By Annie Rhoades
For Rachel West (BA 01), serving as publisher for both Invitation Oxford and Invitation Tupelo magazines is not only a job, it’s the culmination of a dream that began in her early teens.
Growing up in Pocahontas, Ark., West began her career in journalism as the editor for the Pocahontas High School newspaper, The Smoke Signal.
“From a young age I had an interest in journalism and media,” said West. “In 7th and 8th grade I remember being interested in that kind of career, but I didn’t know how exactly I would fit into that lineup.”
West first came to Ole Miss in 1996 while perusing different colleges to pursue her education.
“One of the things that was really important to me was for the university I chose to have a journalism department or school so I could really hone my interest in journalism,” said West.
Ironically, West was accepted to Ole Miss in the spring of 1996 on a vocal music scholarship. On a whim while visiting the university in April, West walked into the music department and the choir director happened to be there.
“I walked in and said, ‘I’m sure you don’t give scholarships to non music majors but I was just wondering if I could sing in the choir when I get to school here?’ said West. “He asked me to sing a few different songs and about two weeks later I received a letter in the mail stating my out of state tuition had been waived if I would sing in the university’s choir.”
West knew that singing was a hobby and ultimately the means to an end. Her passion remained in journalism. Diving into a basic news reporting class at Farley Hall during her freshman year, West was quickly on her way to achieving her dreams.
Throughout her college career, West worked as managing editor for the Daily Mississippian. After graduating in 2001 she briefly served as a reporter for The Oxford Eagle before moving to Jackson, Miss. to work in public relations for Hinds Community College and freelance write for VIP Jackson magazine.
In fall 2005, West began serving as public information officer for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in Jackson where she met her husband and now editor for both magazines, Phillip West.
With an extensive background in the newspaper industry, Phillip was able to assist her in taking the leap to start her own magazine.
“I knew that the job with FEMA wouldn’t last forever and I knew that I wanted to start my own business,” said West. “The opportunity was there in Oxford because at that time North Mississippi had not yet been introduced to an event magazine concept.”
With West, her husband, a salesperson and a graphic designer, Invitation Oxford was created in 2006, with the first issue published in October 2006.
“My mother took the photo on the front cover of the first issue looking out from the City Grocery bar with a small camera,” said West. “The photo had a white tablecloth with wine glasses. It was a concept that was supposed to be inviting, thus the name Invitation Oxford.”
Since 2006, the publication has steadily grown, expanding to the Tupelo market in 2010 with the introduction of its sister publication, Invitation Tupelo. With 15 full time employees and a distribution of 30,000 copies per magazine each issue, West is humbled by the magazines’ success.
“People tell me all the time that they look at the magazine(s) to find new businesses that have opened in town or a new product or service they’re looking for…I think that sets us apart,” said West. “People trust us and truly enjoy reading the magazine.”
West knows none of this would be possible without the hard work and dedication of her staff.
“The 15 employees that work with me work very hard every day to make this publication a success,” said West. “They work just as hard as I do.”
West is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha fraternity, serving as the chapter’s vice-president during the 1998-1999 school year. She and her husband purchase season football tickets each year and try to make it to occasional basketball and baseball games, as well as Ford Center functions.
“The university is a big part of our lives,” said West. “I think being a member of the Alumni Association is an excellent opportunity to connect with fellow alumni from all ages and walks of life. It’s something that all Ole Miss alumni have the opportunity to be a part of and I want to take advantage of that.”