Creativity 50 2015

Creativity 50 2015: Douglas McGray and Chas Edwards

Editor-in-Chief, CEO; Publisher, President; The California Sunday Magazine, Pop-Up Magazine

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Douglas McGray and Chas Edwards
Douglas McGray and Chas Edwards Credit: Jake Stangel

A collaboration between The California Sunday Magazine and Google Play, "California Inspires Me," has produced some of the year's most beautiful content: a series of animated films examining how the Golden State has shaped the careers of successful artists. Subjects in films created out of BBH L.A. have included James Franco, Rashida Jones, Brian Wilson and Jack Black.

Editor-in-Chief Douglas McGray and Publisher Chas Edwards co-founded the magazine in late 2014. Its launch followed the creation of the inspirational Pop-Up Magazine, a "live magazine" that presents filmmakers, photographers, writers, public radio producers and artists live at San Francisco and L.A. venues. Pop-Up has staged collaborations with Beck and ESPN and has guest-edited a Ted session. The magazine and events attempt to bring quality journalism to those hungry for it, both through the content and a unique distribution model.

The print edition of California Sunday is delivered with The Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and San Diego Union-Tribune, but according to a piece by Nieman Journalism Lab, only to hand-selected audiences: younger, urban and tech-savvy crowds and not necessarily the wealthy readers newspapers target. The strategy has led the mag to attract advertisers such as Google, Lexus and the California Milk Processor Board.

Ad Age: What inspired you to set up California Sunday?

Douglas McGray: I was working as a writer and radio producer at The New Yorker, "This American Life," The New York Times Magazine, et cetera. One day, it occurred to me that magazines and radio felt like oddly separate worlds, given the fact that we're all in the business of finding and telling stories. Film and photography, too. So I recruited some collaborators and created Pop-Up Magazine, a "live magazine," to mix these worlds together.

I noticed something amazing happened at these Pop-Up Magazine shows. Everyone turned off their phones and really watched and listened. It got me thinking a lot about time and attention. During the workday, media companies fight for tiny slivers of our time. Pop-Up Magazine shows happen at night, when we can pay attention in a different way. The other time like that is the weekend. I started thinking about place too. National media is overwhelmingly concentrated in New York. California felt like an ideal place to start something new.

In the fall of 2014, we turned these ideas into a media company. We expanded Pop-Up Magazine nationally. And for weekends, we launched The California Sunday Magazine.

Ad Age: How did the Google Play collaborations come about?

Chas Edwards: Google Play asked us how best to translate their "play your heart out" ethos to our audience, and we pitched the idea for a "story advertisement" series of short animated films celebrating backstories of iconic California entertainers.

Ad Age: What was your biggest creative challenge this year?

Mr. McGray: We're always trying so many new things, like at Pop-Up Magazine this fall, producing a story about traumatic brain injury as a collaboration between a newspaper journalist and a renowned shadow theater company. But most of all, I've been challenged and inspired by the idea of building new things -- experiences, publications, companies -- that help other people create, and that bring people together.

Ad Age: What's your personal definition of creativity?

Mr. McGray: Making something that tests the limits of what you know how to do.

Ad Age: What can we look out for in 2016?

Mr. McGray: New Pop-Up Magazine shows, including some new kinds of live experiences. New, ambitious stories from California Sunday.

Mr. Edwards: And new story advertising campaigns. The most exciting brand collaborations are when an ad campaign evolves in the eyes of readers and fans into an authentic content series that they eagerly await, relish and share with friends.

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