Warning. What you’re about to read is filled with pride. It is an unabashed and completely shameless exercise in self-promotional shout-outs. But forgive me: I am very proud of some folks at Hammock Publishing and, well, I’ve warned you.
There’s a saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. When we recently got the opportunity to revamp and relaunch a magazine for a new client, The Marine Corps League (founded in 1923 and the only federally chartered Marine veterans organization), I “volunteered” several already busy people: an editorial team led by Bill Hudgins and creative director Susie Garland. Designer Kerri Davis (and the rest of the design squad: Lynne Boyer, Carrie Wakeford and Sandy Mueller Shelstad) charged into the project, as well. Also, intern Matt Kelley — a recent Vanderbit graduate — was drafted into service when we learned that he’d spent a year in Navy ROTC and has an encyclopedic knowledge of military history. (John Lavey and I we’re cheerleaders from the peanut gallery.) The team produced the first issue of the magazine in just seven weeks, from creative presentation to rolling off the presses.
I can’t say enough about how extraordinarily helpful Mike Blum, the League’s Executive Director, was. He repeatedly spent all the time with us we requested in helping us understand what the League is all about, and, more critical, to school us on the Marine Corps and Marines. Collaborating with Mike and sitting down with Marine Corps League members was critical to the process. Mike also challenged us with a healthy dose of skepticism — a not unfamiliar skepticism we often greet with new clients. He didn’t think a bunch of non-Marine publisher-types could ever “get it” enough to produce a magazine that would ring true with League members. Especially, this fast. I kept telling him that the key to producing a great magazine was for us to listen and absorb and listen more — and then not only “get it,” but, more importantly, to get out of the way of the conversation taking place among the only folks who matter: the members of the Marine Corps League.
(Left: The “before” magazine.)
Within moments of our first meeting with officials at the League, we heard the expression we’ve heards hundreds of time since: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” The more we listened and learned, the more we saw that the League and its programs embody that. Bill Hudgins and I mentioned the project and that motto to a number of veterans from services other than the Marines. Every one of them said something like, “You are a Marine for life. I wish we had something like that.” After that initial meeting, the crucial question in our minds and in Mike’s was how we could get out of the way of that message, one of pride and loyalty that knows no bounds.
Our mission had several objectives: Transition from the current publisher, increase frequency, revamp the editorial mix, redesign the publication. We also made a recommendation to do something rather radical: to rename the magazine Semper Fi, the Magazine of the Marine Corps League,” after the Corpsﾕ motto, Semper Fidelis — “always faithful.” Mike, who uses the expression in all correspondence and to end each conversation, was supportive of the recommendation and helped us tweak the exact wording of the title. He also guided our incorporation of “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” into a theme expressed throughout the magazine.
A highlight of the process was Mike’s approval of our attempts to “get it” in our meeting to present him our recommendations. After seeing our ideas, he declared: “Welcome aboard and OOORAH!” ﾑ- an exclamation not often given non-Marines. We were humbled. We were also highly ﾉ motivated. Our press date was only seven weeks away, and we had three other magazines and a host of newsletters moving through at the same time. It was truly all-hands on deck! The Hammock team burned a lot of midnight and weekend fluorescent during those seven weeks. Colleagues from other projects pitched in to help when they had spare time. Editors and writers roughed in some layouts to make it easier for the real designers to work with accurately trimmed copy. Our ace circulation and office management staff juggled multiple circulation and distribution challenges. The production team solved numerous printing and production issues, and pre-pressed the layouts into shipshape files that would require minimum if any tweaking at the printer.
Despite the pressure not only to meet deadlines but to refine designs on the fly and polish copy until it shone like a pair of boots at inspection (I apologize for the military metaphors). Despite the tension that always accompanies the launch of a magazine — and despite the inevitable glitches and computer hiccups — everyone worked in close harmony. Challenges arose and the team here met them head-on. They thought we were busy before, but they fit Semper Fi into our workflow brilliantly.
Mike Blum gave us another “Oorah!” when he saw his first copy, and as the issues arrive at members home, we’re hearing from them, too. Mike spent a lot of time and effort alerting members to the change, and from the early feed-back, it is a welcome change. It makes us proud to now be a tiny part of the history of this storied fighting force and to be exploring its rich traditions and extraordinary camaraderie.
And it makes me proud to work with such a great group of folks.