Watch the Interview
Listen to the Interview
Listen to Learn:
Scroll down for a transcript of the show
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
Alan Leveritt and a few friends launched the Arkansas Times, an alternative monthly magazine that provided political and cultural news to the state. Leveritt had gotten his start in the media business during his college days in the early 1970s at Little Rock University, now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). He founded and operated an independent student newspaper, Essence. On its editorial page, Essence supported Leveritt’s personal politics, which embraced the ideas of libertarianism and the Young Americans for Freedom party. Using a $200 donation from a local bookstore, Leveritt and his associates published the first edition of the Union Station Times on September 5, 1974, so named because it was headquartered near Union Station in Little Rock. In July 1975, the name of the monthly publication was changed to Arkansas Times.
Olivia Farrell graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and began her publishing career in 1978, joining the Arkansas Writers Project as part of the ad sales department at the Arkansas Times. She was among the founders of Arkansas Business in 1984 and Southern magazine in 1986.
In 1984, she was honored in New York by the National Council of Women of the United States as a Young Achiever, one of six young women in the country achieving exceptional success at a young age. She was the first woman from Arkansas to receive this honor. In May 1985, she was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine’s 100th anniversary issue as one of the “100 Young Women of Promise” and the only woman from Arkansas to be included.
In 1995, she became CEO and principal owner of the newly formed Arkansas Business Publishing Group, which has been honored with more than 115 national and local awards for outstanding journalism, publication and website design, and excellence in publishing and web development.
Transcript Begins:EPISODE 224
[00:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people, and the ups and downs of risk taking.
[00:00:26] ANNOUNCER: Today's Up in Your Business episode with Kerry McCoy will feature two different guests, and they have some things in common. We're going to let Kerry introduce you to both of them. Guest number one.
[00:00:38] KM: Is Ms. Olivia Farrell, the self-taught publisher and CEO of the award-winning weekly journal, Arkansas Business. Under Olivia’s leadership, this business journal that she cofounded in 1984 grew to become a publishing conglomerate of roughly 30 title publications across two states. To better represent her expanding business, Olivia broadened the company name to Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Under this diverse business model, she grew the company revenues from 100 – Are you ready? To $8 million and over 70 employees. Last year, Ms. Farrell did what I know must have been hard and sold her baby, Arkansas Business Publishing Group, to her savvy employee and maybe her biggest fan, Mitch Bettis. Together they share the business ethics of a family friendly workplace, honorable business relationships, factual reporting and service to others. Speaking to that, Olivia in 1998 cofounded with Ms. Pat Lyle the Arkansas Women’s Foundation, which works to ensure economic security for Arkansas women and girls.
Today we’re going to hear Ms. Ferrell’s story, a single mom with two children who broke rules and glass ceilings, first, by appearing on the 1977 Arkansas Times Magazine cover, living it up in high-style edition with a lit joint to becoming CEO and owner of Arkansas Business Publishing Group.
[00:02:15] ANNOUNCER: Olivia Farrell is guest number one on today's program. Who's guest number two? Alan Leveritt.
[00:02:22] KM: Who, in 1974, with a few friends, launched the Arkansas Times, an alternative monthly magazine about political and cultural news in Arkansas following the 13-year war between the two newspapers; Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, which resulted in the closing of the Gazette in 1991 and the renaming of Democrat to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Alan said, and I quote, “We wanted to keep the Gazette’s voice alive in the community.” And last but not least, when Alan is not trying to change the world, he is a second-generation former or third?
[00:02:59] AL: Third.
[00:03:00] KM: Third-generation farmer. I read you started your media career in college. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:03:06] AL: Well, actually, I started a newspaper at North Little Rock High School called Essence, and I was actually a conservative activist, a conservative political activist in high school. I came from a very conservative family politically and was active in Young Americans for Freedom. I started Essence in high school, my senior year and then took it to college with me, and it was a libertarian independent student newspaper.
[00:03:29] KM: That’s not conservative.
[00:03:30] AL: It is, actually.
[00:03:32] KM: Libertarian is conservative? What’s the definition of that?
[00:03:34] AL: Well, libertarians believe in very, very limited government, and so they want to keep their government out of your pocketbook. They also want to keep the government out of your bedroom.
[00:03:45] KM: I agree with that.
[00:03:45] AL: I respect libertarians the way I respect the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with their stance on abortion, but it’s very, very consistent with their pro-life stance on the death penalty. I respect the Catholic Church, because even though I disagree on abortion, they are very, very consistent in their pro-life. Not like many evangelical conservatives who say, “Well, we’re pro-life when it comes to abortion,” but were they all for the death penalty?
[00:04:12] KM: Oh! I never thought about that.
[00:04:14] AL: Libertarians are the same way. Whereas a social conservative is they want to get the government out of your pocket, but they would have put the government back in your bedroom. Libertarians are very consistent in saying that as little government as possible.
[00:04:26] KM: I’ve never thought about either of those issues. After you got out of college, you started another newspaper.
[00:04:33] AL: Jim Bale, the owner of Publishers Bookshop gave me $200. I asked him if he wanted to buy stuff. He said, “How much you looking for?” I said, “What do you got?” He says, “I’ll give you $200.” I said, “Great.” I’d been down to park and printing company and they’d want me to blank stock certificates off, fills it out, gave it to him and he gave me $200. Found out years later he had written down this as a checkbook donation because he never expected to see the $200 again.
[00:04:57] KM: That newspaper was called?
[00:04:58] AL: Union Station Times.
[00:04:59] KM: That’s right.
[00:05:00] AL: And which eventually morphed into Arkansas Times, because we realized we couldn’t make a living as the neighborhood newspaper and we were down at this little railroad house down the 2nd Street, about the train station, Union Station. David and I lived in the back and then we’d put out the — Our volunteer staff put out the —
[00:05:16] KM: Was it conservative?
