Getting More from Your Magazine on an Association-Size Budget
The Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association shares lessons learned when relaunching its newsletter as a magazine.
By Marvin Gelhausen
Like a great recipe, it takes a set of directions, the right mix of ingredients, and a bit of creativity to tantalize the taste buds — or in this case, balance the bottom line and still roll out an award-winning magazine. How-to directions came from a three-member panel at the 2014 Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, which dished up a session titled, "Getting the Most Out of Your Magazine with an Association Budget.”
Led by Jessica Feirtag, design director at Blue House design firm, the list of ingredients for success came in the form of tips, cautioned by the premise that no one set of ingredients will comprise the answer for all associations. While there are certainly budget similarities between associations of similar size, any recipe for success must answer: What is right for my magazine?
Joined by Kyle Harrington, sales and marketing director at Blue House, session tips were wrapped up in a reality check and success story shared by Laura Shelton, executive director of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association. Her association hired Blue House to recreate its newsletter into a magazine.
The session was broken down into five categories: design, print, digital, advertising sales, and the DATIA focus. Here’s a refresher if you attended the session; otherwise, here’s what you missed.
- Design. On design, the first question is, "Which is right for my magazine—in-house design, using a freelancer, or using a firm?” Each option comes with pros and cons. In-house design, while cost effective, can challenge the resources of a small staff. The outsourcing options compared freelancers (offering lower costs but less flexible schedules) and design firms (offering an entire reliable team of creative resources, but at a higher cost).
A single designer gives you one point of view, while a team can be problem solvers. A cost-saving tip can be to hire a design consultant to initiate a process of change. Depending on your budget and needs, options include hiring for a consultation only, hiring for an hourly rate, or commissioning a full redesign. Audition consultants by asking for a sample cover design. Leverage for a free redesign as part of your contract negotiations for services. Budget costs can post savings by limiting the scope of outsourced work and leveraging design costs to get savings in other areas.
- Print. Keeping work in-house generally posts cost savings but is time consuming. Outsourcing print can build printer relationships and provide resources that protect you from liability issues. But print management fees range 10 to 30 percent. Even small things can help maximize your budget or cost you money. For example, incorrect specifications on project bids and excessive changes on the printer proof cost money. Being smart about the page count can save funds. Using stock art or college designers can reduce art costs. Switching your paper stock can yield savings as can using a self-cover. Sheet-fed versus web-fed printing will impact the bottom line.
- Digital. When looking at digital options, understanding your readers and their habits can keep you from making costly mistakes. The initial question here is, "Which platform is right?” Free platforms have limited functionality and do not work on mobile devices. Paid platforms add cost, but offer many important things that free platforms do not. As only a small percentage of association members are currently using mobile devices for magazine reading, a less functional but free platform may save money and still meet member needs.
One of today’s main questions is, "Should I go all-digital and eliminate the print version?” This panel’s advice: Not yet. Instead, use print to supplement the digital. An option is to start with one green issue a year and make that issue all digital. But inform your readers well in advance (and frequently) so they know what you’re doing.
- Advertising sales. Many magazines have seen declining ad revenue. With digital options, advertisers are looking for a mix regarding how they spend their ad dollars. The sales secret remains in having a dedicated salesperson or team with time to work the phones, make contacts, reach decision makers, start conversations, and know the competition. Ask questions that elicit a "yes” response. Always follow up. Never end an e-mail or phone call without first setting up the next call. If your schedule changes, always call and reschedule your next contact, next follow-up call, or face-to-face communication.
- The DATIA Focus. In transforming her association’s newsletter into a magazine, Shelton managed the change in budget by:
-- Getting the initial concept designed for free
-- Limiting the scope of work to three edit cycles per issue
-- Outsourcing print management and bidding the magazine yearly
-- Making no changes on the printer’s proof
-- Being smart about page counts by linking editorial pages to ad revenue dollars
-- Having an art budget and using royalty-free stock art when possible
-- Using a self-cover design
-- Using a free digital platform for DATIA’s online issue
-- Implementing a creative use of advertising in the digital issue
Rolling out a new magazine, DATIA’s circulation quadrupled, ad revenue grew by 5 percent, and new banner ads brought in additional revenue. Shelton believes DATIA is getting the most out of its new magazine while still working within an association-size budget.
What are the ingredients do you need to cook up an award-winning publication? My advice: Begin by planning to attend the 2015 Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting to sit in on educational sessions like this one and network with association media and publishing peers. The recipe for success is always being altered, adapted to circumstances, and restrained by budgets, staffing, and resources. But opportunities for success are always improved by networking with peers. Hope to see you in 2015.
Marvin Gelhausen is managing editor at AACE International. Association Media & Publishing thanks him for covering this session for our members who were unable to attend.