Here's a roadmap to how one association worked through its own near-death experience and actually came out with stronger publications and a new e-bulletin as well.
By Leslie McGee
Can you grow a publication while facing its possible demise?
"Nothing clears the mind like no alternative,” said Nicole Harris, vice president and publisher at the National Glass Association (NGA), during her June 15th session titled, "Your Print + Publishing Plan for Growth” at Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
Many of us have experienced firsthand the effects of the recession on our publications. NGA, representing about 3,000 member companies, serves the architectural glass, automotive glass, and window and door industries. In 2009, its revenue was projected to fall 50 percent, and Harris had to rebalance her budget without compromising the needs of her membership.
Transitioning NGA's magazines, Glass Magazine and Window & Door, to digital-only was considered, and while that would have solved the revenue drop temporarily, she believes it would have resulted in a slow death for the association. Harris knew that much of her readership had not embraced digital publications; therefore, the print issues could not be discontinued. So, what was the alternative? Harris's strategy didn't focus on just one solution; instead, she examined every possible option to cut costs. Here are some of her lessons learned:
1. Focus on your largest cost center. There's no way to say it delicately: Staff are expensive. Harris met with her staff for a frank discussion of the association's situation; soon thereafter, several individuals found new positions elsewhere. The remaining positions were compressed, pay cuts were instituted, and more contractors were hired.
2. Spend money to save more. Harris opted to hire a print production consultant, Joanne Harap, president of Production Matters, to identify cost-savings. As production and distribution costs consume a sizable portion of a publication's budget, Harap evaluated NGA's printing arrangement, even though the organization was in mid-contract. In the end, she successfully negotiated a change in printing vendor, which offered substantial savings.
Harap stressed the importance of regularly reviewing print pricing, especially in light of the recession. When going out for bids, she recommended asking printers to provide estimates for the most cost-effective issue—whether that relates to changes in paper weight, trim size, or signature size. Your printer should be a partner; the more they understand your situation, the more they can help you meet your goals. NGA has since reduced its magazines' trim sizes and frequencies.
To easily gauge production and manufacturing costs, Harap developed a spreadsheet tool for Harris to use in budgeting. Harris can now evaluate the cost implications of any number of changes, including ink, trim size, paper stock, and signature size, and adjust an issue accordingly. Harap noted that production costs are "absolutely the biggest thing you can control other than staff.”
3. Review your circulation. NGA previously followed a controlled circulation model, but it was redesigned into a "controlled print vs. free digital vs. paid conversion plan.” In addition, some companies were oversaturated with subscriptions. In those instances, all but those in upper management were removed from the mailing list. International mailings also were discontinued. Through the changes, NGA was able to significantly reduce its overall circulation, thereby saving on printing and manufacturing.
Rebuilding and Expanding
Despite all of the changes that have been implemented, Harris has been certain to keep her audience in mind. Although the digital versions of the magazines are not as popular as the print editions, that trend may shift; in the meantime, they are a safety net should further changes be necessary. Those digital versions also offer the possibility for new subscriber opportunities.
The magazines now only publish the most critical content; nothing unnecessary is printed, which Harris says has strengthened the publications and made them more valuable to the readership. In addition, a now-popular e-bulletin was developed, with the potential for new advertising revenue.
In the end, the publications staff at NGA learned to do more with less. The budget is in the black, which speaks volumes about what the association was able to accomplish. Moving forward, the staff at NGA will focus on diversifying revenue streams and will continue to evaluate what they are doing and how.
Leslie McGee is managing editor for the Oncology Nursing Society. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend this year.