[00:05:17] AL: No, it was moving on a more liberal direction. It mainly was focused — It wasn’t so political. It was really focused on investing and importing. We weren’t near as peggable if you will. Although I remember Siebert Distributing, they were the magazine distributor here in Little Rock back then. Mr. Siebert decided we were communist. Where he came up with that. He said we were communist and so he wouldn’t distribute us, so that’s when we started having to put out boxes and come up with all kinds of ways to get the newspaper at people’s houses.
[00:05:49] KM: And that Union Station Newspaper, that was investigative reporting morphed into the Arkansas Times today.
[00:05:56] AL: Right. It became Union Station Times and Arkansas as Union Station Times.
[00:05:59] ANNOUNCER: In the beginning of that profile of Alan Leveritt, you may have heard him mentioned that he started his journalism career in North Little Rock High School with a newspaper. That seems to be a good place to start with Olivia Farrell, her education.
[00:06:14] KM: In one article, I read – And I don’t know which is right. I read you’re a political science major. And then in another, I read you are a bachelor’s degree in history and English. So, which is it?
[00:06:23] OF: Well, I was a political science major and then I decided, “You know, finishing college is going to be hard,” and I love to read. So why don’t I finish up with my English literature degree? And it just ended up that I had enough credit to get also a history. So, it really was English and history.
[00:06:41] KM: Oh. You’re everything. Just everything.
[00:06:43] OF: Yeah.
[00:06:44] KM: Nowhere did I read that you studied journalism. What were your plans when you were –
[00:06:48] OF: I didn’t.
[00:06:49] KM: What did you think you were going to be when you grow up?
[00:06:51] OF: Yeah, okay. This is really embarrassing. But I thought when I was leaving Europe. I went to school in Europe for a while. I thought, “Gosh! What do I want to be when I finish school? Do I want to work in a book store or a record shop?” Because that’s such a hard choice at the time. This was ’77 or something like that. Yeah, those were my great aspirations at that point in time.
Then it was just to get a job after I finished school. And Alan Leveritt, who at that time had started the Arkansas Times tricked me into coming to work for him. He was my neighbor in a quadruplex. We lived Quapaw Quarter. And he kind of tricked me into coming to work with him at the Arkansas Times, and I made the fourth person on the team. There were four of us in 1978. And I fell in love with the business. Just fell in love with publishing, everything about it.
[00:07:45] KM: He didn’t just tricked you into working there. He asked you to come on the cover of a very controversial cover. You weren’t even working for him when that happened, were you?
[00:07:53] OF: No. No. I was his neighbor.
[00:07:58] KM: You’re living in downtown Little Rock.
[00:07:59] OF: Yes, upstairs from his – He and his girlfriend. And he said, “I’ve got this cover. I want to actually do some smoking a joint. Would you mind?” Because I’m the neighbor upstairs, I said, “Sure, that’d be great.”
[00:08:13] KM: You didn’t think I’m going to get arrested. I mean, it’s 1977. People were going to jail for stuff like that.
[00:08:17] OF: No. And this is what’s really funny, Kerry. My mother was so proud of that, that she had it now on her coffee table. She’s in brand. Can you imagine?
[00:08:30] GM: I love that so much.
[00:08:33] OF: Yeah, I thought – So a little concerned about that. But no, she was – That’s my daughter. Here.
[00:08:41] KM: I love your mother who’s still alive. Shout out to mom, if you’re listening. What was the article about? It’s called Living it Up in High Style was the name of the cover that you were on. So what was the article about?
[00:08:53] OF: Well, in ’78, that was at the height of the conception of marijuana, certainly. And what the article focused on was the fact that it was within high society, if you will, that the wealthy and the rich were protecting. It wasn’t just a youth drug, but that it actually made its way into the upper echelons of society.
[00:09:17] KM: Oh, living it up high. Living it up in high style. I see. So I heard your editor was Bill Terry, because Alan Leveritt was not the editor.
[00:09:27] OF: No. He was the publisher.
[00:09:29] KM: And so, the editor I heard was a little upset that he did that, or did he know that y’all were going to do that cover?
[00:09:35] OF: No. He did. What he was concerned about was he was scared to death that I was going to get stoned while we were shooting the cover, because it was a live reefer.
[00:09:42] KM: So, you’re smoking.
[00:09:43] OF: Yeah. No, I wasn’t. It was lit. I wasn’t inhaling. But he was very nervous. Every time we would do some shots, he would take it away from me, because he was afraid I’d get stoned while we were shooting. That was his only concern, I think. Yeah.
[00:10:02] KM: So didn’t you – I read where you wanted to go into the foreign services aspiration.
[00:10:06] OF: No. Actually, I’ve forgotten about that. Thank you for reminding me. As I mentioned earlier, I have lost half my brain. Yeah, because of my time in Europe, yeah. After that time, I decided the foreign service would be the coolest thing to do. And my father said, “Well, you can’t go off to DC.” At the time, this was June of ’78. And you could only take the foreign service exam in December of every year. And he said, “You have to save $5,000 before you can move to DC.” And so that’s why I started the job. I remember now. I’ve forgotten that. Started the job at Arkansas Times.
[00:10:43] KM: But you also fell in love with publishing at the same time.
[00:10:44] OF: Oh, I did. I did. No. As soon as I started working there, I have to say I hated advertising sales. But I got really good at it, because we needed the revenue to do the rest of it. But I loved the publishing business. I loved all the people in the publishing industry. I loved the writers and the designers. And I love print. I loved reading. Arkansas Times at that time was so devoted to having really good quality writers from around the state, and we at that time had just a lot of really great ones, wonderful writing. Actually, we’re doing investigative reporting. Very important investigative reporting at that time. So it was a thrill. It was a thrill. And I loved the people. I just love the people in the publishing industry.
