The Story Behind the Stories

Focus Media Group Celebrates 10 Years
Written by Jaime McKee

We are Focus Media Group, or FMG. For the past ten years, we’ve been honoured to bring you the stories of businesses across all sectors, and we can assure you that we’ve had fun doing it! To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we’d like to tell you our story.

It was June 18th, 2012, and things were not going according to plan. The goal of this first day in the Canadian office with the new team was to start strong, to show these recruits that FMG was headed for success. But instead of being able to get the ball rolling with coaching and demonstrations, Publisher Jeff Hocken found, instead, that the power was out.

So, Jeff did what Jeff does best—he improvised and made it fun. This first day was not going to be what he had planned, but it would be a good day. Jeff took everyone to the pub, which turned out to be the perfect environment to get FMG to quickly transition from a group of strangers to a group of friends.

Reflecting on this day almost 10 years later, Operations Director Adam Cameron starts to describe how calm and unworried Jeff was about all this, but Jeff starts to laugh. It turns out, Jeff was panicking on the inside on this first stressful day, but he clearly had the leadership chops to project confidence, and that helped set FMG’s core philosophy of integrating fun into the workplace from day one.

“I hid my fear well, and it’s a good thing I did because Adam’s still here 10 years later, possibly because of that day and how it all started,” says Jeff. “Work has to be fun! If it’s not fun, I don’t want to be here.”

“I think I’m going to like this,” thought Adam at the time.

The early days

Focus Media Group actually has its genesis in Australia, where Jeff Hocken, his business partner at the time, and their dynamic team refined their business model.

With a degree in geography and a work history that ranged from military to sales, Jeff’s role as business owner and publisher of business magazines might not have been an obvious choice. But Jeff has always been a ‘yes’ person when it comes to opportunities. He is curious, drawn to adventure and fun, and is never the sort to turn down anyone’s idea without giving it fair consideration.

With Controller Jen Hamilton’s administrative skill and keen eye for detail, and Robert Hoshowsky’s experience as a writer and editor, the first publication, Australian Construction Focus, was born, and FMG began to refine its business model to best tell the stories of companies down-under.

As that magazine grew, the volume of work soon demanded more writing staff, and Jeff reached out to his brother, Tim Hocken (an aerospace engineer, of all things) and Jaime McKee (who holds a degree in community development) to help fill in until he could find more staff. As it turned out, Tim and Jaime enjoyed the work—the freedom to work remotely, the opportunity to learn about businesses all over the world, and the chance to work with family—and along with Robert, they formed the early editorial team at FMG and turned a temporary gig into a rewarding career.

In 2012, with the lessons learned in the Australian market, Jeff was ready to start anew in North America. Having been born and raised in Canada, the Halifax launch really represented coming home for Jeff. For Adam Cameron, however, it initially represented confusion.

When Adam first came across the job posting for Focus Media Group, he was immediately interested in the role, particularly the content research side. With an attractive on-target earnings number, he happily agreed to an interview. However, when the calendar invitation came in from an Australian email address for an interview at eight o’clock at night, Adam was certain it was just a scam, so he didn’t accept the invitation.

But, as Adam would later learn about Jeff’s personal approach, a declined calendar invite is not going to stop him. Jeff called at the proposed time anyway, catching Adam off-guard!

“So, come eight o’clock this weeknight back in 2012,” Adam recalls, “my phone starts ringing and it’s from this crazy number. I answered it and it was Jeff. I think the interview went alright—I don’t really remember it!… In the end, I think it went alright, because he set up an interview for when he was coming to Halifax! I still wasn’t sure. I still had my doubts up until we met.”

Eventually, Adam would transition into management, becoming FMG’s Operations Director—after convincing Jeff that he wasn’t, in fact, “too nice” for the role.

Modern management

The two make a good team. Adam cites Jeff’s flexibility and willingness to take risks as key to the company’s growth, while Jeff champions Adam’s compassion and sense of fairness. “I try to put myself in their shoes,” says Adam, of the company’s staff. “I do hold people accountable, but not in an unjust or unreasonable way.”

The entire leadership team share some core values that help make FMG what it is today. Employees’ ideas are always welcomed, and management is flexible and open to different ways of getting things done. Content Developer Jamal Francis-Anderson describes it as “a very close-knit community… It’s not that large of a company that you can’t just go talk to senior leadership when needed, and senior leadership doesn’t view the employees as beneath them.”

For Graphic Designer Ashley Dowling, this rings true. “Being a part of FMG means that you become a part of the team instantly. Your input is taken into consideration and we all collaborate to become better and more successful. I am trusted to get my work done so I have a lot of freedom in how I schedule and prioritize my work,” she shares. “FMG values teamwork and collaboration inside and outside of work, doing extra-curricular activities to let loose and talk with one another. We all eat lunch together and are able to reset ourselves by being in a social environment. It’s nice working in an office where having fun and being social is also important.”

As Jeff says, “every voice in the company matters.”

The FMG way

An open and supportive management style isn’t the only way FMG sets itself apart. Owing in part to a business model that has always supported remote communication, FMG has been green from the start. Business in Focus, alongside sister publications Construction in Focus, Resource in Focus, and Manufacturing in Focus, make it their mission to highlight eco-friendly organizations, initiatives, and technologies, and FMG walks the walk.

Jeff explains that, even before COVID, “I wanted to prove that we could do the business from home to reduce commuting, and I wanted to prove we could do short-run print, with the vast majority of our distribution online. That was what we started with and we’ve remained green,” donating issues to local high schools and maintaining a paperless office.

