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Micah Featured In 10 Year Anniversary of Laker Magazine

on January 7, 2011
Micah Gaudio

Micah Gaudio

Micah Gaudio’s love of Smith Mountain Lake was cultivated nearly a decade before he published the first issue of the Laker. While attending nearby Liberty University from 1992 to 1995, he often would visit SML to wakeboard on its quiet waters.

After graduating with degrees in advertising/public relations and media production, Gaudio moved to Florida, where he worked for some of the largest advertising agencies in the state as well as GE Healthcare. He married Shannon Owens in the backyard of her parents’ home on the Blackwater in 1998, and the couple soon began toying with the idea of returning to the SML area.

After making the move in May 2001, Gaudio started GO Agency, a full-service advertising agency, and launched the first issue of the Laker later that summer. For the next seven years, he served as the magazine’s publisher, chief photographer, ad salesman, creative director and graphic designer while building an in-house staff and corps of freelance writers and photographers.

In May 2007, Gaudio sold the publication to The Roanoke Times. The company merged operations with the newspaper’s weekly community publication, The Lake (now Laker Weekly), to form Laker Media.

Since then, Gaudio, 36, has been busy ramping up his ad agency and Wake N Skate, a board and apparel shop at Bridgewater Plaza he purchased in 2008. In addition, he was instrumental in the startup of Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy, the non-denominational private school his children – McKenna-Kate, 8, and Cash, 5 – attend. He continues to serve on the school’s board of directors.

As the Laker heads in to its second decade, we thought it appropriate to check in with the man who started it all.

- Andie Gibson, Editor

Q: What factors led to your decision to move to SML and start the magazine?

A: At the time, I was working for the second largest ad agency in Tampa. I felt like I was achieving everything, and it wasn’t enough. There was so much paperwork and red tape. It was so inefficient. But it was really the evolution of desktop publishing and digital photography that allowed us to put out this magazine in a small market. It drove down the hard costs. I saw this technology evolving and knew I could do it at SML.

Q: What was your original vision for the magazine?

A: Originally, I wanted to connect the lake. I was doing research and realized it was very fragmented, so I wanted to bring it all together. It also was going to be a heavily online project. I truly thought in three years we would reduce the print version and it would mostly be online. But people really came to embrace the print version, and it just got bigger and better. And that was my goal, to make each issue better than the last. The bonus is that I got to meet new people and have fun doing it.

Q: Does it surprise you how the magazine has evolved over the past 10 years?

A: I was challenged right off the bat. I remember the very first night we were here, I was talking to some locals at the Dudley Mart, and they were laughing at the prospect of a magazine dedicated to Smith Mountain Lake. I knew it wasn’t going to be an issue to find unique people to meet here. I knew there were always going to be great things to write about. … It’s a brand that has survived when other publications have come and gone. It’s been able to hold course even in the down economy, and that’s because the staff has been able to maintain consistently high quality.

Q: What did you enjoy best about your years as publisher of the Laker?

A: Taking photos and working on covers. I also enjoyed meeting new and interesting people at the lake, any kind of photo shoot on the water, and publisher’s rants!

Q: What have you enjoyed most about life since selling the magazine?

A: Spending more time with my family, helping out the community with the school and exploring other interests I didn’t have the time to do before. I’ve also enjoyed growing the ad agency.

Q: What is your focus now for GO Agency?

A: It’s all about social media, Google, Facebook, building websites that people can manage themselves. And it’s working. Businesses are seeing results. I’m a marketer at heart, so whenever there are results, I’m happy.

Q: After selling the magazine, you poured a lot of effort into getting SML Christian Academy up and running. How has that experience been?

A: That’s probably been the biggest challenge of my life, keeping that going. But it was needed at the lake. I saw so many great young families leaving the lake because of the proximity of the upper-grade schools [in Rocky Mount] and the fact that there was no Christian-based alternative. In addition to expanded healthcare, I think the school was the thing most needed to balance out this community.

Q: You also indulged your passion – wakeboarding – by purchasing Wake N Skate. Is operating a retail shop all you imagined it to be?

A: I’ve been on all sides of business except retail, so it’s been great getting that experience. I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned to [GO Agency] clients so that has been positive. And it’s kept me plugged into the lake.

Q: How has the business climate at the lake changed in the past 10 years?

A: In the beginning, there was a good-old-boy network. People were hesitant to do business with you if you weren’t born and raised here. Some didn’t want growth at all and would fight it. Now, that isn’t the mindset. It’s changed tremendously, especially since 2005 and 2006. There’s not that anti-growth mentality. It’s more of a feeling that growth is going to happen, let’s make the best of it.

Q: What are your predictions for the lake for the next 10 years?

A: I can’t really give any predictions, so how about a wish list? At some point the construction will have to start back up, we’ll have a wakeboard cable park, SMLCA will include K-12 grades, the second Bridgewater Pointe tower will be built and the Laker Magazine will be 200 pages.

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