[00:11:35] ANNOUNCER: You just heard Olivia Farrell comment on the quality of the writers at the Arkansas times. That stays true today. As Alan Leveritt points out, the top of the heap.
[00:11:47] AL: Max Brantley with the Arkansas Blog, arkansastimes.com, his blog is he’ll do 20 post a day.
[00:11:54] KM: What?
[00:11:55] AL: Yeah. He’ll be sitting there watching the loud feed of legislature on the debates and everything, plus he knows where everybody is buried in the State of Arkansas. So, he can bring that 50 years of experience as a working journalist his knowledge with the legislature and technology and deliver really good insightful reports.
[00:12:16] KM: Does anybody else do that? Do blogs, 20 blogs a day from the legislature? Is he the only one?
[00:12:20] AL: No one’s doing that right now in this market and no one does it as persistently as Max does.
[00:12:26] KM: That’s wonderful.
[00:12:28] AL: Yeah, so it’s really good. If you’re interested in breaking news and breaking news from a really, really informed left-center perspective, Max at arkansastimes.com, the Arkansas Blog is the place to go.
[00:12:40] KM: Is that free to be on the Arkansas Times?
[00:12:41] AL: Everything at the Arkansas Times is free except the Arkansas Blog, and the Arkansas Blog is a meter, it has a metered pay wall. You can go there 10 times a month free of charge, and then we cut you off. Because we try to always deliver to doors and as you said, technology is changing. We are trying to find new advertising revenues and new revenue streams and what we found is that we need to be —
[00:13:08] KM: You need money.
[00:13:10] AL: We need money, yeah.
[00:13:11] KM: Technology is expensive.
[00:13:12] AL: People are expensive. People like Max who have the experience and the knowledge and the knowhow, I’ve got to pay them. Readers have got to step up and help pay that bill too not just advertisers anymore.
[00:13:25] KM: Yeah. The Arkansas Times is free. It’s everywhere. You can pick it up everywhere. You can’t make money off of that. It’s not like the newspaper where you have a subscription. There’s no subscription.
[00:13:33] AL: In the Arkansas Times, we joke internally. We’re aspirationally profitable. The Arkansas Times sells advertising. We sell a lot of advertising. Plus, we do other things. Like you said, El Latino, we do Arkansas Wile Magazine, which is eight times a year. It’s a statewide. We do two bike magazines a year, four Arkansas Wild Magazines a year. We do Paddle Magazine once a year. We have a lot of things.
[00:13:57] KM: How many employees do you have?
[00:13:57] AL: We have 35.
[00:13:59] KM: How many freelance people do you have?
[00:14:01] AL: A few. We use some freelance. We rely on — On the Arkansas Times, we’re probably 80% staff-written. We’ve got seven full-time staff members at the Times. This has been a rough time for newspaper all over the United States. The Democrats has had a layoff — Gosh! I don’t know, 15, 20 reporters since January. We have been able to avoid that, but it’s been very, very difficult.
[00:14:26] KM: Alan, the Arkansas Gazette, I read when I was doing the research for you, started in 1819 in Arkansas before it was even a state. I had no idea. When it folded in 1991, its assets were purchased by the then Democrat Newspaper. What did you think about all that, because you were already in business?
[00:14:45] AL: My second job was writing weekend obituaries at the Arkansas Democrat. I could barely type. My third job was being the weekend obituary writer at the Arkansas Gazette a year later. I worked at both papers and that’s the lowest of the lowest entry level jobs. Not only to be the obit writer, but to be weekend obit writer. I knew that the Gazette was by far the best paper in terms of reporting, in terms of journalism. Had a sorry business office. There was nothing but order takers, but want a salesman in amongst them.
[00:15:26] KM: And you know, they were — The Democrat was only quarter of the size of customers as the Gazette had.
[00:15:26] AL: Right, but you had a very, very dedicated publisher. You had a young guy that a very, very deep pockets for this family.
[00:15:40] KM: Are you talking about Mr. Husman?
[00:15:41] AL: Yes. He was young then. He had very deep pockets. His family had been doing cable television for years and years. He was able to just out-lose the Gazette. And when the owners of the Gazette sold out to Gannett, we had thought, “That’s the end of the Democrat.” What we didn’t realize is that for Gannett, this was a business decision. How many millions of dollars they were going to lose? They had to answer to stockholders.
For Mr. Husman, it was a lifestyle decision. Do you want to be a publisher of the daily newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas? That’s a life and that’s hard to put a value on. Evidently, he put a greater value on it than Gannett and their stockholders did. Ultimately, they walked and he took over.
I would tell you, I think the Democrat today is a very good newspaper and we’re lucky to have a local owner. You see some of the sorriest papers in the world in some cities much larger than ours because their daily papers, business is tough. You don’t have a publisher that commit personal resources to keep that paper alive and keep it doing what it ought to be doing for its community, and I think the Democrat does that.
[00:16:55] KM: We are lucky to have a local owner for our newspaper and it’s not some big corporation in New York that’s running it.
[00:17:00] AL: Exactly.
[00:17:02] KM: When I read about how good Walter Husman and what a great business man he was and how competitive he was and how he just was not going to fold. When his subscribers were low, he went to the Gazette and said, “Do you want to buy my paper?” They said, “No.” 13 years later, they’re folding and he’s buying their assets for probably 10 cents on the dollar.
[00:17:25] AL: I’m sure it’s frustrating thought because when he took that over, basically he had a printing press for money. When he was able to finally win that newspaper war and wasn’t five or six years later, the bottom fell out of the newspaper business. I’m sure he’s made it back. I’m not worried about Walter.
[00:17:39] KM: And Arkansas Gazette is one of the newspapers that is solvent across America. When everybody was not, it was solvent and it’s sometimes used as an example of how to do business.
[00:17:49] AL: The Arkansas Gazette? Oh! It was wildly profitable.
