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Defending Your Print - 1/13/2015 -

Defending Your Print

Prepare to justify your print magazine all year round — not just at budget time.

By Lois Douthitt

Your magazine may be the heart and voice of your association, but you need more than a declaration of your loyalty when budgets are under scrutiny and the digital option flashes around as a shiny object.

There are different approaches to determining and promoting the value of an association magazine.

Three thoughts, though, are key no matter which ones you pursue. First, know your primary customer — and it may surprise you to consider that this is your boss, not your readers. Second, don’t wait until your boss asks you at budget time to justify printing the magazine; seek and provide current data every year that shows the publication’s value. Third, make sure there is value to your magazine by always innovating and evolving.

Presenters offered this advice and more at AM&P’s December 2014 Lunch & Learn session. John Maisel, publisher for National Electrical Contractors Association, reminded those who attended that association execs are busy running the association, and it’s our responsibility to convince them of the magazine’s value in ways they can understand. "They’re the customer. Treat them that way,” he advised, adding that this doesn’t mean only at budget time. Instead, it’s a full-time job and "a year-round permanent effort.”

This effort includes continually collecting data. Yearly surveys help determine the numerical value readers place on the magazine. "What percentage of readers rates your magazine as a primary member benefit?” asked Joe Vallina, publisher for American Nurses Association. "If 35 percent of members rate the magazine as the number one benefit, explain that this puts 35 percent of your dues in jeopardy. This will get your CFO’s attention.”

Other value messages also can earn buy-in from executive staff, your board, and colleagues. "The magazine is a tangible brand that reaches a wider audience every month than your most popular conference,” Erin Pressley, vice president of NACS Media Group at The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing and president of AM&P, offered as an example. She recommended shifting the measure of success for an association magazine away from financial returns. "We must reject the idea — well-intentioned but wrong — that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become more like a business,” she argued. Change the conversation, she said, from "How much money do we make per dollar invested?” to "How effectively do we deliver on our mission and make an impact, relative to dedicated resources?”

That said, resources for the magazine — which compete with resources for all association initiatives — aren’t infinite. If you’re going to tout the value of your print publication, there must be value. Heed the feedback from surveys and make enhancements. "Don’t put out the same magazine you published five years ago,” Pressley said.

All presenters offered recommendations for cutting expenses and boosting revenue. Here’s a sampling:

  • Avoid long-term contracts, and bid out printing every two years "unless you get an insanely good deal,” said Maisel.
  • Remember that neither you nor your printer wins if the magazine is discontinued, so let your printer be an ally in recommending steps to contain costs, such as cheaper paper and processes.
  • Watch your mailing weight and size, and work with your postal service to contain costs. Think hard about international circulation, as it’s expensive and often unreliable, giving it a low return on investment.
  • Consider single-sponsor supplements or sponsored content.

Finally, the presenters said not to be afraid of digital publishing, as it can complement rather than replace your print magazine. "It won’t kill print,” Vallina said. "Print will die only if it commits suicide.”

Lois Douthitt is senior director of publishing and member communications for the American Physical Therapy Association. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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