start as a Metro photographer and later learned layout and other production skills.
By the mid-‘90s the paper struggled enough that Bob was about to shut it down. That’s when he got his first glimmer of his daughter’s ambition and grit.
“She asked if I would consider letting her take it over. My answer was, ‘Sure, I’ll sell it to you for a dollar.’ But I required she sign a small piece of paper I drew up on the spot agreeing to refund subscribers any money coming to them if the Metro later folded. She was to take over full legal ownership.”
What happened next both surprised and pleased him.
“Andy had practically no business experience at the time and I doubted she could make a go of the Metro. I hadn’t counted on her determination and her putting in whatever time and energy it would take to succeed as an entrepreneur.”
He added, “Andy gave new life and direction” to the enterprise by focusing on “charities and causes she believes in” and by transforming the newsprint tabloid into a glossy magazine.
As she matured as a publisher, Andy branded Metro as not just a magazine but a resource. She launched the Big Event Book, a comprehensive annual directory of nonprofits, and the Big Event, an awards recognition gala for area charities. More innovations followed: The Spirit of Omaha website; the weekly INSIDER e-newsletter; and the FACES – Omaha’s Model Search.
The Journeys series features in-depth profiles of inspired doers and givers.
“There has been growth. It’s been a trial and error evolution,” she said. “Part of it is reaching out to different demographics. We have an incredible YP (young professionals) community here that looks to get involved and that has been contributing to our growth.”
The event book and web site offer links and referrals to guide people’s giving and volunteering.
“We should not underestimate Metro’s potential as a connector — making a difference in the lives of nonprofits, donors and beneficiaries of the generous, caring community we call home,” said Methodist Foundation’s Cynthia Peacock.
Community volunteer Cheryl Wild said Metro’s coverage of fundraisers, particularly small grassroots ones, draws crucial interest and support: “I attribute so much of my success with events to the great coverage.”
The full-color magazine’s look and feel get ever more sophisticated.
“I think Andy’s really intuitive and I dare say a little bit cosmopolitan,” said Data Media Solutions CEO and president Jeff Wilke. “She gets the fact that if she’s not changing she’s probably going to be left behind and she’s always looking for the next opportunity to make sure she’s evolving with her clients.”
Hoig also surrounds herself with dedicated staffers and interns and a stable of top freelance writers and photographers.
“One of the things I’ve discovered about myself, especially this past year, is that I love creating and visioning,” she said. “Then I’ve got great people that take that vision and make it a reality. Starting the creation process is what I absolutely love to do and I look forward to the day when that’s what I do all day long, and that day will come. I want to get Metro to a place where it is rock solid and running on its own so I can go make a global impact someplace.”
On the fire’s one-year anniversary the Metro team uncorked a bottle of champagne that survived the blaze, raising glasses to a trying but growth-filled period and toasting the start of the mag’s next 20 years. Having experienced first-hand the Spirit of Omaha, the Metro family is poised to take things to a whole new level.
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