[00:17:54] ANNOUNCER: And when references are made to a wildly profitable newspaper, that means advertising sales. And that's where we find Olivia Farrell and Alan Leveritt intersecting.
[00:18:05] KM: So, you’ve met Alan Leveritt. You’re selling – And he’s just charming. He’s hard not to do anything that Alan told you to do. You’re like, “Kerry, go jump off the cliff.” “Okay. Whatever you say, Alan.” So he’s talked you into being on the cover of this magazine with very controversial ad of you smoking a marijuana cigarette. And now you’re selling ads for the Arkansas Times. And within one short year, you are hooked on the business of publishing and you’re a part of the Arkansas Writers Project. What is the Arkansas Writers Project?
[00:18:36] OF: At that time the Arkansas Writers Project was primarily the Arkansas Times. It was –
[00:18:44] KM: A division?
[00:18:45] OF: No. It was a sub-core of Arkansas Writers Project. Arkansas Writers Project was a corporation, and actually Arkansas Times was a product, if you will, of the corporation.
[00:18:58] KM: Oh, I see. Okay.
[00:19:00] OF: Yeah. And I’m trying to remember when we started branching into other publications. It was pretty quickly, like within a few years. I think our first special publication was to do a Newcomers’s guide with the Chamber of Commerce. And what we found was it was very hard to make money at the Arkansas Times. And I’ve discovered after doing some analysis, is that if chickens could read in Arkansas, we could have done a great business in the magazine.
[00:19:35] KM: Because there were a lot of chickens.
[00:19:36] OF: Yes, and there just weren’t enough readers. Our saturation of the market was comparable to our peers. But they’re just weren’t enough people, yeah, to make it work. Then when we launched into these ancillary publications, they were incredibly profitable.
[00:19:53] KM: Niche markets.
[00:19:55] OF: Yes, exactly. Yes. So, in this case, a new comer publication, we started. I think our next one was a publication for the Chamber of Commerce, their annual publication. We reached off into – Actually, I’m remember now that we’re so successful with the Newcomer’s guide that we did one in El Dorado, which was a big defense contractor, Territory. I don’t know if you remember that back in the early 80s. They’re a huge defense contracting manufactures down there. So, they had a lot of Newcomer’s. We did one in Fayetteville. We actually did one in Austin Texas and one in Raleigh, North Carolina.
[00:20:39] KM: Newcomer publications done by the Arkansas Writers Project, who is also publishing the Arkansas Times.
[00:20:46] OF: That’s right.
[00:20:48] KM: And then they decided to start publishing the Arkansas Business Journal?
[00:20:50] OF: That was in 1984. And what happened to us then was a young man – No. Let me digress and say we did a publication that was focused on the companies in Arkansas were tops in their field nationally who was an incredible publication, really fascinating. Who knew that the biggest manufacturer of rabbit feet is an Arkansan.
[00:21:16] KM: A rabbit what?
[00:21:17] OF: Rabbit feet. Yes.
[00:21:19] KM: What? Lucky rabbit feet?
[00:21:22] GM: We used to be one of the biggest rabbit producers in the country, Arkansas.
[00:21:26] KM: Were we?
[00:21:26] GM: Yeah, used to be. Yeah.
[00:21:28] OF: Yeah. There were a lot of feet available. But it was from both manufacturers to rice production. It was just this phenomenal – When we got in and started digging around the state, phenomenal collection of businesses who were tops in their field national and internationally. And that was a wildly successful publication. We knew immediately there’s something here doing this focus on business. And about that time, a young man named Dan Owens came to us and said, “I want to start a business, Arkansas Business Publication.” And we said, “We do too.” We joined forces and launched Arkansas Business in 1984. Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
[00:22:10] KM: You were already an owner of the Arkansas Writers Project.
[00:22:14] OF: Yes. I became an owner in 1982. I bought out. At that time, there are probably – In that Arkansas Writers Project, there were probably I’m going to say 25 stock holders. This is kind of interesting. Most of the stock holders were employees who had worked for nothing. And as a way to show gratitude, Alan went to the office supply store and bought the prettiest stock holder certificates he could find and gave those people stock, which they never thought would be worth anything. And just to jump forward really quickly. When I sold the Arkansas Publishing Group –
[00:22:57] KM: Last year.
[00:22:57] OF: Yeah. These people made huge bucks.
[00:23:01] KM: Oh! You’re kidding.
[00:23:02] OF: No. They did. They did. Now, at that time, moving back to 1982, there were three major stock holders at that time. We had two classes of stock, but there were three major stockholders who really had control of the company. And I bought one of them out. A few years later, Alen and I bought out the third gentleman so that he and I were the primary stock holders. And then you had all these ex-employees, these early employees who had worked for nothing holding the rest of the stock.
[00:23:33] KM: Holding stock certificates.
[00:23:35] OF: Yes.
[00:23:36] KM: That they held forever.
[00:23:37] OF: Yes. And so then 40 years later.
[00:23:41] KM: Yeah, 4 decades later.
[00:23:42] OF: They get them a little windfall.
[00:23:45] KM: I love that. You’re a great guest.
[00:23:47] OF: Is that incredible? I’ll tell you what. One thing that was really funny was a previous employee who had actually purchased additional stock, and unfortunately he passed away, but his wife when she received the proceeds wrote me and she said, “I’m so grateful. Thank you so much. You’re so kind to do this.” I said, “Darling, your husband did this. I didn’t do this. Your husband invested in this stock.” And yeah, I she got like $70,000.
[00:24:15] KM: Wow! So how many hats did you wear in the beginning part of the Arkansas Writers Project? You sold ads.
[00:24:22] OF: Sold ads. I then would produce the ads that I sold. So I had to do at that time the photography. We had a photographer, but designing, styling, shooting and writing the copy, designing, laying out the copy, producing the ads. Then go and proof the press run. When it comes off the press, we took turns –
[00:24:48] KM: Because it’s offset printing back then.
