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The Boston Globe

Business

On the Hot Seat

In trying times, Spirit hits winning magazine formula

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Since its founding in 2005, Boston Spirit, a magazine for New England’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities, has thrived under its straight publisher, David Zimmerman. These days, most of the 20,000 copies of the bimonthly magazine go to home subscribers. Zimmerman, 46,recently spoke with Globe reporter Erin Ailworth to discuss the magazine’s role in the community and how readers view his sexuality.

What gave you the idea for Boston Spirit?

I was director of advertising for the travel and the wedding magazines [at Metro Corp., the owner of Boston Magazine]. While I was there I got the idea that, boy, if somebody ever did a magazine like Boston Magazine - only entirely for the gay community - it would seem to be something that would work and be successful.

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You’ve got a huge population, a really educated population, one that goes out and does a lot of things and is involved and active. And you’ve got a business climate that sees it as a good consumer base, so want to market to it.

You said you had a personal influence, as well.

My aunt is a lesbian and she was out in the ’60s in Greenwich Village.

How has it gone?

Our revenue has gone up every year, including 2009 when everybody else was dying on the vine. We didn’t grow as much as we wanted that year, but we still had a nice year.

How have you pulled that off given the economic climate and ongoing struggles of the media world?

One of the things that we’ve done since we started is we pay an inordinate amount of attention to our current clients - to advertisers that we have. It pays off because we keep our clients happy. We’ve got an advertiser renewal rate of more than 75 percent, which is really, really high in this industry.

Talk about the LGBT Executive Networking Night the magazine hosts. It’s an event attended by 1,000 people, and attracts well-known keynote speakers, including Patriots owner Robert Kraft. How did it start?

We saw - based on our involvement in the community - this unbelievable influence in downtown corporate Boston by the LGBT market, the banks, the law firms, health, the hospitals. And we thought wouldn’t it be great to pool all those people and start this little underground network where the bankers were working with the lawyers and the real estate people, and all this business was funneling back and forth.

Boston Spirit seems very focused on philanthropy. Why?

The role is really a little broader than the magazine. . . . It’s a little bit of everything.

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Philanthropy has always been an enormous part of the gay community. We’ve seen what the AIDS Action Committee, the AIDS Walk, has done over the last 25 years. The Fenway [Health] Men’s Event and Women’s Dinner, what they do. So we feel, number one, that we’ve got to carry that mantle. And number two, when the magazine started, a lot of these organizations helped us out.

So what is the magazine’s role in the community?

The role is really a little broader than the magazine. It’s the magazine, it’s the events that we do. It’s a little bit of everything and bringing that all together to coalesce the community.

What’s it like being the straight guy behind a gay magazine?

I figure somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent of the people that I come in contact with think I’m gay. It’s a compliment.

Has your sexuality ever been a point of contention, given your job?

That’s not an issue because I am not the editor. I don’t necessarily think that sexual orientation comes into play if I’m dealing with our printer, or I’m selling advertising, or I am organizing sponsorships. [But] if I was the editor of the magazine and I was organizing the content, the feel of the articles, and the angle and the direction of the articles - that simply wouldn’t be possible.

You’ve got to have someone who is in the community to do that. So our editor handles all that. I would never pretend to be able to take over that role.

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