It’s a Saturday morning and Mike Mockler, founding publisher of Scene Magazine, is showing the downside of being the prince of late-night Northern Colorado. His eyes are puffy behind his dark sunglasses as he lazily saunters into Choice City Butcher for a late-morning breakfast of banana-bread French toast, but even in the revealing glare of daylight it’s apparent this guy is popular. Staff and patrons alike make their rounds to say hello, even joining him at his table. Truly, Mockler is a Fort Collins character, night or day.
April 1 marked 20 years that the Scene has been publishing in Northern Colorado. Considering how many Northern Colorado publications have come and gone, and the vastly different media landscape nationally, this is no small feat. And much of the Scene’s success, of course, can be credited to marketing, both of the magazine and Mockler. In fact, it all started with marketing.
When Mockler moved to Fort Collins from Brooklyn nearly 25 years ago, one of his first ventures was Relay Direct Marketing. Basically, they put flyers on doors. And interestingly enough, he employed another late-night staple, Old Town Jerry.
“Jerry was one of my crew guys,” Mockler says. “He would get homeless guys to flyer doors. I won’t do that again; one of them stole my car.”
Within a few years, he segued into more journalistic media with an entertainment section in the burgeoning publication, The Oracle. This was in 1989, and the New York Times published an article about how people wanted a “good news newspaper.” This point inspired Mockler to move away from politics in The Oracle, and turn it into a good-news entertainment paper. And largely, that is what the Scene has been. No one would ever accuse the Scene of being a journalistic masterpiece. Instead, it has been an important part of promoting Northern Colorado nightlife, arts and culture as if its goal is to market good news, which perhaps it is.
“If I went for high-end writers, I would’ve never made it,” Mockler says. “They don’t pick it up to read.”
But they do pick it up. Though the Scene’s circulation peaked in the boon of the ’90s at 25,000 copies a month, it still maintains a respectable 16,000 to 20,000 circulation at 1,000 locations throughout the region. And many do so to look for themselves in the “Late Night” photo section. If not, they’re looking for the best drink deals in “Cheap Dates” or entertainment in the calendar. Whatever it is, the end result is an encouragement not to stay in.
Through his years of marketing going out, Mockler has had some novel ideas. Perhaps the most memorable was the Scene limousine. From 2001 to 2003, a late-model limo with the Scene logo trolled the nighttime streets of Fort Collins offering free rides to those who’ve perhaps reveled a bit too much. Mockler never drove the thing, however. That job was for “Tiny” his 350-pound driver. But the limo rides ended abruptly with an after-hours call from District One police, who told him, “You’ve got an issue with your limo.” Apparently, there was a scuffle in the limo between two groups of guys that both thought they were up for a ride. The result was limo days were over, but the marketing of the Scene had made a mark.
“It’s still out there in people’s minds,” he says. And it is. The young lady joining us for breakfast at Choice City asks about it fondly. To which he replies that if he were still hiring Late Night Girls – picture Hooter’s girls slinging papers – he would sign her up.
Perhaps the most notable marketing tool Mockler has implemented is his “Publisher’s Picks.” Alt-weekly newspapers like Westword started the cash-cow “Best of” issue, and since then everyone has adopted it. But the Scene’s is special. Whereas other publications do exhaustive surveying of readers to determine the best in any given category, Mockler just picks his favorites. And he likes a lot of places. For Mexican food, there can be a winner for salsa, a winner for taco, a winner for green chile, a winner for margarita, etc. The Scene offers equal opportunity endorsements, and one gets the impression Mockler really does like all these places. And the places proudly display their certificate with him giving the thumbs up. Mockler says people look for it.
“Networking is really important,” he says. “Thankfully a lot of people know me.”
Recently, Mockler leveraged this notoriety and helped start the Fort Collins Musicians Association, whose mission is to “provide education, support and networking opportunities for the Fort Collins music community.” The non-profit hosted its coming out of sorts on April 10 and 11 with the Fort Collins Music Experiment. The event presented over 100 local bands at a dozen local venues in two days. When telling people this, one will be met with the reply, “I didn’t know there were 100 bands in Fort Collins.” Mockler says a FoCoMA survey indicates there are 400 bands. Clearly, as the “bible of music,” as one venue owner has called it, the Scene still has work to do. And it will continue doing it.
Mockler recognizes the future of the Scene is online, like any other print publication, but he doesn’t think the region is ready to lose print.
“People are scared of computers,” he says. “People pick up my paper because they can’t open Safari. I’ve had a website for 15 years, and never made five cents on it, but the future is online. We’re going through the struggle of looking at the web.”
It’s barely mid-day at Choice City. Mockler is onto his second glass of orange juice and has begun making plans for the evening. Tonight, it will be Lush at Crazy Jack’s Saloon, and he is trying to convince our breakfast guest – and anyone else in earshot – to join him. Wherever he is, Mockler’s booming voice can be heard promoting nightlife in Northern Colorado. And if he isn’t there, his paper certainly is, and may be for another 20 years.