By Stephanie Kern
On the last day of the 2019 annual meeting, outgoing Association Media & Publishing President Larry Hoffer sat down for a Q&A with Ken Crerar, president and chief executive officer of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (which most in the industry know publishes the multi-award-winning and revered Leader’s Edge magazine). This 10-time-per-year magazine, which began in 2004, takes a deep dive into the world of commercial insurance and group benefits distribution “with as much analysis and scrutiny as perspective and humor.” Here is what Ken had to say about his magazine, the future of publishing, company culture, and other big ideas.
Larry: If you were to wipe the slate clean in your publications department, what would that look like? Would Leader’s Edge still exist?
Ken: Leader’s Edge would still be here — because it’s about people (that wouldn’t change). Leader’s Edge focuses on the world of risk from a global perspective. We like to say that without risk there can be no progress, so we explore those things. The magazine digs deep into the issues facing the commercial insurance brokerage industry and helps our readers better serve their clients.
Larry: Tell us about the square shape.
Ken: My publications department purposely gave it that unique shape. We literally wanted it to stick out from the top of a briefcase. It’s easy to grab, and it grabs your attention.
Larry: Leader’s Edge is a bold publication in an industry not known for its boldness. What were your goals for the magazine?
Ken: The No. 1 goal is always to get it opened. The insurance industry (if you don’t work for it) is boring, but the people in it are exciting. So when we focus on the people, we can be less boring. We were aiming for a cross between Vanity Fair (cocktail-party smart) and The New Yorker (actually makes you smarter). And the cover of the magazine makes a big impact. If you print something uninteresting on the cover, nobody is going to pick it up. So the covers get the readers in — but then there still has to be more.
Larry: Does the team you have in place have to be pushed “out of the box”?
Ken: Yes — I push them, and we fail sometimes. And that’s OK. At the end of the day, it’s about making the people in the industry smarter about what they do. But if you write about an industry (instead of its people), readers are going to be bored. You must put people first. If I can make insurance exciting, you can certainly make your industry exciting. And for us it’s not about making money — it’s about moving the message along.
Larry: Leader’s Edge is aspirational. What do you say to people with smaller budgets who say they could never do it?
Ken: Stop making excuses. Leader’s Edge doesn’t have an enormous staff. We use freelancers and consultants. You just need one smart person to drive it.
Larry: We live in a world of information overload. How do you know you’re connecting and resonating with your members?
Ken: We listen to them and work to continually build a relationship of trust with them. Most people don’t have time to read the things they should be reading, much less what they want to read. Readers know that Leader’s Edge is going to make their life and job better, so they value it and make time for it.
Larry: What factor does your company culture play in its success?
Ken: I take the culture of our company very seriously. One factor I look for in every employee is some kind of entrepreneurial spirit — they shouldn’t be sitting there waiting for something. Also, I wanted to create an environment with a sense of community. We renovated our office space about three years ago to accomplish just that. I added warm colors throughout the office, shorter desks so people could see each other and would be more respectful of the noise level, an espresso bar, a big farm table for lunch breaks, etc. — all of which are much more inviting (and conducive to work) than traditional office environments.
Larry: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Ken: If I wasn’t doing this, I would do something in vocational education — that industry is prime for change. The current generation is missing out on great, creative things that don’t require a classroom, and some kids would really benefit from this. We’re also losing the ability to work with our hands. We simply haven’t been able to move the dial at all in K–12 education. The big question is “why?” So that’s something I have a lot of passion for right now.
Larry: What do you think, or hope, your association will be?
Ken: I hope that I’ve pulled together some of the best, smartest people to do the job. I don’t lose a lot of people, and I’m proud of that. Building trust with my board of directors has been the most important factor, though. They trust me, and my entire team. If your board is dabbling in your operations, you need to get them out.
Stephanie Kern is editor for the American Staffing Association. Association Media & Publishing thanks Stephanie for her stellar job covering this session from the AM&P Annual Meeting for our members who were unable to attend.