[00:24:50] OF: Right. Yes. Exactly. And then when it was time for the magazines to be distributed, we all took our share and went and distributed it.
[00:24:57] KM: Oh my gosh!
[00:24:59] OF: Yeah.
[00:25:01] KM: So, it says you bought your partner out in 1995 though. So, was that Alan Leveritt?
[00:25:07] OF: And it wasn’t that I bought him out. That’s not correct. We split the company into two separate companies so that we could operate independently.
[00:25:21] KM: So he took Arkansas Times and you took Arkansas Business.
[00:25:25] OF: Yes, and a group with the special publications.
[00:25:28] KM: And at the time – It’s what I was going to say. So at the time in 1995, how many special publications were there?
[00:25:35] OF: I think there were 6.
[00:25:36] KM: And he took some of them. Or did he just take Arkansas Times?
[00:25:39] OF: No. I think 6 was what we had. 6 special pubs, but I also took Little Rock Family with me and Arkansas Business.
[00:25:50] KM: So, for everybody to know, some of the titles you publish, which everybody knows these magazines, but they may not realize they all come from the Arkansas Business Publishing Group – Soiree, Arkansas Bride, Little Rock Family, Arkansas Next.
[00:26:06] OF: That’s well-known in high schools. It’s a terrific magazine that addresses the information that you need to decide what you’re going to do after you finish high school. And that was really important when we launched that, because there were such a brain drain in Arkansas. And we needed –
[00:26:26] KM: What do you mean by that?
[00:26:28] OF: Where our best and our brightest were leaving the state and going to school elsewhere. We created a publication that really highlighted all of the opportunities within the state in the hopes of maintaining some of that power and potential here within the state. And we have since – Or they have started before I left. It branched off into a section called Pros that is fantastic. I probably shouldn’t be going on about this, but I like it so much. There’s a dearth of people going into the trades, just a dearth. Like the average age of the electrician –
[00:27:04] KM: Nobody uses that word, dearth.
[00:27:07] GM: I love it.
[00:27:08] KM: So, dearth of people going into trades. Okay, go ahead.
[00:27:11] OF: Yeah. There is. I was going to say that the average age of our plumbers and our electricians are 55 and 65 and young people – I think we went through a crazy time where we were high on four-year college and really didn’t really sort of diminished the trades, and trade schools, and all of that. It’s a big mistake.
This young woman who I adore, Rachel. Her name is – Her maiden name was Bradberry. It escaped me. But this brilliant young woman actually was the publisher for this pros, and she did this great sexy shots of welders, and plumbers, and lawn men, and women too. I didn’t mean to be all excited, but good looking men.
[00:28:00] KM: That’s okay. But those guys do look – Those strong looking young guys do look good.
[00:28:05] OF: Right? With all the information about what it takes to do it, what they make, what their jobs were like. Just an incredible, sexy publication about going into the trades, which I kind of been hammering on my daughter and her boyfriend about going to auto mechanics.
[00:28:24] KM: There’s not enough engineers either out there.
[00:28:26] OF: No. But engineers require –
[00:28:28] KM: A degree.
[00:28:29] OF: Yeah.
[00:28:30] KM: So, when did this one come out? What’s it called? What’s the name of the –
[00:28:33] OF: Pros. It’s part of Next. So, it goes to the same high school students.
[00:28:36] KM: Oh, I see.
[00:28:38] OF: But it’s a way to say, “Look –”
[00:28:40] KM: You don’t have to go to college. You can go do this. Well, I tried to talk all my kids out of going to college, which is why everyone of them went and got a four-year degree.
[00:28:47] OF: Right. So, you do have to pay for it. Yes.
[00:28:49] ANNOUNCER: This is a good time to take a break. As we profile a couple of real big names in Arkansas publishing, Olivia Farrell and Alan Leveritt, on today's Up in Your Business program with Kerry McCoy. We'll be right back.
[00:29:03] GM: You're listening to up in your business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed. Starting from door-to-door sales, then telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales. And now, flagandbanner.com relies heavily on the internet, and live chats with customers all over the world. Today, she has branched out into podcasts, Facebook livestream, and YouTube videos of this radio show.
Each week, you'll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you'll find interesting and inspiring. Stay up to date by joining flagandbanner.com’s mailing list. You'll receive our watercooler weekly eblast that notifies you of our upcoming guests, happenings at Dreamland Ballroom, sales at flagandbanner.com, access to brave magazine articles, and Kerry's current blog post. All that in one weekly email. Or you may simply like flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page for timely notifications.
[00:30:06] ANNOUNCER: It's the time of year to splash your home with as much red white and blue as possible. The patriotic season in the USA runs from Memorial Day all the way through Labor Day. And this year, you'll want to do it more proudly than ever before. Whether you're honoring frontline essential workers, first responders, or just the fact that you're thankful to be in American, the flag and banner.com has everything you need to string pennants around the porch, hang full fans from windows, wrapped columns in fabric, and top it all off with an American flag flying high. We also have answers to all your display questions on our website, too. Flagandbanner.com.
[00:30:45] GM: All UIYB past and present interviews are available at Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy's YouTube channel, Facebook page, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s digital version, flagandbanner.com’s website, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just ask your smart speaker to play Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. And by subscribing to our YouTube channel or flagandbanner.com’s email list, you will receive prior notification of that day's guest.
[00:31:12] ANNOUNCER: Let's get back to this episode of Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, featuring a couple of great names in Arkansas publishing, Alan Leveritt and Olivia Farrell.
[00:31:21] KM: We had a question during the break, and it is; with so many people getting their news online, is it hard to be competitive while keeping quality content?
