It has been a rough decade for print publications, which is why Maggi Hill changed the whole focus of her business. A couple of years ago the longtime freelancer and former editor of the Mercer Business Journal published the first edition of Moxie Woman Magazine, celebrating the professional accomplishments and aspirations of women in the Bucks and Mercer County area. By last year she sighed in relief that she hadn’t actually followed her plan to put a lot more money into courting print advertisers for her publication.
The short version of what happened to print publications is: the Internet. Many advertisers simply don’t see the value in print publications like they used to. It’s one thing for established publications with a track record of happy advertisers to operate at a profit. It’s quite another for a new publication to change the minds of advertisers who find print a curio from a long-past age.
So how is Hill dealing with the cold, wintry realities of print publishing in the 21st century? With moxie, of course.
Hill and “Moxie Woman” will kick off “Moxie Talks,” a twist on the usual business event series format that includes nods to art and music along with its networking and business talk. The first is on Wednesday, January 28, at 5:30 p.m. at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. The inaugural Moxie Talk will feature an interactive lecture on the Beatles from Rider University associate professor of music Stephen Arthur Allen and a live tribute to Beatles songs by Kindred Spirit Band members Gary Bernabe and Ed O’Connor, plus Brian Mahoney from the Mahoney Brothers. There also will be networking with light fare, wine, and chocolates and information about the magazine’s partnership with the Women’s Leadership Council at Rider University, which facilitates mentoring relationships between professional women and students at Rider. Cost: $30. Visit www.moxiewomanmag.com.
Hill has long considered herself a feminist, from the mid/late 1970s, when it was a movement, through the ’80s and ’90s, when it was a dirty word, and into the teens, where it has now resurfaced. Back in college at Rider, where she earned her bachelor’s in business administration, Hill was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA failed as much because of animosity as misinformation, she says, and to this day it is viewed with crooked eyes and a misunderstanding of what it really was aiming for.
A creative sort who loved music, Hill took after her mother, who was a singer and freelance writer. Her father was a corporate turnaround man, not to be confused with a hatchet man. He didn’t just fire people and fly home, Hill says, he helped realign companies and eventually became CEO of many.
Hill herself started in the news retrieval department at Dow Jones. She got married and had three children, which changed her life in more than the usual ways. Hill’s life in the professional writing and publishing world, in fact, began with a summer day and an impish child. She was picking up her oldest from day camp near their Pennington home when she got out of the car. Her son, with his baby sister in there with him, locked the door, with the keys in the ignition. Relax, the air conditioner was on.
After a long afternoon waiting for someone to get the door open, Hill decided to write a third-person version of the event, which she sent to several newspapers as a thank-you to all (and there were plenty) who came to help her open the car door without a sledgehammer (which the chief of police offered her). An editor loved her piece so much that Hill got her own regular column, “the Harried Mother.”
She freelanced for several publications and in 1998 founded Lowbrow Records, which she still runs and through which she has put out her own (rather well-regarded) music. In 1999 Hill decided she wanted some street cred in journalism and took a certificate course in the subject at New York University. She built a professional friendship with Liz Tindall, former vice president of the Mid-Jersey Chamber, who hired Hill to be the managing editor of Mercer Business in 2004.
Hill technically worked for White Eagle Printing in Hamilton, which did the printing of Mercer Business until December, 2012, when the contract switched to the McNeil Group in Yardley. Hill was suddenly faced with joblessness, unless you count freelancing, which is a carnival lifestyle at best. She and a friend had discussed her launching a business magazine of her own in Bucks County.
She decided on a combination business-lifestyle publication that originally was going to be called “Business Life.” The idea, she imagined, could easily be duplicated in other metro areas, from Baltimore to New York. When her main investor fell through, she narrowed her focus further, to professional women, and “Moxie Woman” was born.
White Eagle helped Hill get her magazine off the ground for the first year. She put out seven issues but then was on her own to get advertisers interested. “They loved the magazine,” she says. “But they all said, ‘Really, we don’t do print anymore.’”
Facing the reality that “there is no business model that’s sustainable when you’re constantly losing money,” Hill did what most normal people would do. She played computer games and contemplated new and exciting ways to ignore the problem for a few days. Finding this approach to also be an unsustainable business model, Hill started working with some savvy advertiser friends last summer to try to get investors re-interested in print. It wasn’t long before she realized that as a new fish in a rather shallow, small pond, “print wasn’t going to happen,” she says.
Hill concentrated on her newsletter, only to find that advertisers weren’t necessarily keen on buying digital ads either. And then the fall hit, and the money started coming in. Soon the magazine became a web publication, and money started coming into her company. But she and Tindall, who last August started her own management firm for nonprofits, Liz Tindall & Associates in Allentown, thought it would be good to expand what Hill’s company could really do to meet and promote professional women in the area. The events — which Hill calls “happenings” because “we’re all evented out” — came from these brainstorms.
The idea of promoting music and art and other creative endeavors is what Hill hopes will make “Moxie Talks” a hit with professional women (yes, men can come too, she says — women can learn a lot from men and men can learn a lot from women). “The arts get such short shrift,” she says. And she wants people to — brace for this — enjoy themselves when they’re networking, not just wander around exchanging business cards.
If she has learned anything about business so far, it’s that you just keep moving. Also, fear of having to give up your career and go to work in some stuffy suit is a fantastic motivator to keep you moving.
“If I get stuck, I freak out,” she says. “If I keep moving forward, I’m fine.”
And even with the occasional imminent heart attack, it’s still worth it. “I hear a lot of people say ‘I hate what I do, but I’m paid well,’” Hill says. “And I hear ‘I don’t make any money, but I love what I do.’ I choose to do something I love.”