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Shane Shanks


Coaching your magazine to new creative heights

February 23, 2017   //   Shane Shanks

Page after page. Issue after issue. Year after (*&%#! year.

If this rut sounds familiar, perhaps it’s time to rethink your magazine.

But what are your options?

Some teams handle a redesign or refresh entirely in house. When you’ve got the in-house talent — and available staff time to earmark for the project — this can be an invigorating exercise.

Other teams bring in an outside company for extra brainpower, outside perspective and magazine-focused expertise. If you’ve got the budget, working with a specialist agency like Zehno is a guaranteed method to strategically transform your magazine from drab to fab.

But are those really your only two choices? Nope.

Collaborative coaching process

Zehno’s collaborative coaching model strikes a smart balance between in-house creativity and outside consulting. Through a series of phone meetings, homework assignments and online sharing, Zehno pairs with your team to redesign the magazine together. We’re like the satellite branch of your internal team.

Instead of Zehno reshaping your departments, both teams collaborate on strategic content ideas. Instead of Zehno heading straight to a finished look and feel for your approval, your team helps brainstorm creative directions.

And instead of Zehno designing all your page types, both teams share this responsibility. Zehno designs key initial pages and provides feedback as your team executes later pages and layouts.

Auburn Magazine

Success story: Auburn University

Auburn’s seasoned staff was already producing a top-tier magazine. But when editor Suzanne Johnson turned to Zehno for fresh thinking and outside expertise, she had two very specific requests:

  1. Can you give us more design freedom?
    Auburn’s existing template — although attractive — was locked down. Feature layouts were uniform and required time-consuming copy-fitting for every headline and intro. Her talented crew was ready to customize its main feature designs to the stories themselves.
  2. Can you make us seem more like Garden & Gun?
    If you’re not familiar with that newsstand hit, Garden & Gun elevates Southern culture through smart storytelling (and mouth-watering photos!). Auburn’s sense of tradition and culture — especially its fabled football fandom — needed to come across boldly but also balance with the institution’s strong research bent.

In collaboration with the Auburn team, Zehno led the redesign process — from underlying goals through page designs. Teams mapped out content to match the alumni association’s strategic goals, reconsidered the structure of the magazine, and weighed how the magazine could reflect the institutional brand without turning it into a marketing brochure.

During an inspiration session, both teams brought forth why-not-try-this? ideas ranging from Money’s feature packages to Martha Stewart Living’s folio lines to the graphics on vintage sports tickets. Photo inspirations included Fast Company’s portraiture, Nature Conservancy’s rich covers and some photogs whose styles were beyond quirky.

Using Zehno’s mood boards and starter set of key page types, the Auburn team built out the complete magazine. With each issue, the magazine’s use of Southern vernacular — through words, images and overall vibe — remains front and center. For example, a research story about diabetes used a voodoo doll, not a test tube or overweight body, as the central image — adding a little Southern quirk for reader surprise.

For the internal team, what were the most notable improvements in the new magazine?

“From an editorial standpoint, it was the transition to find less text-heavy ways to tell a story,” editor Johnson says. “From a design standpoint, it was the idea of adopting a photo style for the magazine — not just a color palette but a way of lighting and styling our photos. So we’re more deliberative with our stories now — not just features but also the smaller departmental stories. We ask: What are the different ways we can tell this story? And if it calls for photography, what can we do to make sure it fits with our photo style?”

The redesigned magazine won the coveted gold in its circulation category at the CASE Circle of Excellence Awards. The judges raved, “Auburn is replete with brightly written and beautifully designed features that capture the essence of the university with folksy humor, university lore, and sparkling alumni profiles.”

Learn more

What scale of redesign do you need? Learn more about our magazine services.

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