"I'm so grateful to be a part of a media operation that's expanding every year," Larry Webster says.
by Jan Schlain
From the January, 2022 issue
Webster is a senior VP of Hagerty, the classic-car-insurer-turned-automotive-lifestyle brand that went public in December via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The deal, which includes more than $700 million in new investment, will let the company "continue to pay attention to new audiences," Webster emails, "beyond the existing 10 million fans and subscribers that have joined us so far."
An engineer by training, Webster got his start in automotive journalism in Ann Arbor at Car and Driver, and most recently edited Road & Track here (it's since moved to New York City). Now he's overseeing the bimonthly Hagerty Drivers Club magazine from an office on N. Main. And while the older car magazines have struggled with declining advertising, his budget has grown every year.
Hagerty Drivers Club "goes to almost 700,000 people now," says Webster. In 2022, they'll add Radius, a twice-yearly magazine aimed at high-end collectors. And they've "converted one of the conference rooms to a studio which we used for something we call Daily Driver videos."
The automotive news updates are part of a growing collection of videos posted on Hagerty's website and YouTube channel. With names like "Redline Rebuilds," "Barn Find Hunter," and "Why I Drive," they have "almost two million subscribers and hundreds of millions of views," Webster says. "People are really enthusiastic about it."
It's all part of CEO McKeel Hagerty's plan to build a community of car enthusiasts. Along with magazines and videos, the drivers club provides emergency services, vehicle valuation tools, and discounts on everything from brakes to books.
"Hagerty's mission is to save driving and car culture," Webster explains. "We want to encourage enthusiasm, and we want to bring it to the next generation ...
"You have to be in all mediums these days. We hope that the common thread is the love of the automobile."
Even before the pandemic, much of his group's work was done remotely. "We're test driving all over the country and sometimes, when it makes
sense, around the world," he says. "The nature of our modern workplace--with video production staff dispersed in multiple offices--'allows us to vary geography, visual interest, and even allows us better access to a variety of cars."
But "Ann Arbor will remain the home base for Hagerty media," Webster adds. "We have video people, photographers, designers, and writers. They work across all that we do--from the magazine to the website to our YouTube channel."
The IPO "provides us with the ability to continue our track record of investing in the business for long-term, profitable growth," emails McKeel Hagerty (who, like the company, is based in Traverse City). "That growth will also fuel member value--think about an ecosystem of events, experiences and content like Larry's team produces.
"With our growth model, we're expecting to hire more staff" in Ann Arbor, Hagerty adds. "We love that Ann Arbor is the hub of our media operations. It's an incredible, vibrant city which has a rich history in producing automotive editorial talent and points-of-view. That's only aided by its close proximity to the heart of the automotive industry.
"Larry and his team selected Ann Arbor for this exact reason, and we're excited about the next chapter of our growth."
Though younger people are said to be less interested in cars and driving, Hagerty's largest single group of YouTube viewers is under forty. And "over half of the folks calling [for insurance quotes] are GenX and younger," Webster says.
Even the long-promised shift to electric propulsion isn't necessarily a threat: "The Tesla roadster is now twenty years old," Webster points out. "It's a classic."
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