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Magazine Reach: More Is (Usually) Better - 6/22/2010 -

When is it a good idea to expand your association publication's audience, and what are the best strategies to get you there?

By Marlene Hendrickson

If your association magazine is doing its job—helping readers do their jobs better, building grassroots support for critical industry issues, or attracting new and younger members—then is it succeeding on the largest stage possible? After all, if it's doing all these things well, isn't it better to expand your reach?

Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates, says the answer lies somewhere between "yes” and "usually.” In an interview with Final Touch, Oser talks about why and how associations should extend the reach of their publications.

FP: What are the chief "good” reasons to expand an association publication's reach?

Oser: Well, first of all, it's important to establish that more can be better; more isn't always better. You need to figure out why you would want to expand your reach. One good reason would be to reach constituents or people you want to influence. Those people also could be policymakers or the general public—to understand what your issues are—or it could be it's the nonmember community that may need to know what you're doing.

Assuming that your publication is a strong representation of the good things your association does, it would be strategic to get that sort of reputation out in front of nonmembers, especially if you have an insert card for membership. Another good reason to expand your magazine's reach would be to increase your advertising sales. However, it's hard to say in what order the good reasons should be; it depends on the association's goals.

FP: Particularly as many associations continue to face dwindling revenues and cost-cutting measures, how can communications and editorial staff justify certain expansion strategies—such as increasing print runs for bonus circulation audiences?

Oser: Organizations need to measure where they feel they're going to get the best bang for their buck. Publications are one of the few tangibles that an organization puts out. To get that out in front of people is a real value, even it costs a little money to do it.

You could, for example, look at public place copies, such as waiting room copies, but you'd want to do that in really specific niche areas. Implement these kinds of strategies in a very targeted manner so you don't have a lot of waste.

FP: If an organization is considering a jump to the newsstand, what is the most important thing association publishers should know?

Oser: It would be great to get on the newsstand if you can do it. The newsstand is a really hard place, and it's a really, really hard place right now. But we need to change the definition of newsstands. It's not necessarily Barnes & Noble, airports, and grocery stores. It could be retailers in your industry. It could be through partnerships with other organizations that have reach and presence among the audiences you want to reach.

FP: Just for fun, what's one publication you love picking up in the grocery store line but would never buy?

Oser: I'll read US Weekly and The Star. I want to read how so-and-so's plastic surgery is so bad that their arm is falling off … National Enquirer and all that stuff. It cracks me up, but why would I buy it?

FP: OK, back to the serious questions. How does applying traditional for-profit strategies affect how association publications "do business,” including editorial development, design, electronic strategies, etc.?

Oser: They have to see the publication as a flagship piece for the organization. It's not just a tangible thing that you can send to members. So much has gone online, so much is electronic, there's less and less face-to-face. Your publication really is the one thing you provide that your members, that your audience, that your industry can really touch and feel. It really has to be good. We're way past what the member in Paducah is doing. I see those types of things in magazines and say, are you kidding me? Where is the value for any member there? Your magazine has to provide information of value to your audience. It has to help them do their jobs better.

FP: Many associations are used to a simple member-based subscription structure. What should associations know about using subscription agents?

Oser: You need to find the right subscription agent because it's not free, and some of them will promise you the world. You have to vet them and make sure they're doing their job. You've got to kick the tires, so to speak. In this case, it's going to cost you money to bring in money. Again, it goes back to what your organization's goals are. There are associations that use subscription agents; most end up selling library subscriptions. It's a little bit different when you're selling individual subscription plans. For example, you're subscribing and by subscribing you're becoming a member. So you're leading with your publication—make sure your publication is worthy of leading with.

FP: What else should associations keep in mind when thinking about the reach of their publications?

Oser: Your publication is one of your most tangible and visible benefits—to your members, readers, and supporters. If you use it just as a member benefit, then I think you're doing yourself a disservice. You have something in your hands that represents a lot about the organization, so you should use it.

Marlene L. Hendrickson is with Stratton Publishing & Marketing/Stratton Research.


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