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One-On-One: Ed Lane

By Mark Green

Ed Lane is publisher of The Lane Report, which he founded 25 years ago. It is a monthly magazine that is Kentucky’s only statewide business news periodical. It is the flagship of Lane Communications Group, which also includes Prep Magazine covering Kentucky’s restaurant and hospitality industry, BG – A Way of Life, which targets young professionals and creatives in the Bluegrass region, and a variety of annual and biannual business and economic development publications targeting specific Kentucky industries and regions. Lane is CEO of Lane Consultants, a commercial real estate brokerage firm, and he is a three-term elected member of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council. He is a member of the Kentucky Arts Council, secretary of the Lexington-Fayette Airport Board and a member of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority. Lane is vice chairman of the LFUCG Finance Committee and a member of the LFUCG Internal Audit Committee.

Editor’s note: During the past 25 years, The Lane Report has not quoted or provided news coverage about Ed Lane, the magazine’s publisher. On the occasion of The Lane Report’s 25th anniversary, the editorial staff decided to make an exception to this policy in order to conduct this interview.

Mark Green: What is your professional background and training as it relates to journalism and magazine publishing?

Ed Lane: My major in college was journalism; I received an ABJ (Bachelor of Arts in Journalism) degree from the University of Georgia. I was an intern with an affiliate of BBDO advertising agency in Atlanta while in college. When I graduated, I worked for Compton Advertising in New York City, which was a major Proctor & Gamble agency and at that time, one of the top 10 marketing firms in the world.

MG: What brought you to Central Kentucky and why did you decide to stay?

EL: Before I moved here I worked in the Atlanta regional office for Lexington-based Jerrico, which developed and franchised Long John Silver’s Seafood Shops nationwide. For five years, I helped manage the acquisition of real estate for Long John Silver’s restaurants in 35 states.
In 1980, I was offered a job in Lexington by Tracy Farmer, a banker and entrepreneur. I was very familiar with Lexington, having visited Jerrico’s corporate headquarters many times. Lexington was a great community then and I thought the move here was a great opportunity. I was the president of Farmer Enterprises – a firm owned by Farmer and involved in business acquisitions and the development of real estate.

MG: At what point did you go into business?

EL: During the early 1980s, the U.S. economy was suffering from what was called “the misery index” – high inflation, interest rates and unemployment. Those economic conditions made it more attractive to invest in T-bills and bank CDs and less inviting to develop new business opportunities. In 1981, I decided to start my own consulting company and asked Tracy Farmer to be my first client. That’s how I launched my business and real estate firm – Lane and Associates. I will always appreciate the fact that Tracy Farmer recruited me to Kentucky and helped me start my first business.

MG: When and why did you decide to start The Lane Report?

EL: Our firm was the only full-service commercial real estate company in central Kentucky. After a few years, people started contacting us and asking for information about the Central Kentucky area. We developed the idea to publish a community economic profile called The Lane Report. The report provided information on new development, employment levels, population trends, vacancy rates, etc., and became a valuable tool for people managing businesses and companies interested in moving to Kentucky. Initially, The Lane Report was published two times a year.

MG: How did it become a monthly publication?

EL: American City Business Journals started Business First of Louisville, and that piqued my interest because our firm received so much positive feedback about The Lane Report. I started thinking perhaps we could start a business newspaper in Lexington. I did call in a consultant who suggested a city of at least one million was required for a business newspaper. Our consultants suggested that we convert The Lane Report from an economic profile to a quarterly business magazine. The first year we published quarterly, the second year we came out six times, and the third year we went monthly.

MG: Did you have specific long-term expectations or goals for The Lane Report?

EL: I thought the magazine would be a valuable tool for our community – a good source of business information and a demographically targeted advertising medium. But The Lane Report has grown quite a bit more over the last 25 years than I initially expected. Our editorial coverage went statewide in 1997. Our reporting touches every part of the state, and the response from our readers has been very enthusiastic. People really like to read our magazine, and advertisers invest because it’s a very cost effective way to reach the top leaders in Kentucky.

MG: How long did it take for the magazine to become profitable?

EL: It took a while. In the early ’90s, when the U.S. economy was in a major recession, our sales dropped and several people in the company said why don’t we just save money and quit publishing The Lane Report. Something told me the future of The Lane Report was going to improve. After some soul searching, I met with our staff and said our strategy would be to publish The Lane Report come hell or high water. Our new goal would be to publish an even better magazine and to have a long-term financial commitment to succeed.

