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Shane Shanks


Is your magazine out front or bringing up the rear?

January 18, 2016   //   Shane Shanks

If your magazine were part of a train, which car would it be?

This isn’t some Barbara Walters question circa 1987. It’s a legit question that every modern-day magazine staff should answer.

In our recent work with the Shipley School, a top-flight independent school in Philadelphia where 25 percent of students are National Merit Scholars, Zehno developed a new strategy and prototype for a redesigned magazine that serves multiple audiences. It performs specific functions for alumni, admissions, development and parent relations. Looks great, too.

When presented with the new magazine prototype, Susan Manix, director of communications and marketing, said, “This will change our magazine from being the caboose on the communications train to being the engine.” She’s right.

That got me thinking about the whole train thing — and whether most institutional magazines lead or follow.

So back to the deep question: where does your magazine fit on the train?

It’s the caboose

At some institutions, the magazine is an afterthought. It’s what you work on after you’ve finished your day-to-day projects and cleaned off your desk. A caboose magazine rehashes six months of new releases to populate the “news” section. The editorial “plan” just happens. The magazine isn’t seen as an exciting opportunity to publish bold material or cover intriguing issues; it’s viewed as a last chance to dish up the scraps.

It’s the engine

At some institutions, the magazine is a lead communications tool. It’s what you work on first. An engine magazine is the center of the communications universe. Careful attention is paid to developing interesting, strategic magazine content that will later radiate through other communications tools. The editorial plan is a defined strategy that repurposes content through the web, social media, email, print, video, advertising and other channels. The engine magazine drives content.

It’s the car in the repair shop

You’ve got your work cut out for you!

Learn more

Read Zehno’s magazine strategy white paper.



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