A veteran in media and marketing, both in general, but with a specialty in LGBTTQ+ market. In his 32 year career, Antoine Elhashem has left a great and indisputable mark on media in the LGBTQ+ community. He has had, and continues to have, one of the most successful careers in the industry. Work wise Antoine has worked at all the major LGBTQ+ print publications in Toronto over the years, and was an integral player in opening many doors between mainstream businesses and LGBTQ+ consumers, as well as advocating for respect and inclusion.
In 2004, Antoine brought together a team of passionate and experienced individuals on board to form INspired Media Inc.. It has grown over a 18 years span to a multi level and vast media that publishes The Pink Pages Directory (which he took over the reigns 12 years ago from the past publisher, and is now the oldest local LGBTQ+ publication, and has grown under his guidance to cover all of North America and recently South Africa), entertainment magazine theBUZZ, lifestyle magazine PinkPlayMags, and a mainstream family magazine The Local Biz Mag. INspired Media is also the producer of “On the Couch”, the longest running local LGBTQ talk show featuring great talents from the community, now in its eighth season, and the first to be broadcast on pretty much all ROGERS tv stations in Ontario. Plus he is a co-host and co-producer a new community show that launched recently “The Queer Bunch” (a co-production with Alliance South Asian AIDS Prevention and Middle Eastern Nights.)
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Antoine Elhashem: I have been in media and marketing for over 33 years. I worked at several marketing companies and publications before I felt the need to start my own business adventure. And that’s what it has been, a fantastic adventure. Starting INspired Media Inc. was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
It started as marketing consultation for small businesses and graphic and web design services, and over 18 years we have expanded to publish a directory, a number of magazines (for the LGBTQ+ community as well a mainstream family magazine), produce talk shows, networking events, social media platforms, and more. We are considered SME on the LGBTQ+ community, but also, we are experienced in marketing and business in general.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Antoine Elhashem: I can tell you it was terrifying when I heard things are shutting down. I thought I would lose everything we worked hard to build. But I think we got lucky that we acted fast. Conversations started right away with the team about cutting corners, reducing spending on things we really didn’t need, we reduced our hours (luckily in Canada we had income support from the government).
With these adjustments we managed to coast along. But also, there was the boredom in the first few months of lock-down. We are used to being busy, so it was a little eerie not to have much to do. We always like helping other businesses, so we decided to use our time to help even more, and for free. We had the platforms, and we were keeping them going (magazine and social media and websites), so we thought why not help, so we created a ton of free initiatives to help businesses who were trying to stay open and offer curb side pick up, remote service, and such, get the word out. We are trying to keep all that we learned to help us move forward and thrive as things get back to normal.
I would say the business who will thrive are ones who will take the lessons learned and adjust their business models to be ready for anything like this that may happen in the future.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Antoine Elhashem: I think businesses need to focus on being innovative. Take a look at the business, perhaps there are new opportunities that we didn’t think of before the pandemic when we were busy with the day to day. Like a story I was reading just recently about Quebec sugar shack owners who are strangely crediting the pandemic with revitalizing their industry. For those who may not know, the spring sugar shack experience is eating beans and ham at long tables with strangers, enjoying tractor rides through the melting snow and nibbling snow-chilled maple syrup on wooden sticks. From what I understand that was on a decline before the pandemic.
