By Kelly Dattilo
Association publishing professionals are often tasked with managing several projects using small staffs and even smaller budgets. Books, recruitment materials, social media, blogs, newsletters, and a myriad of other projects can stand between an organization and a great association magazine. Unfortunately, massive workloads and limited financial resources mean that often we don’t have time or money to truly examine the flagship publication we use to communicate with members.
Taking these limitations into account, Association Media & Publishing’s Annual Meeting Pre-Conference workshop, "Perk Up Your Magazine: How to Brew a Better Book,” shared several tips to improve the quality of our magazines. Upon entering, we were all given a copy of "The 10-Step Do-It-Yourself Critique Workbook." Rob Sugar, president and creative director of AURAS Design, led a room packed with association publishers through the process of self-critiquing magazines using a relatively quick and inexpensive process. While the book offered 10 steps to a self-critique, the workshop explored six steps to building a better magazine:
Step 1—Develop the Mission. Magazines’ missions are constantly evolving; therefore, they should be reevaluated annually. The critique workbook includes an activity (similar to a Mad Lib™) that helps publishers create a mission. By building the mission one component at a time, you explore who your audience is, what your tone should be, advantages over your competitors, and potential secondary audiences. The mission will guide everything you do in the self-critique.
Step 2—Explore Your Archetype. It’s helpful to find a successful magazine from your archetype to help update your magazine. Alternatively, a magazine may be served by taking two archetypes to create a brand new archetype (Saveur did this by combining food and travel archetypes). Association publishing magazines can gain credibility by mimicking the commercial archetypes that we most closely resemble. A professional-looking magazine with familiar structure can also increase advertiser interest.
Step 3—Scope. The magazine’s scope should be developed by looking at the mission statement. It’s displayed, however, in the table of contents. A strong table of contents will be more than simply a listing of the magazine’s articles in that issue. It should prioritize articles by importance and urge readers to delve into a magazine by using images and editorial. The table of contents is the editors’ place to market the magazine’s articles.
Step 4—Structure. The best way to analyze a magazine’s structure is to create an issue map incorporating each page broken down into logical sections. The book should have enough easily identifiable sections to create a rhythm.
Step 5—Navigation. A magazine with good navigation will have navigational elements built into the cover and table of contents. But magazine skimmers use the outer one-third of a magazine to determine what they’re going to read. Incorporating clear visual cues that distinguish different parts of the magazine allows casual readers to jump into the parts that interest them most. Including strong visual content on that outer one-third can drive them to parts of the magazine that they may not otherwise see.
Step 6—Branding. Distinctive navigational and typographical elements and templates do create branding, but so can editorial content. Franchise content (editorial that can only be found in a specific magazine) is valuable branding because it encourages reader loyalty. Specific ideas for editorial branding include:
· Creative naming. Rename common departments (e.g. letter to the editor) with a header that applies to your specific publication or industry.
· Editorial packaging. Develop editorial packages based on the mission and brand them to your magazine.
· Special issues. Create special issues and brand them, e.g., the Mental Floss "10” issues.
While taking time to review your publication may seem daunting, you will be rewarded with increased reader loyalty, revived advertiser interest, and renewed excitement towards your publication.
Kelly Dattilo (Twitter @k_dattilo) is publications manager for the North American Spine Society. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for graciously volunteering to cover the Annual Meeting Pre-Conference for those members who were unable to attend.