By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
It ain't easy being Steph. And it sure ain't easy being on the other end of the line when seventeen-year-old Stephanie Fleitas has something to sell you. "Don't tell me you don't have the budget," she warns a hapless ad director at a local company. "I don't want to hear it. Look, either you believe in education and you want to help, or you don't."
After much trial and error, Fleitas has discovered that in advertising, nice only gets you so far. Other tools of psychological warfare are required, such as the guilt trip, or on occasion, veiled threats. "We always get an excuse," complains Fleitas, marketing director for a fledgling student-run magazine called Frenzy. "I called Bayer [the pharmaceutical giant] and they were like, 'Oh, we already committed to other causes.' Then the next day I see they gave $18 million to the NFL. Like the NFL really needed it." Don't even get Fleitas started on Taco Bell. "They said we weren't their target demographic," she repeats incredulously. "Hispanic teenagers are not their demographic?!"
Fleitas's day job is actually taking classes as a student at Killian High School, but even there she is composing endless to-do lists -- calls to make, meetings to schedule, students to drive to interviews. This is what it takes to get a publishing empire off the ground. At the moment the empire consists of a warehouse studio in Kendall and 100,000 copies of the slick magazine stacked in boxes in a cargo bay at Miami International Airport, where they await inspection by U.S. Customs. Frenzy is printed in Colombia because it's much cheaper. Still the 120-page October issue coming out in the next week or so cost $81,000 just to print and ship. That's on top of the roughly $2000 per month it takes to maintain the studio, and more whenever equipment breaks down.
The idea is to make the magazine pay for itself, but so far the operation has been largely bankrolled through the strained credit cards of husband-and-wife team Lauren Fletcher-Garcia and Jorge Garcia. Fletcher-Garcia, 31 years old, is the editor/den mother of the Frenzy enterprise, which she began about eighteen months ago (although only recently has it become a high-production, glossy affair). A small, birdlike woman, Fletcher-Garcia had some experience in the publishing world as an editor at a local magazine called Sensational, but she wanted to do something that would make a difference for kids. Her husband Jorge, age 48, serves as Frenzy's art director. Garcia, a wiry Colombian with a small hoop earring and a ready laugh, spent most of his career as a freelance photographer. He figures he works eighteen hours every day between Frenzy and his freelance gigs, plus moonlighting as a Denny's waiter.
The magazine, which is distributed free to local middle and high schools, is not unlike other commercial publications aimed at teenagers, but the content is decidedly more provincial -- almost everything is written by Miami-Dade students. A small core of teens also helps with editing, photography, and design. Frenzy typically contains a mix of stories about subjects like drag racing, alligator wrestling, and fashion shows, along with poems, essays, an advice column, and short interviews with stars like P. Diddy and Cristina Saralegui, an early backer of the magazine.
Fletcher-Garcia says that when she first approached the school district, in 2001, about getting the magazine into the schools, then-superintendent Roger Cuevas made it clear she'd have to pay the district for access. When Cuevas was ousted she went back to see the new guy, Merrett Stierheim. She promised to put ten percent of any proceeds into a scholarship fund for the participating students, who would be required to maintain at least a C average in school and receive credit for community service hours. Stierheim agreed to allow the distribution, with a couple of caveats, such as no sex, alcohol, or cigarette ads.
Initially Frenzywas more pamphlet than magazine, printed on plain paper stock in black-and-white type. But this past May the first glossy issue was printed, 66 pages. Fletcher-Garcia figures that 44 pages would have been break-even size given the few paid ads they garnered, but she couldn't bring herself to turn down many of the stories submitted by students. For the most recent issue they took in only about $20,000 in advertising.
In a way, the two grownups are giving the kids a lesson in how not to run a magazine. That's because one goal of the undertaking -- financial viability -- runs headlong into the other goal, which is to give as many students as possible a forum for their writing. "These kids are smart and they have talent, but nobody wants to recognize it," Garcia explains. "They need that opportunity. We have no money, but I still have no doubt we'll make it. These kids push us."
Catch her on an off day and Fleitas, with big blue eyes and long brown hair highlighted a deep purplish red, looks like a normal jeans-and-a-T-shirt teenager. But most days, in heels, a pantsuit, and enough makeup for a dozen Britney Spears clones, she seems closer to Hollywood's idea of a teenager -- namely, 25-year-old actors channeling youthful angst. "People can't believe I'm only seventeen," Fleitas brags. "It's a great opportunity. My mom is like, 'Aren't you working a little too hard?' If I weren't doing this, I'd be home eating, watching TV, and going out with my friends. I plan to be the next Puffy with five cell phones and all these companies. He's a business genius. I want to be important."