MG: The Lane Report is known for its quality. How did you develop criteria for an effective visual magazine presentation? What are the key elements?

EL: Being visually appealing is important. The big mistake many publications make is that they are not very interesting to look at. Our editors and designers try to provide a lot of photos, graphics and charts so the articles are interesting to read. I look at each magazine we publish, but I’m not a great graphics designer.

This reminds me of the Supreme Court judge who said, “I don’t know how to define pornography but I know it when I see it.” I’m not a designer, but I know a good cover when I see it. Over the years, our staff has worked with some of the best design people in the business, and each one has added another quality touch to the publication. We try to continually upgrade, making every issue better than the last one.

MG: The publishing industry has had major technology changes in the past 25 years. What have been the impacts on The Lane Report?

EL: The first magazine issue of The Lane Report was designed on a computer, and that was in 1988. We were early into the computer age – from computer design to computerized production. Technology allows our designers to go direct from the computer to the (printing press) plate and to use four-color on every page we publish. We can now publish in four-color for what it used to cost in black-and-white. Publishers Press has been a great partner for two decades and has allowed our magazine to excel.

MG: Is there a formal process for determining when it is time to adopt a new technology?

EL: You never want to be on the leading edge. When technology is in alpha mode, there are usually a lot of glitches and refinements that probably need to be made. Being one step behind the leading edge is the way to go. Software and hardware are then almost state-of-the-art, the glitches are gone and the cost is less because newer technology has driven the price down.

MG: What’s the background of the One-on-One interview?

EL: In the beginning, we did not present one-on-one interviews. I initiated the interview because there was an extended period in Lexington when the community was drifting and there seemed to be a vacuum of leadership in government and business. The one-on-one would ask leaders in the community about where they stood on issues of importance. Over a period of time with many leaders speaking out, the interviews were helpful to the community in building a consensus on what the priorities of Lexington and Central Kentucky should be.

When The Lane Report went statewide, the same approach continued. I try to talk with the top people in our state and solicit their ideas and suggestions, with a focus on the future. Interviews do take a lot of effort, but I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences as publisher because I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many of the brightest and most successful people in Kentucky and to hear what they have to say. I find that very enriching.

MG: Do you have any favorite interviews or subjects?

EL: One of the most intriguing was the interview of Dr. Thomas D. Clark, the state’s historian laureate, published in February 2005. Dr. Clark died on June 28, 2005, and was over 100 years old. His recall of facts during the interview was amazing. During my interview, I asked Clark what was the most important technological advance made in the United States or in the world during his lifetime. He said “electricity.”

That was an insightful answer. When you think about it, without electricity our country would be in a serious predicament. No credit cards, computers, telephones, cell phones, Twitter, streaming video, traffic controls, gasoline pumps, medical services, etc. Everything in America today uses electricity. Dr. Clark had an unusual perspective because he was born and lived on a farm in east-central Mississippi before there was rural electric service.

MG: What differentiates The Lane Report in the marketplace?

EL: The magazine is written for top managers of business, government and the professions. The information is presented in an executive summary format. Business leaders can read our publications and get a really clear and concise overview of what’s happening around the state. Circulation is statewide so an advertiser can reach top leaders throughout Kentucky with one ad once a month; that’s a very cost-effective marketing investment. The Lane Report has a large and significant pass-a-long readership because our readers find it so valuable they route it through their office and put it in public areas in their businesses.

MG: What has been the most gratifying part of operating The Lane Report?

EL: There have been many occasions where we profiled a man or woman in our state who had done something exceptional or started a business. The news article provided them some initial exposure and publicity. A few years later and they’ve grown their business and become very successful. That’s very exciting when you see that happen to an entrepreneur.
The Lane Report also promotes education and the arts. The future of Kentucky’s economy is a well-educated workforce. Better educated Kentuckians will make our state more competitive in the global economy.

MG: Did you have any key mentors in your professional life?

EL: Most of my mentorship was in early positions with larger companies. Suggestions on dress, grooming and personal appearance, and being energetic and enthusiastic about your work – there were many things I learned in my early business career that continue to be very helpful. My parents and family instilled ethical values and a positive outlook on my life and future.

MG: How has the Kentucky business world changed since 1985?