[00:31:32] AL: Well, first of all, we publish arkansastimes.com, which had 450,000 unique visitors last month according to Google. It’s the first or second largest news site in the state. We have tremendous traffic there. We put a lot of resources into it. Max is there with the Arkansas Blog doing break news and perspective all day.
[00:31:53] KM: There’s only Arkansas News too, right?
[00:31:54] AL: Yeah, it’s primary Arkansas. I’ll tell you, I have a subscription to the New York Times, it comes every day, the newspaper. Also, I subscribe to the New York Times website. I will read — During the day when I get a moment, I’ll check and see what’s going on and I’ll read a little bit of the New York Times website. Then at lunch, I will take my newspaper by myself and I’ll sit down and I’ll read the newspaper. I realize there’s so much that I miss just from almost a technical point of view, looking at that website not being able to turn the page and see a story. It’s hard to find stories on the web. Even on a good website, like the New York Times.
I get so much more from sitting there and reading my newspaper, but I also read the New York Times. I always find there’s plenty of stuff that I miss that I can sit down at lunch time and spend an hour.
[00:32:45] KM: It’s hard to navigate websites, because an ad will come up and you’ll shoot off in another direction.
[00:32:50] AL: Yeah.
[00:32:50] KM: People put a lot of thought into actually the print of the newspaper, what stories go together and how it flows. You can’t really see that on a website as well.
[00:32:58] AL: Yeah, sometimes the webs makes you have the attention span of a squirrel and you’re just bounding all over the place. Also, I think for long form journalism print is far superior. It’s hard to sit there and read a 3,000-word story online. Just very, very seldom happens, whereas you could sit there with a magazine or a newspaper and if the story is engaging and the design is engaging you very likely will get through it.
[00:33:25] KM: And I feel smart when I’m reading a newspaper. I don’t necessarily feel smart when I’m read — Although I read on a Kindle, but I do feel smart when I’m holding a book and I don’t know why. That kind of leads us into the next question. What do you see for the future of American journalism and news reporting?
[00:33:38] AL: I think that in my lifetime, newspaper or print is going to continue. I don’t think I really have any great insights on where journalism is going. People want news.
[00:33:46] KM: We’ve already said that print is not out. We’d both agree on that.
[00:33:49] AL: Yeah. Whatever form, whatever technology, does or doesn’t bring us, people are still going to want news. One of the things that I find interesting is a lot of people — Sometimes you’d go to a particularly small business people and they’ll say, “We’re doing all of our promoting on social media; Facebook, Twitter, and that sort of thing.”
It’s so interesting. Here you have a platform that has been so discredited. You can look at the presidential election, fake news, all the stuff, all the incredible untruths that have shown up on Facebook and all these different sites; the Pope endorses Trump and all these kind of stuff. If a newspaper did that, no one would read it. They would not trust it, or a magazine, or TV news or whatever.
Yet, people who are operating a credible business who know that trust is an integral part of their relationship with their customers, they’re relying on a platform that has real credibility problems, which social media has developed. And I think Zuckerberg is absolutely aware of this, that they have got to do something to get control of the garbage that is showing up on social media, because otherwise people are not going to want to advertise on it.
And I was talking to a friend of mine who publish Memphis Flyer and he was with some bankers in Memphis the other day and they were moving their budget back into this newspaper because they said, “Look, we’re a bank. We’ve got to have credibility. After this presidential election and what’s been on social media, we don’t want our bank and our advertising associate. We don’t know where our ads are going to show up on, but they’re going to be next to.”
They’re wanting something that’s curated, and that’s what newspapers and magazines do, is they deliver curated news that you have someone with a brain and who knows the difference between blatant untruths and truth and they’ve done their best to —
[00:35:46] KM: That’s a great advertising tip for people out there. A lot of people feel like they’re being pressured to do Facebook advertising and to do internet advertising, but you just gave some great advice.
[00:35:56] AL: You have no control. Your ad could be sitting next to porn. Your ad could be sitting next to some troll from Russia. My Lord! You go through all of this effort to keep control of your message, your company’s image and you’re going to put it up on Facebook. Are you crazy?
[00:36:13] ANNOUNCER: Along those same line, here's some interesting comments from Olivia Ferrell on how online reading and the Internet affected the culture of the company that she built.
[00:36:24] KM: So, you describe the company you built.
[00:36:27] OF: The culture?
[00:36:28] KM: Yeah. That’s a good one.
[00:36:30] OF: Yeah. I appreciate that question, because I feel really strongly about this, and it’s idea that’s getting a lot more traction. And I think it’s going to be imperative going forward and facing sort of the inequities that we’re up against right now. For me, it was never just about the stockholders. It was never – I always felt like the company to succeed needed to care equally about the employees who work there and their well-being. Certainly, our customers, the readers, and the advertisers who sometimes were at odds with each other, making sure that we took care of them, taking care of our vendors.
A lot of people, a lot of very successful businesses thrive on the idea that you squeeze everything you can out of your vendors until some of them go broke. And I preferred to do business with people who I want you to make money. I want me to make money. I want us to be a good partnership. And then we help each other out. If there’s a problem, we’ve made mistakes and had to reprint entire publications and they’ll do it at their cost. There’ve been many instances where our vendors have saved us. And I just think it’s imperative you have a good relationship there. And then certainly, the stockholders. I care about them. I was the biggest one. I did care about that. But that wasn’t the only thing.
And I’m hearing more and more now, and corporations are really embracing this idea of we have a responsibility to move than just our stockholders. And I’m concerned that part of what has created this inequity was the idea that we’re only here for the stockholders. And I remember getting to an argument with a pervious stockholder who was a Harvard Business grad who was an adherent of you’re only responsibility is to your stockholder. And to me, that was just so wrong for your community, for the health of your company. And I do think one of the reasons that we thrived in particular is the newspaper business declined precipitously with the advent of the internet. Our business did not. We continued to thrive. And I give a lot of that credit to the quality of the people that we had there. The motivation to do really good quality products. The relationships with our advertisers and in our vendors and in the community. I think that was really part of our success.
