Interview: Claude Grunitzky

Claude Grunitzky launched Trace as a shoestring venture 10 years ago to fill what he saw as a gap between the existing coverage of the hip-hop and fashion worlds.

Claude Grunitzky launched Trace as a shoestring venture 10 years ago to fill what he saw as a gap between the existing coverage of the hip-hop and fashion worlds.

Now, he oversees both the US and UK editions, along with Trace TV, and heads an ad agency that markets to his target audience. He spoke to PRWeek about the transcultural lifestyle.

PRWeek: What was your vision for Trace when you founded it?

Claude Grunitzky: It was just an experiment in the beginning. I'd been reading magazines like Vibe that dealt with hip-hop and R&B and reggae culture, but I didn't feel like any of them represented the style element... with very strong photography or styling.

PRWeek: What growth have you seen over the years?

Grunitzky: A lot. We've grown obviously in size, but we've also grown across media platforms. Essentially, it started very small, almost as a fanzine, with like 1,000 copies printed. Now we have two separate editions...with more than 100,000 circulation between the two of them. Then we have other side ventures as well, one of them being Trace TV, which is a partnership with Goldman Sachs. And we also have an advertising agency, called TRUE Agency, based in Los Angeles. And that started as a partnership with Omnicom.

PRWeek: Is that multi-platform approach something you planned originally?

Grunitzky: Not at all. When I started, I just thought that we were going to be publishing a monthly magazine, and that was it. But what happened was about two or three years after we launched, the internet bubble started getting bigger and bigger. And we saw that a lot of the media properties that were really interesting were actually online. We never really found a strong online solution; that's one of the things we're working on. But we realized that we had to reinvent our business model, and not be solely reliant on advertising and circulation revenue, because a lot of the dollars were being shifted to other media platforms. So it's almost like we hedged out bets, and put our eggs in several baskets.

PRWeek: What's the relationship between the TRUE Agency and the magazine?

Grunitzky: I'm the chairman of both companies, but I really do prefer Trace Magazine, which is my baby. The agency is a much larger business, but it's pretty much a separate business. There isn't that much of a relationship. The only thing is, the agency sometimes utilizes Trace Magazine for insight when we're preparing campaigns for some of our clients.

PRWeek: The tagline for Trace is "Transcultural Styles and Ideas." What is transculturalism?

Grunitzky: Transculturalism is an evolution of "multiculturalism." It's really about reaching across cultural boundaries and exploring different cultures. Essentially, it's different from multiculturalism in the sense that multiculturalism is based on separate identities... whereas transculturalism doesn't really separate people according to race or [religion].

PRWeek: What is Trace's target audience?

Grunitzky: We're trying to reach transculturals... curious, open-minded metropolitan style followers in the big metropolitan cities, such as New York, LA, London, Paris, and Tokyo.

PRWeek: Who do you consider your competitors to be?

Grunitzky: We don't really have any direct competitors in [our] space. Because we're at the mix of several different publishing arenas-on one end, you could say that Vibe Magazine is a competitor, because they're very strong in the urban/ R&B/ hip hop thing; on the music side, you could also say that The Fader is our competitor, because they like to represent up and coming artists and emerging bands; and on another side, you could say that a magazine like BlackBook would be our competitor, because they feature up and comers across art, fashion, and film.

PRWeek: Do you think the increasing popularity of hip-hop culture itself has helped lift up Trace?

Grunitzky: Yes. However, we find that as hip-hop has grown to be more mainstream and popular, the hip-hop genre that is appealing to our audience isn't necessarily the most popular kind.

We were the first magazine to write about 50 Cent 10 years ago, before he even had a record deal. At the same time, we don't necessarily relate to his music now in the way that we did [then].

We see that a lot of hip-hop has been overcommercialized, and we don't relate to a lot of the huge sellers, which is why our audience [will] be limited, because we're not going to be putting some of those people on the cover.

PRWeek: What types of stories do you shoot for in Trace?

Grunitzky: The only word I'd use would be "alternative." We want to offer an alternative to the mainstream magazines. The cover star is usually a celebrity, and we find we do better when we have a celebrity on the cover. However, inside the magazine, we really like to feature up-and-coming talent.

PRWeek: Is the website the next growth area for you?

Grunitzky: It's funny, because we've been working on the online solution for two years, and we still haven't figured it out. It's changing so fast that we need to come up with something that's going to be pretty compelling, because we realize that a lot of our readers want us to come strong online, but right now we're very weak online. So I'm going to be spending a very big portion of this year trying to figure out that online solution for Trace.

PRWeek: Any advice you would give to PR people?

Grunitzky: Read the magazine. We get approached by so many publicists who obviously aren't familiar with [it]. I mean, after 10 years, we have a clear identity.

Name: Claude Grunitzky

Title: Editor-in-chief

Outlet: Trace Magazine

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