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Ready...Set...Relaunch - 8/8/2011 -

Consider a relaunch carefully – there’s a lot more to it than a redesign.

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

If you’ve got a strong brand, your publication’s circulation is climbing, and advertisers are jostling to get into your pages, don’t even think about relaunching.

But if your organization needs to consciously respond to changes in its operating environment, your publication was suspended for a time, or if research reveals waning relevance, engagement, or effectiveness, then the jig is up: It’s time to relaunch.

First, says Lou Ann Sabatier of Virginia-based Sabatier Consulting, understand that a relaunch entails much more than just a redesign. It’s a way to revise or clarify your publication’s mission, to grow or shift your audience base, to debut significant new content, and, of course, redesign. It’s also a chance to do what associations do best: Focus on member needs.

"A relaunch gives you the opportunity to marry what you want members to know and what they perceive their needs to be,” Sabatier says. "Very often, your readers move off the dime, but we don’t. A relaunch really lets you consider their needs.”

The steps are clearly defined, she says.

1. Determine where you are and where you want to go. Know your audience’s needs, and create a content strategy to meet those needs, keeping your organization’s mission in mind. Analyze your weaknesses and target potential improvements by setting measurable goals, Sabatier advises.

2. Develop a plan to get where you want to be. Don’t rush the process, she cautions, and don’t overpromise. It’s smart to draw up a business model and a two-year plan for the publication to ensure that you have adequate resources and a realistic timeline.

3. Implement the changes. "Remember that you need approval from your key stakeholders, not your entire staff,” she says, but it’s critical to communicate clearly with members, advertisers, your board, and other stakeholders. Be sure to measure the impact of the relaunch with your members on a regular basis; create a baseline and record trends.

One publication that underwent the relaunch process was CR, the consumer-focused magazine of the American Association of Cancer Research, which also publishes seven peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest cancer research organization dedicated to preventing and curing cancer through research, education, communication, and collaboration.

Its magazine, CR, was launched in 2006 to provide information about cancer research to cancer survivors, patient advocates, and the medical community on a paid subscription basis, but within just a few years, it was apparent that the magazine wasn’t reaching its editorial, circulation, or financial goals.

There were multiple challenges, says Tracy Middleton, AACR’s assistant director of marketing.

"We’d really had no experience writing for consumers,” she says, "and the name ‘CR’ wasn’t working.’” Middleton and her team committed to a relaunch.

The challenge, she said, was to determine what elements were working and to throw out the rest. They relied on their own experience, on reader feedback, and focus groups to winnow out the keepers. It was reaffirming, Middleton says, to see reader support for elements the staff felt were succeeding.

On the flip side, what they found, Middleton says, is that the cover design didn’t connect with readers, their audience was too broad and undefined, the paid subscription model wasn’t growing readership, and as a result, advertising was scarce.

By dialing down the audience base to patients, survivors, family, and friends, the magazine took on a new life, with a clear mission and purpose. This lens provided coherence for all content and helped editorial staff keep the focus on readers’ interests. At press time, the relaunch was still under way, with a new name for the magazine in the works.

Kris Jensen-Van Heste is a communications specialist at New York Association of Homes & Services for the Aging. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this annual meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.


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