EL: The most significant event was state legislation allowing banks to own and operate branches outside of their home county. Local banks started expanding and acquiring other banks. Out-of-state banks began to acquire Kentucky banks. This in turn, in my judgment, encouraged legal, engineering, architectural, CPA, insurance, energy and logistic companies as well as other types of businesses to focus on statewide business expansion. Kentucky is now a statewide economy. That’s been very good for our citizens.

MG: The Lane Report maintains a lean overhead. Describe your structure. Has this always been your approach?

EL: In today’s economy there’s no such thing as a low-overhead business because there are many costs you have to incur to operate a business. Because The Lane Report is not published daily and its workloads are variable during each month, we have elected to outsource some services. Design, circulation data management, research, pre-press, printing and distribution are outsourced. We found this to work very effectively. Outsourcing can be a good business practice for small and large companies.

Another important benefit of outsourcing is redundancy. If you are outsourcing to a firm that has multiple employees, then if one of them is sick, resigns or retires you still have trained, qualified people with equipment who know your business and can deliver the same quality service on a uninterrupted basis.

MG: What have been the key lessons you’ve learned running the magazine?

EL: Each magazine has to be treated as an individual profit center. You can’t say we are going to put out all these magazines and we’re going to make a profit. Just like any product any other company makes, you have to evaluate your overhead, expenses and profit for each magazine issue published.

MG: You now have a family of publications associated with The Lane Report. How did that come about?

EL: Our core publication is The Lane Report; any magazines we’ve added must have synergy and be of interest to The Lane Report’s readers. Special publications are targeted to specific markets like economic development, workforce development, education, research, healthcare, education, food service, hospitality, tourism and travel.

MG: You are a three-term member of Lexington Urban County Council, publisher of The Lane Report, and principal of a commercial real estate services firm. How do you manage your time?

EL: Managing your time means that you will have to invest more than 35 to 40 hours a week into work. I am fortunate because I really enjoy what I do for a living. Secondly, I have really good people working with me and managing, editing, designing and selling our magazines. I also am learning to delegate more to a great management team that deserves most of the credit for our success. Delegating responsibilities and being willing to spend extra time each week to make sure each aspect of the business is being properly managed and energized are key components to being “successfully busy.”

MG: What led you to enter the political arena?

EL: Three particular issues were of concern to me. One is that America is a republic with a representative form of government. If people are not willing to run for elective office and represent constituents, then our cities, states and country are in serious trouble. At the time I ran, I felt Lexington’s city council needed members who could bring good business practices to local government. I also ran because I was opposed to the condemnation by the council of a private business for the financial gain of the city. I felt condemnation for financial gain alone was an inappropriate action for the city council to take.

MG: Did anyone ask you to get involved in politics or was that something you initiated?

EL: Being in business development and real estate, I had always been a strong advocate of merging the former multiple economic development agencies of Lexington into one entity. I was very impressed when Louisville created Greater Louisville Inc. When Lexington’s economic development entities decided to merge into one group, I felt like this was a really good omen for the future of central Kentucky. Several business people and leaders asked me if I would consider running for the 12th District seat. I received very broad-based support. That’s how I got into politics.

MG: What ideals guide you politically?

EL: A couple of points. America is an exceptional country. This has been proven to me by the many people who have come to Kentucky from foreign lands with just $50 or $100 in their pocket. After working hard and saving money, they start and build a business, their kids earn college degrees, and they own their own home. They have been very successful and created a high quality of life for their families.

Having seen that happen over and over, I am a very strong proponent of the free-market system. I believe it creates exceptional opportunities for anybody willing to work hard and apply themselves. The free-market system allows individuals to make millions of decisions a week on how much they are willing to pay for products and which products they want to buy.

It’s important for our citizens to remember that we now have a free-market system in Kentucky and America, and we need to protect it. Freedom is one of the great strengths of our country. Opportunity and freedom are the reasons why the brightest people in the world come to America. Competition creates better and better products, and the free market sets prices – not the government. I am concerned by the recent actions of the federal government that are taking over more and more of our economy. This is a threat to the future of America.

I believe in being fiscally conservative. One of the problems we have at the local, state and federal level is when governments have surplus money, the politicians spend it. They don’t save. When an economic downturn like we are now experiencing arrives, government should have money in the “rainy day” account to supplement the downturn in tax revenues.

I highly recommend that everybody vote for political representatives who are going to protect the free-market system and the constitution of our country. If we do that the future will be bright for our children, grandchildren, our country and way of life.

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