As publisher of St. Pete Life magazine, Beth Ann Drake is used to living three months in the future, but even she never could have predicted the impact Covid-19 would have on the community.
“We were in the middle of a staff meeting when we all looked at our phones and saw they’d canceled the Grand Prix,” Drake recalled in a recent interview with the Catalyst. “That was our ‘a-ha’ moment.”
That was back in March 2020, when the newest and last “normal” issue of St. Pete Life – typically known for its coverage of events, galas and the local social scene – had just hit the mailboxes of the publication’s 20,000 recipients. While no one knew what to expect in terms of how long the pandemic would last, it quickly became clear to Drake and her team that they would have to make a dramatic pivot.
“As far as our content, we try to stay light on our feet,” Drake said. “We really like to keep our feelers out there and be able to get something in if something cool or last-minute happens.”
The pandemic certainly qualified.
“We started immediately covering the good things going on in our community and the people and the nonprofits who started stepping up,” she said of the publication.
That meant writing about companies like Three Daughters Brewing, which started making hand sanitizer for frontline workers. Highlighting organizations like the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, which stepped up to provide emergency food for people who’d never needed it before. And featuring Mayor Rick Kriseman and Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Steinocher standing six feet apart on the magazine’s May/June cover next to a “St. Pete Strong” logo.
“Through the physical, emotional and financial challenges, there is one thing we have proven – the saying ‘we are all in this together’ could never be truer,” Drake and editor Marcia Biggs wrote in the magazine’s welcome message.
That spirit of togetherness and community is a big part of why Drake believes that St. Pete Life, which will celebrate its fourth birthday in July, has been able to weather the pandemic storm and come out thriving.
“St Pete came together to support local businesses, and we are one of those,” said Drake, who noted that business has been on the uptick at the magazine since the summer. “We felt that support from our advertisers that stayed with us and new ones that came on even during a pandemic. I always say that if you love the magazine, frequent our advertisers.”
As for the here and now, Drake and her team just released the magazine’s women in business issue with plans to devote future editions to other types of businesspeople such as physicians and real estate agents. They’re now hard at work on their March/April real estate home design issue and Drake said they’re looking at expanding distribution by another ZIP code – going from nine to 10 – in the near future. However, she believes that lessons learned from the past year will continue to inform how the magazine, as well as other local businesses, operate going forward.
“All of us are trying to figure out what’s ahead, but looking back over the last year, I think all of us learned a new sense of being thankful and I don’t think that will go away,” she reflected. “We don’t know how long this road is going to be, but it’s a new road and a new start and I’m excited about it.”