What follows are excerpts from an interview with the late David C. Wright, co-founder of this magazine, who battled leukemia for nearly a year before passing away on June 4, 1997. Over the years, readers, colleagues and friends had asked how he began the publications, and he asked me to share this story with readers should he not make it back to work. This interview was conducted in December 1996. To read it in its entirety, visit peoriamagazines.com/ibi/1997/jul. –Jan Wright
How did InterBusiness Issues get started?
In 1989, my wife Jan and I decided on a career change. I began working as a marketing director for a small business in Canton, which, believe it or not, was the nation’s largest wholesaler of specialty batteries. My boss there was my old college roommate. He hired me to develop some new ventures for the company, but before I signed on, he said, “Dave, I have to tell you something: there’s about a two-percent chance the owner is going to sell the business. But, I don’t want you to worry about it. It’s not going to happen.”
A month after I arrived on the job, the business was sold, the company formed a new name and I was told my salary would be paid until January. If, by that time, I had developed a profitable enterprise, I might be able to stay on. (My guaranteed salary at that time was the grand sum of $300 a week.)
I knew if the company was going to survive and I was going to have a job, we had to grow and grow fast, so I began soliciting Peoria businesses for contract work. My first move was to design and produce a direct mail piece. Halfway through the design, it occurred to me what I did with most of the direct mail pieces that came across my desk. So I thought, “I have to do something different to make a business manager want to read this thing.” That’s when I got the idea of producing a business newsletter, filled with short, easily readable business updates. Then I thought, “Why not sell some business-card size ads to help pay for the cost of production and mailing?” So I hit the street with a rough draft of what the first newsletter would look like.
The first eight-page issue was mailed to a thousand businesses in August 1989. I sold five business card-size ads at $100 each. I can still remember who those five original paid advertisers were: Madison Park Bank, Computer Age, Sonitrol, Holiday Inn Brandywine and Peoria Insurance Services.
Did you have any experience in design or production?
Absolutely none. I actually went out and bought an Exacto knife, some graph paper and a bottle of rubber cement! I had never heard of “desktop publishing.” When I went to the printer, he was kind, gave me some pointers and told me what supplies I would need to do things right. It was trial and error, hit and miss. But there is no school like the school of experience. You can learn techniques. You can learn technology. What you really can’t learn is raw ability and drive.
What kind of connections did you have in the local business community at the time?
I really had none. I knew a few Peoria business people casually, but almost nobody in Peoria knew me in 1989. But I thought I had a good idea, and I decided to act like I knew what I was doing. So when I would conclude a successful advertising sale and the client would ask if I needed the ad copy “camera-ready” or “on film,” I would just say “Either one would be fine.” Then I would go ask the printer what the heck those terms meant! I spent weeks walking the streets and office buildings of Peoria selling people on a business publication.
How did you decide who you would approach to interview when no one knew you or the publication?
We decided to approach very visible people to establish some credibility. After numerous phone calls, we were able to get Mayor Maloof to give us a few minutes for an interview; Peoria had just won the All-American City award. When we got to his office, he had second thoughts and almost kicked us out. Just as we were about ready to give up and leave, I asked him, “Mayor, just how was Peoria able to win this All-American City award?” and turned on my tape recorder. He talked for an hour.
Over the next few months, we interviewed Bruce Saurs, Nick Owens and Ray Becker, all of whom were prominent in the news at the time. I remember there was no way I could get through to Ray Becker on the phone, so I started going to his office every few days and asking if he was in. Usually he wasn’t in or was busy. Once, as I was sitting there in the reception area, he came walking down the hall. I stood up, introduced myself and told him what I wanted, and he set an appointment for later that week. I remember later sitting in his plush office, while he spat little bits of the cigar he was chewing into a spittoon, thinking, “I don’t really belong here, but here I am!”
What other interesting experiences did you have early on?
During the Bruce Saurs interview, he made the statement that the quality of the Ford automobile was great, but was still second to Honda at the time. Joe Messmore at Honda World got hold of a copy of that issue and started running ads quoting Saurs as saying, “They (Ford) are admitting that Honda is the best quality car that your money can buy. I don’t think that’s any secret,” citing InterBusiness Issues and concluding the commercial by saying, “Thanks Bruce!” It was so funny to see and I don’t know how much Honda World benefited from it, but we sure did.
In the beginning days, I was out of the office the majority of the time-doing “cold call” advertising sales, gathering news and personally distributing copies of InterBusiness Issues all over town, putting them in racks and in offices. I even collected accounts receivable personally. Talk about staying in personal contact with your customer!
InterBusiness Issues quickly developed into a magazine. Were you surprised?
It was apparent after about four months that this little journalistic endeavor had the potential to grow rapidly and become a meaningful source of income. That’s when we decided to concentrate on its growth. At the same time we decided to begin The Peoria Woman magazine, I brought my wife Jan into the business as editor.
In retrospect we did begin publishing at a great time for business in the Peoria area, as the economy was booming after the mid-1980s recession, and we had identified some great niches in which to work. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time, and being willing to work hard on what you did know and bluff your way through the rest. iBi