Power Players: Knowing What People Want
Give Johnny Lastinger credit, the guy knows how to find a need and fill it. Case in point: Lastinger’s publication, Valdosta Magazine, mailed quarterly to 2,500 regular subscribers to update them on the interesting people, places and goings-on in Valdosta, Lowndes County and surrounding communities. The magazine is sold in 30 locations including pharmacies, restaurants, the Valdosta Regional Airport and Valdosta State University’s campus bookstore. It’s also provided to area doctors’ and dentists’ offices, hotels, and to the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce for its newcomers’ packets.
Most importantly, after 13 years of publication, Valdosta Magazine is still going strong, even at a time when many other magazines are struggling or shutting down altogether. “We sort of stumbled into a knack for knowing what people want to read,” says Lastinger, 78. Though the magazine relies on the standard community fare, including a quarterly events calendar and announcements of weddings, births and deaths, it also includes longer feature stories of local interest. The spring 2009 cover story, “April in Boston,” told of a local resident, April Scruggs, and her adventures running the Boston Marathon.
Publishing is Lastinger’s third career. He set off for Atlanta after graduating from Valdosta High School in 1949 and earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Emory University in 1953. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Lastinger returned home and settled in to work for C&S Bank, now Bank of America. He was a loan officer and executive vice president with C&S for fifteen years before becoming the executive vice president of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce where he remained for 25 years until his retirement in 1995.
And that’s where publishing makes its entrance into Lastinger’s story. “Toward the end of my career, I was asked to make a presentation in Tifton,” relates Lastinger. “A woman took my picture and I asked her later if she was with the local newspaper, but she told me, ‘No, this is for the Tifton magazine.’ I thought, ‘Tifton has a magazine? Valdosta is bigger than Tifton and we don’t have a magazine.’” He immediately set about changing that.
In 1996 Lastinger joined forces with his friend Wink DeVane, now deceased, forming L&D Publications to create Valdosta Magazine. The magazine staff includes Lastinger as publisher and chief advertising salesman, editor Harry Livermore, art director Nikki Stubbs, and Lastinger’s wife, Lamb, who makes sure all the bills are paid.
Among the regular columns are “Dirt Road Poet” by Annabel Alder-man; a medical column, “The Doctor is In” by Dr. Ben Hogan; letters to the readers from Lastinger and Livermore; and a popular feature called “Remember When: A Photo Memory,” a tribute to Lastinger’s pack-rat sensibility.
“I saved all the pictures that were taken during my time at the chamber of commerce,” he said. “We run a photo from the past and a caption of who’s in the picture and where and when it was taken.”
Readers also supply photo fodder. “Friends of mine took the magazine with them when they traveled to London then took a picture of themselves holding up the magazine in front of Big Ben,” Lastinger says. “When they got back they gave us the picture, so we ran it.” Since then, Valdosta Magazine has been photographed at exotic locales around the globe; and the photos are duly published when the travelers return.
The magazine has a website, valdostamagazine.com, to promote the magazine but doesn’t offer its content online. Lastinger says the magazine prints 10,000 copies each quarter. “We could publish bi-monthly, or even monthly, but I don’t want to work that hard.”
Part of the publication’s success is not over-thinking its mission. “We are a promotional tool for the county,” says
Lastinger. “But it’s also just a slice of home for folks who don’t live here anymore. We donate a box of magazines to every high school reunion,” he says.
Lastinger sees no end game in sight for his publishing days. “I’ve really enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s given me a place to go every day or at least every day that I’m not playing golf!”