But two years of lockdowns have forced the traditional industry to reinvent an outdated business model, and more sustainable than before. So, people in that industry got together and created portals online where sugar shack owners can now sell their products online year-round. They can also run a hybrid model: reopen for a limited indoor dining experience — with lower overhead costs — and sell take-home meals as well. It seems people who didn’t go to sugar shacks before the pandemic are now ordering meals to eat at home, I love stories like this.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Antoine Elhashem: Media was hit very hard. Especially niche media. And it makes sense. Media relies on advertising, and when businesses can’t operate, advertising gets cancelled. Many publications and media platforms either didn’t survive or took a big hit. We certainly did. We managed to adapt a bit by cancelling our printing of our magazines for the time being and doing everything digital (which also cut the cost of distribution.) together and created portals online where sugar shack owners can now sell their products online year-round. They can also run a hybrid model: reopen for a limited indoor dining experience — with lower overhead costs — and sell take-home meals as well. It seems people who didn’t go to sugar shacks before the pandemic are now ordering meals to eat at home, I love stories like this.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Antoine Elhashem: Honestly I can’t tell you if there is any advice that would have helped. It was a shock for everyone. But if anything can be improved moving forward to is plan our businesses with an online component to make sustainable if something like this ever happen again.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Antoine Elhashem: I think we all learned a good lesson, that we can lean on online available solutions and virtual meeting options. I think it will be helpful to incorporate a mix of that into the future (For me also reducing running around to meetings when we can see one another over zoom, or such will help reduce pollution. So, it’s a good thing. For our media, we certainly will cut down our footprint by reducing the amount of print of our publications that we will put out. We discovered that we can deliver to a larger number of readers by publishing online and using social media boosts to push content out to our readers.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Antoine Elhashem: A LOT, more than I want to. Between my laptop, phone, tablet, I feel like I am always on the go. During the first pandemic lock-down I actually felt a sense of relief being forced to slow down a bit (that didn’t last too long). Now that we are starting to open up our world again, I am hoping I will strike a balance between working hard and having personal time.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Antoine Elhashem: There is a story that I tell my team or anyone potentially joining our team. Years ago, when I worked for another media/marketing company, someone walked into our office wanting to look at doing some advertising in one of the publications we had. I took them to my office and through chatting about their ad needs I discovered that the guy was in real estate, was new to the business, had a limited budget, wanted to play like the big advertisers, and wanted to blow his whole budget on a big ad with us. I said listen my boss would hate me for this (I actually was the GM so I was the boss, but I wanted him to feel special) but give me enough for a small ad, and I will give you some numbers to call to advertise on other platforms and I think the combination of that will help you get on your feet. He was happy with the advice and did just that. He renewed his ad the year after, and the year after that. Four years later he walked into the office again and asked if I remembered him. I said of course. He said I am here to buy that big full-page ad that I wanted before, because your advise helped do very well. He bought that big ad for many years after that.
I could have been greedy and thought of instant gratification, and taken his money that first year he came in. But by really caring about your clients and giving them the best advice, you create a trust, and a long-term relationship. If you only think of it from a business standpoint, I made more money from that client on the long run, than if I had taken his money the first time. My team loves that story.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Antoine Elhashem: The challenge right now, at least for us in media and marketing, is to get back into things. To get innovative about new opportunities and new ideas to help clients, Businesses have struggled greatly during the pandemic. The right mix of marketing can help get them back on their feet. We need to be there to help. I would also say with an understanding that budgets might be tighter for a bit, so we all must work together to get back to more successful times.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Antoine Elhashem: I am always reading about marketing and media trends, I must, in order to best serve our community (readers), and clients (media advertisers or marketing clients). I do enjoy it; I keep a bit of my day everyday to read about something new in the industry.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Antoine Elhashem: I think the right mentality for me is the issue. I never thought of myself as a boss no matter which media I was working in or managing. I thought of all of us working as collaborators. Sure, I had to make the final decision in many cases, but that’s the least of the equation. The best work happens when everyone contributes and is appreciated for it. I actually don’t like the word, and I cringe when my co-workers introduce me as that. I think “bosses” need to create a much more collaborative and open environment. I love it when I have a heated discussion with someone I am working with, and they are passionate about it. I always say I can change my mind; you just have to sell me on it.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Antoine Elhashem: Adding another 24hrs to each day. Imagine what one can accomplish with that (trust me I will put it to good use.)
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Antoine Elhashem: Right now, in 2022 success for myself and my team is just get things activated again, connect with our clients whom we didn’t chat with as much when things were closed down, get things back to where things, while improving on the lessons we learned.
On a personal level I think the pandemic taught us that personal care, family and friends are really essential to our survival and mental stability, so success for me personally would be to make sure I balance work and personal moving forward.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Antoine Elhashem for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Antoine Elhashem or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.