This ability for much of the team to work from home has also meant that FMG has never taken the staff writer approach. In fact, editorial is kept deliberately independent from the sales side to ensure journalistic integrity, and FMG is thus able to draw on a breadth of unique voices and perspectives. The end result is a rich, tailored finished product with the client’s voice coming through the clearest.

“We have independent journalists so that our readers have engaging articles that speak to them,” Jeff explains. “We hire people from all over the world because we want different, diverse perspectives.”

Contributing Writer Allison Dempsey found that this model was just what she was looking for. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for FMG for the past two years and, in fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a company I’ve liked working with more,” she says. “As a long-time freelance writer, FMG has provided exactly what I always look for: highly interesting assignments; positive, constructive feedback; the ability to work at my own pace within a prescribed deadline; and an overall welcoming and encouraging environment. As an added bonus, I’m continuously impressing my friends and family with all the new facts and inventions I learn about on a monthly basis!”

“This new way of doing things,” says Jeff, “led to clients asking more and more about using their articles as brochures, which is why we began doing just that.” Every client receives a completely custom brochure version of their feature article—a valuable tool for trade shows, branding, and recruiting, and a point of pride for the FMG team members who are able to make it happen.

A culture built on people

Adam believes that it is partly this bespoke nature of the work that draws people to FMG. “The description of the role is intriguing: searching for content for a magazine. It’s interesting and it’s different,” he says.

“And why do they stay? I truly believe it is the culture that we have here. I’ve worked a lot of jobs and I’ve never seen a group of people get along as well as they do here—and for 10 years!”

“I credit those early employees with affecting the environment and culture going forward,” says Jeff. “They helped set the foundation, they helped build the company—it’s their company as much as anyone else’s.”

Content Developer Wendy Hood-Morris agrees. “I work at FMG for the people,” she says. “The people I work with day-to-day make going to work a pleasure. We’re a close-knit team and rely on each other. Also, I love talking with business leaders across North America and learning their stories!”

Sales & Marketing Manager Luke Simms, who has been part of the team for seven years, enjoys the opportunity to learn and contribute in a fun environment. “When I was looking for a career and a place to work, I wanted to be around cool, like-minded, fun people,” he says. “With FMG, it’s been a lot of fun and a learning experience to ride the wave of a growing young company and to have a hand in some of the decisions that were made along the way. That adds value to the work that I put into the company.”

For Contributing Writer Jessica Ferlaino, “reflecting on this milestone is exciting from both a personal and professional standpoint, as I have had the opportunity to grow alongside the organization and its publications. Ten years ago, I wrote my very first article for Business in Focus, which kickstarted my career as a freelancer, and today, I am grateful to continue to work alongside the team as they strive for even greater outcomes in the future. It has been an absolute pleasure… being part of something so amazing that shines a light on some really great stories and companies across North America.”

Looking ahead

Focus Media Group has evolved over the years, and the founding principles that have always made it fun continue to make it a success. Taking calculated risks, building integrity into the business, and maintaining an open-door management policy—all set against a backdrop of fun—have been cornerstones to the business’ growth and adaptability. “As long as we’re all working together for a common goal, there’s nothing we can’t handle,” says Jeff. “That was the whole idea; if everyone assumes we’re going to win, we’re going to.”

That wild first day in 2012 set the tone, and what followed has been quite the ride. “In the beginning,” says Jeff, “optimism is all it was… We look at what’s possible.” We’re excited to see what further possibilities lie ahead.

Sidebar:

Management and the Art of Ping Pong

As you might imagine, this writer is keenly aware of Jeff’s lifelong love of ping pong. “I loved this game,” he says; “I would play for 19 straight hours and figure out food later. I couldn’t get enough. So my dream, when I opened a business, was to make enough money to justify the square footage required for a ping pong table.

“I brought it in primarily to be a team building activity… a semi-competitive, ‘have some fun before getting back to work, get the blood flowing so you’re not tired’ activity, a fun activity for lunches,” Jeff shares.

“But the cool part,” he says, “is our team invented new rules to be more inclusive… They changed it so you can’t hit the ball twice in a row when it’s your team’s turn to hit it. No matter where the shot goes, you have to back up, get out of the way, and work as a team.”

Sidebar:

Where ‘Healthy’ and ‘Fun’ Go Hand in Hand

At FMG, “healthy” and “fun” are a package deal, resulting in a healthy workplace where people can both be successful and let loose. The ping pong table is a key piece to this puzzle, as are some other fun lunchtime shenanigans!

For example, a local tavern had a promotion one holiday season where patrons who came in singing a Christmas carol would get a free beer. Somehow, the whole office ended up participating! “We took everybody,” Adam recalls. “We all went down to the Red Stag. We decided which song we were going to sing on the way in, and we all sang this entire song.” The bartender was satisfied after the first verse, and started pouring, but the team insisted on finishing the entire carol together first, before enjoying their drinks and heading back to work. How many days of Christmas are there again?

This healthy, fun attitude, nurtured in part by the flexibility and trust afforded to staff, is punctuated regularly by such memorable events, but the big company parties might have a little something to do with it as well. Many companies have big Christmas parties, and FMG pulls out all the stops for those, but it also hosts epic summer parties at the FMG Lakehouse, to let off some steam in July in the natural beauty of Nova Scotia. Singing around the bonfire, paddle-boarding out to tiny rock islands, or just chilling out on a giant ‘floaty’ in the lake—this outing has more of a summer camp feel to it than office party, for sure!

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