In the late spring of 1933, during the Great Depression, almost a dozen leading North Carolina businessmen agreed to advertise in a weekly news magazine they had never seen, to be published by someone they barely knew.
The magazine was The State, and the publisher was Carl Goerch, an eastern North Carolina newspaper journeyman who had achieved some renown as the broadcaster of Doings of the Legislature on WPTF radio in Raleigh.
Goerch was convincing in his proposal for the new publication. He told his advertising prospects: “Let me run an ad for you in the first four issues. If at the end of the month you find that the publication isn’t worth anything, you can discontinue. On the other hand, if you think it really is worthwhile, I hope you’ll continue using the space.”
And so The State’s first issue of 2,500 copies was published June 3, 1933 — almost entirely written by Goerch and sold for 10 cents each. The initial issue, said Goerch, “met a very favorable impression and kept right on growing.”
As Goerch left his brand on the magazine during 18 years as publisher, so did his successors. Bill Sharpe (1951-1970) and W.B. Wright (1970-1987) were followed by Shaw Publishing in Charlotte.
Then, in 1996, Mann Media bought the publication and relocated its offices in Greensboro. When offered the opportunity to purchase The State, “I saw an opportunity to enhance a magazine that already had a loyal and caring audience,” says Bernard Mann, publisher.
“The amazing thing about this magazine was not the number of subscribers but the unique relationship between the publication and its readers,” Mann notes. “That loyalty and caring is something I’ve never experienced before.”
The challenge, he found, was how to improve the quality and design of an already beloved magazine and how to let even more people know about it. “We started by retaining the focus that Carl Goerch instituted in 1933,” says Mann. “Then we added color throughout, which served to highlight the beauty of our state. We replaced ‘The’ with ‘Our’ to reflect the inclusive nature of the magazine. We searched for the best writers and photographers to enhance the quality of our content.”
The effort has proven an effective one. Today, many more North Carolinians are sharing our vision. While most magazines can expect annual subscription renewals at about 36 percent, Our State has seen renewals of more than double that amount and a fourfold increase in readership — a clear indication that the love of North Carolina Carl Goerch tapped into 85 years ago is alive and thriving today. And from about 23,000 subscribers in 1996, the number has grown to more than 170,000.
Aside from being our 85th anniversary year, 2018 is also special for being “Year One” of a new chapter in our history. In March, Mann sold the company into an ESOP, or employee stock ownership plan. While he remains the publisher of Our State, he is no longer the owner — the employees are. Thanks to this incredible opportunity, Mann has ensured that the magazine will continue celebrating North Carolina far into the future.