Interview with Managing Editor KJ Philp
by Joe Siegel
Geographic coverage area:
Arizona: Greater Phoenix Area, Flagstaff, Tucson, Sedona, Bisbee and Yuma
Nevada: Las Vegas
California: Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Diego
Year founded: 1989
Staff size and breakdown: (writers, editors, designers, etc.):
Echo’s publisher, Bill Orovan, employs four full-time staff members (associate publisher, editor, director of sales and marketing, and senior graphics designer). Echo also employs between 20 and 25 independent contractors (freelance writers, photographers, delivery drivers and sales representatives).
Average page count: 84
Print run: 11,000 (average)
PPQ: What feature or features of Echo Magzine have been the most popular with readers?
Managing Editor KJ Philp: For more than a decade, Echo has hosted its Readers’ Choice Awards ceremony each April in conjunction with Phoenix Pride Week. These highly coveted awards serve as recognition of community favorites – categories ranging from individuals and organizations to entertainment and retail – as nominated and voted on by our readers. In 2016, Echo received more than 7,000 individual nominations, totalling 700 nominees, and 14,500 votes for more than 83 finalists.
As part of LGBTQ History Month, Echo inducts “community heroes who have helped raise awareness and spark change on the local and national levels” into its Hall of Fame each October. Since the inaugural class in 2006, Echo has inducted 120 individuals into its Hall of Fame and, in recent years, has opened consideration up to include community nominations.
PPQ: Who came up with the name and what is the inspiration for it?
|KJ Philp of Echo Magazine
Philp: “Echo states that we intend to be a reflection of the Arizona Community. … Let your voice be heard” – Bill Orovan, publisher, Sept. 27, 1989 (from his welcome letter on page 3 of the first issue).
PPQ: What challenge has your publication had to overcome since its inception?
Philp: Most notably, an arsonist set fire to the offices of Echo on July 26, 1995. As a result, it burned for more than 15 hours and completely destroyed the building and its contents, including extensive archival materials. But like a phoenix, we rose from the ashes and our next issue still came out on time!
PPQ: What challenge or challenges is Echo Magazine facing now?
Philp: As the LGBTQ community has gained visibility, rights and acceptance in recent years, the demand for more “mainstream” coverage has grown as well. And with a significant number of advertisers who identify as allies, it has been important to communicate to all stakeholders that Echo is still committed to Arizona’s LGBTQ community.
With audience growth comes the need for business growth, one of Echo’s current challenges is determining what that will look like in the new year and beyond. For example, we’ve researched what the addition of an app, the implementation of video (YouTube), consideration of third party sales and/or offering additional marketing services to our existing advertisers would add to our brand.
PPQ: How has Echo Magazine changed since it was first launched?
Philp: Our most recent, and necessary, set of changes kicked off in 2015 as part of our 25th anniversary rebrand effort. Our most noticeable changes (new logo, print redesign) were accompanied by the launch of an all-new echomag.com as well as reevaluated editorial and social media strategies. In the two short years that have followed, Echo’s likes, follows and engagement have soared (up 1,500 on Facebook, 2,110 on Instagram and 300 on Twitter).
In 2015, Echo also moved from a biweekly format (which it had been since its inception) to a monthly publication in an effort to put our monthly advertiser costs in line with the local competition. As a direct result, Echo’s 2016 revenues increased nearly 20 percent compared with the previous year.
PPQ: What one change would you like to make?
Philp: Without a doubt, Echo is in need of a current and comprehensive readership survey! However, what we’ve found through our own various forms of analysis, our readers are so diverse that an accurate sampling has been a great challenge. For example, some of our least popular covers (based on pick-up rate) have performed the best across social media platforms. Similarly, our editorial content covers everyone from transgender children (some of whom belong to straight, cisgender parents) all the way up through gay and lesbian seniors.
PPQ: What has been the biggest news story or stories Echo Magazine has covered?
Philp: Without a doubt, the biggest news story Echo has covered would be the day Arizona gained marriage equality. On Oct. 17, 2014, two lawsuits in federal court (Majors v. Horne and Connolly v. Jeanes) that challenged the state’s anti-marriage law and constitutional amendment ended with a decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick that the bans were unconstitutional. The state did not appeal the ruling, placing our red state ahead of even the Supreme Court in terms of same-sex marriage rights.
PPQ: Do you see yourself as an “activist journalist”’? If so, in what way?
Philp: Echo has always been a voice for advocacy. We’re here to tell the stories of the activists on the front lines, which has meant many different things in the past 27 years. We find that the best form of visibility and advocacy is in telling the stories of our everyday heroes – the super lesbian moms with twins, the blended families who are championing Arizona’s adoption crisis, the participant in the first-ever transgender bodybuilding competition, the local drag queen who landed on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
PPQ: What’s the most surprising feedback you’ve received from a reader?
Philp: Echo readers never cease to amaze us with their feedback. In just the past few months alone, we’ve received compliments on our ongoing inclusivity efforts (Echo incorporated the Q in LGBTQ effective January 2015, despite AP Style); we’ve been told, through personal testimonials, that people still need help coming out and have used Echo as a way to start that conversation; and our readers have confirmed that they are still in need of safe places (to live, dine, etc.) and, in most cases, Echo has helped them successfully navigate this territory.
PPQ: What advice would you give to anyone who may want to launch their own LGBTQ publication?
Philp: Contrary to popular belief, we maintain that the LGBTQ community is not truly a niche market. This is a nearly mainstream community comprised of innumerable niches (subcommunities) and, to properly represent and serve all of them with an overarching LGBTQ publication you must be prepared to take an unbiased look at every letter in the acronym. And when you think you have it figured out, do it again. And again. Because the minute you forget what it’s like to look at life from the perspective of one of the other letters, you’re doing more harm than good.