[00:39:11] KM: When I go to sell, because I have a magazine too. When I go to sell Brave Magazine to an advertising agency, first thing out of their mouth is – Because I believe in print. And I believe that people like to go to the mailbox and get a good magazine and go sit on their couch and read it. If you looked around my house, there are a million publications laying around.
[00:39:32] OF: Sure.
[00:39:34] KM: We’re on the Internet. We’re on our laptops all day. But when I go to an ad agency and I say, “Buy an ad for this. These are the people it’s going to go to,” and I give them the demographics of it. They say, “Well, I can’t measure it.” How did Arkansas Business counters that? I mean, you could see a Google click and you go, “Well, you’ve got a 3.1 ROI return on that.”
[00:40:00] OF: Yeah. Well, clicks certainly are meaningless. But they are.
[00:40:06] KM: The clicks are.
[00:40:07] GM: Tell like it is.
[00:40:09] OF: It is. At the end of the day, what kind of engagement did you get and did you actually sell something? And unfortunately, so many people don’t look at what the return on investment is where it is much more quantifiable on the internet. We compensated for that by knowing very precisely who our audience was. So, we spent a lot of money on research to be able to say, “This is exactly who you’re going to reach.” We used testimonials to talk about that. We used testimonials to talk about that. We used mathematics to quantify. Again, from research, what the reach is, what the penetration is.
One thing that I like to say people in the older days talked about cost per thousand CPM. In the same way that ROI and internet is important, I talked about cost per effect of reach. What’s it really costing you to reach the person who really can be a potential buyer? And so, we use those kind of mechanisms to offset our ability to have a direct response that we could measure and say, “Here’s your ROI.”
[00:41:11] ANNOUNCER: One more broad historical perspective from Alan Leveritt of the Arkansas times that takes the inspiration for the weekly newspaper back 64 years.
[00:41:22] AL: If you’d go back to 1957 integration crisis, what saved Little Rock, in my opinion, in terms of sort of the soul of Little Rock was while the community and the Arkansas Democrat basically had turned themselves over to the mob, the Arkansas Gazette took a very principled stand, went to a very, very difficult advertiser boycott and said, “Basically, we need to follow the law here, law land disintegration. We need to integrate central high school.
For that reason, all the banks, the retailers, the department stores, all walked out on the Gazette. They lost a million dollars that year. That was when a million dollars was a million dollars. The Gazette won the admiration of most of the journalist of the nation that time because the family is willing to take that hit.
And so, when that newspaper was shutting down and its assets were being taken over by the old segregation, this afternoon paper that was the Democrat, or that was their heritage. It was a very conservative paper. I just felt like we needed to keep that voice here in the community, and so I went out, and Mara Leveritt, my wife at the time, she said, “Why don’t we take the magazine and turn it into a weekly newspaper?” I looked at her and I said, “That’s a great idea.”
I raised $680,000 from 22 business people here in the community and we took the monthly Arkansas Times Magazine to weekly and hired the senior staff of the Arkansas Gazette as they were hitting the street.
[00:42:51] KM: So, you gave people jobs.
[00:42:53] AL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we didn’t give everybody a job, but we gave —
[00:42:56] KM: The best.
[00:42:57] AL: Gave a lot of people. George Fisher came to work for us and Ernie Dumas and Max Brantley and a lot of people, yeah.
[00:43:03] KM: I bet that was a really exciting time in your life.
[00:43:05] AL: That’s still exciting.
[00:43:06] ANNOUNCER: One of the best aspects of programs like this, where you get to revisit long, successful careers with guests, is the perspective that it gives them decades in a business will really make you think about how things happened the way they did. Here's Olivia Farrell.
[00:43:24] KM: You never felt gender mattered in your career.
[00:43:27] OF: Let me say it did matter, but I just went on anyway. And I was fortunate, because I was raised by a father who really expected me to be able to do anything I wanted. He kind of raised me like his only son, see? And that’s why we both were fearless about going into whatever field of endeavor we wanted.
[00:43:49] KM: You’re Mulan.
[00:43:50] OF: Yeah. Yeah. I love Mulan. But that well I’m going to take it on. Yeah. I was the only woman in the room for the first half of my career over and over and over and over again. It just didn’t bother me. I just said I guess I did from a very early age want to be better than any other guys. Because I was defensive about being a woman in the way you and I socialize. I don’t know if it’s better for Gray. But the way we socialized, we were second-class citizens. And I just didn’t accept it.
[00:44:27] KM: I never felt like it was a handicap though. I felt like I was the only girl in the room, but I never felt I was a handicap. I was there on value. Because I deserved to be there.
[00:44:40] OF: Yes, that I do have to conceive that I would often times for the man as the face of my company.
[00:44:48] KM: Well, they don’t get pregnant and have to go out on maternity leave.
[00:44:52] OF: Well, that shouldn’t matter. I mean, do we not want to propagate the earth? I mean, that’s part of life. I’ll tell you, the other thing, this is when I first started this special pubs or special publications unit, those niche publications that were so wildly profitable, I hired only single mothers, and they were the hardest working, most effective employees in the company, because they had to get their stuff done. There was no lollygagging around. They had to get it done. They had to support their children, and they were ace employees and built this phenomenal division within my company.
[00:45:29] KM: And task-oriented, multi-taskers. Gray, don’t you think there’re more women in Arkansas Flag & Banner than men?
[00:45:35] GM: There are certainly more women at the table, literally, at the big table.
[00:45:40] KM: At the management table.
[00:45:41] OF: Yeah, that’s great. I love that.
[00:45:42] KM: So, the changes you saw during your nearly 40-year reign, what were they besides – I mean, I’m sure you went from offset printing to digital printing.
