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John Lawrence: Co-founder Modern Trade Communications, which helped define, promote and grow the industry

2012 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

John Lawrence

John Lawrence is a magazine guy. He's built a career selling ads and running magazines, which as an industry is pretty far afield from the metal construction industry. With his partner, Sam Milnark, though, Lawrence created Metal Building News (which became Metal Construction News), Metal Architecture, Metal Home Digest and Metal Building Developer. These magazines became a focal point for the promotion of the industry, the voice of contractors and architects, as well as the embodiment of the success of the commerce within the industry.

It is a funny thing that happens when a person has to sell an ad in a magazine. He needs to define an audience for that ad-someone willing to purchase the product being sold-and convince the advertiser there is value in spending the money. That simple sell can define an industry and, done over and over and over and over again, it can make an industry grow. For that simple yet vital act, John Lawrence receives the Metal Construction Hall of Fame award.

Of course, Lawrence did more than just sell advertising. After working for nearly two decades selling for the Wall Street Journal, newspapers and Penton Media Inc. publishing company, he and Milnark found opportunity in the metal building world. "We were inspired by a building system we saw up in Michigan," Lawrence says. "It was a firehouse, police station and municipal complex. A small building. But we said, 'Hey, this is pretty nice. This is an industry we could serve.'" So they decided to start a magazine to serve that industry.

In June 1980, the first issue of what was then called Metal Building News rolled off the presses. It was distributed nationally to an audience of contractors, erectors and design-build contractors. Just as importantly, it contained 16 pages of advertising. Asked when he knew the magazine would be successful, Lawrence says, "We knew right off it would work." In addition to advertising, the two men received a stack of letters from readers, demonstrating that the time was ripe to define an industry.

The greatest joy of being a part of this industry is the opportunity to build strong and memorable relationships with many of the finest people around.

John Lawrence

Lawrence has been present at the creation of most of the major milestones in the metal construction industry. He was instrumental in helping get the Metal Construction Association off the ground during initial meetings in Houston and Dallas in the early 80s. He also helped launch METALCON International. "We knew that if there was a strong trade association," he says, "we would have a strong industry."

During that time, Milnark and Lawrence divided tasks so that he was responsible for running the business side of the magazines, while Milnark worked within the association. "Sam was a gifted guy," he says. "He readily took the construction market. He was mechanically inclined."

If Lawrence does take stronger credit for one thing, it is the creation of Metal Architecture magazine and the focus on selling metal building systems to architects. "I'm very proud of our selling to the entire market," he says. "Builders, contractors and design-build contractors. And going across the aisle and bringing architects in. We brought the metal building system in front of the architect."

While the magazine helped sell the metal building system to architects, it also aggregated an architect audience that allowed manufacturers to more easily reach this tough-to-get audience. Many avenues for promotion of the metal construction industry have emerged over the years. But the success Lawrence found through his efforts in defining the industry, building an audience and selling the concept to everyone helped make those subsequent efforts louder and more successful. For that, Lawrence earns Metal Construction Hall of Fame honors.

"The greatest joy of being a part of this industry is the opportunity to build strong and memorable relationships with many of the finest people around."