[00:45:53] OF: No. No. We continued to be offset.
[00:45:56] KM: Are you still offset printing? No. Digital printing? You know, offset printing is where they make those plates, “Tsh-tsh-tsh.”
[00:46:04] OF: Yeah, I’m pretty sure. If you see how removed I am.
[00:46:06] KM: Girl, you’ve been out of it too long.
[00:46:10] GM: It doesn’t take long.
[00:46:14] KM: It’s gone. It’s a good thing you sold that business.
[00:46:18] OF: You’re kidding. They’re so much better off. No. First of all, it’s just that we were so poor and had to do everything. So, going from – We were just kids. I mean, I was 23, Leveritt was 26. The median age of our company was 23-years-old in the beginning. And then growing into a healthy mature professional company – Again, going from where each of us had to do everything to a really professional group with fabulous talented people and really great products. It was like a dream come true.
[00:46:59] KM: How did the .com business not just take you down like it did everybody else?
[00:47:05] OF: Part of it was that we weren’t competing with them. Think about it. The Internet is not very local. Now you’re doing local things, and there are more and more local things coming up. But where the daily newspapers were completely threatened by their ability to do 24/7 news and the newspapers inability to do that. The internet was providing local information. So they weren’t competing with me. And at the same time, very early on, we invested in digital technology and had digitalarkansasbusiness.com and took all of our publications. Have a digital component. And then also we do digital marketing, or they do. Sorry. I trip on that all the time, Kerry. The digital marketing side of Arkansas Business has been the fastest growing area of the business.
[00:47:56] KM: Do you have to have a subscription or subscription to get into the website for the Arkansas Business website? It’s not free. You can’t just go there.
[00:48:04] OF: No. You can have I think four visits a month last that I was involved.
[00:48:10] KM: Is it still a weekly magazine, or is it a monthly magazine?
[00:48:13] OF: No. It’s weekly.
[00:48:13] KM: That’s just so much to do every week along with all the other stuff you do.
[00:48:18] OF: Yeah. Ask Gwen Moritz about that.
[00:48:20] KM: Who?
[00:48:20] OF: The editor, Gwen Moritz. She’s very attuned to the rigorous schedule that we play.
[00:48:27] KM: So what do you see for the future of journalism? Do you believe it’s still an honorable profession?
[00:48:31] OF: I do. I definitely do. I’m sorry that that has been so disparaged. I don’t think it’s fair for the mainstream media who really are good, hardworking, ethical people really trying to do the best that they can to report the news. I think that’s been a real problem for the country, because people don’t know what to believe anymore. I mean, if you say that your information sources are all bad, and they’re not. There really are more principled and ethical media than others. And if you say they’re all bad, then people just withdraw from absorbing information in general. And then that makes for an educated electorate or community. I totally disagree with that characterization of media as being all bad and on the take and just doing it to sell subscription. It’s not the case.
[00:49:43] KM: So, you think journalism is still a great, honorable profession that you can make a living at.
[00:49:48] OF: Totally.
[00:49:48] KM: So, if you’re speaking to a young adult wanting to pursue a career in journalism, what would you tell them?
[00:49:53] OF: Please do, if you’re smart and you’re ethical and you really care about your community or the community that you’re serving. You really want to do good, honest, hard work. Please, get into the profession.
[00:50:06] KM: And is creative.
[00:50:08] OF: Oh, yes. And like investigation. I was an article about the private detectives today and I thought, “Oh man, am I too told to become a private detective?” It sounded so cool what they do now.
[00:50:20] KM: Well, actually nobody would know you’re a private detective, because you would not look like one.
[00:50:24] OF: No. I don’t for that part at all. But you get to do investigating and research and digging and discovery. It’s an incredible profession. I love it.
[00:50:37] KM: All right. I want to tell everybody that you’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Olivia Farrell, retired CEO and cofounder of Arkansas Business Publishing Group. What’s next for you Ms. Farrell? I know you’re not going to join the Foreign Services that you once thought. But you are service work. You have been in more clubs than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.
You got to think about what your legacy is. Let’s just tell everybody what you currently are. You currently are in the news for being only the 4th women to be inducted into the University of Arkansas’ Walton Business Hall of Fame. You’ve already been on the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame. Rotary Club 99’s 2019 Leader of the Year. Governor Mike Beebee gave you the distinguished citizen award, and there is a portrayed of you hanging in the lobby of UALR. Come on, please.
[00:51:30] OF: I love that.
[00:51:31] KM: I bet you do.
[00:51:32] OF: I love that, because it’s a woman.
[00:51:34] KM: I just love it. I just love it. Period. That’s pretty cool.
[00:51:37] OF: Well, plus they let me use the 10-year-old photo.
[00:51:45] KM: Well, it’s going to be up there forever. So it needs to be one you like. So what is next? You got one minute.
[00:51:53] OF: As I mentioned to you before the show started, the only real goal I have in mind right now is teaching elementary kids, tutoring elementary children and reading. So that’s my biggest ambition. I’d like to be able to socialize again normally.
[00:52:14] KM: That could be nice.
[00:52:14] OF: Just a social queen.
[00:52:16] GM: That sounds great.
[00:52:18] OF: A social queen and a reading tutor. Those are my big ambitions.
[00:52:24] KM: Love it. Here’s your gift for coming on the show, a US and Arkansas desk set to put on your desk at home.
[00:52:26] OF: Oh! Thank you so much.
[00:52:30] KM: While you’re reading.
[00:52:29] OF: Thank you.
[00:52:30] KM: You’re welcome. Thank you so much for coming on. I’d like to say in closing to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening. And that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[00:52:53] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today’s guest. If you’d like to sponsor this show or any show, contact me, Gray. That’s G-R-A-Y@flagandbanner.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen. Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.