Super-Strategic Magazine Makeovers
Kathy Cain: Hi, everyone, and welcome to “Super Strategic Magazine Makeovers.” I’m Kathy Cain, president of Zehno, and I’ll be your moderator today. Before we get started, I’ll go over some pointers on how to participate. Most of you are using your computer’s speaker, but if you’d like to join us over the phone, select telephone in your control panel and the dial in number comes up. You can also send questions to us at any time during the presentation by typing them into the question section of the control panel. And we’ll answer them at the end. So let’s get started. Your presenter today is Shane Shanks. Shane is the senior strategist and editorial director at Zehno. So Shane, take it away.
Shane Shanks: Hi, everyone. This is Shane. For those of you who don’t know much about Zehno, we are a branding and marketing communications agency that specializes in educational institutions. We work on overall branding, campaigns for admissions or development, training for internal teams, and we do a lot of magazine redesigns. So that’s what we’re here to talk about today.
We are based in muggy New Orleans, where the summer usually stretches about until New Year’s Eve. But I’m happy to report that it’s supposed to be in the 70s this weekend. That’s what we call a cold spell down here.
Today we’re talking about how to make your magazine more strategic. I want to just start with the big question that I think is on the mind of editors everywhere. It is: why am I doing this magazine? It’s not supposed to be a philosophical question, like what is the meaning of life? Or which came first, the chicken or the egg?
This is a strategic question. And some of you might be asking it of yourselves every day. If you’re heading into a magazine redesign, it’s a very important question for you to answer.
In the outside world, in the commercial world, I think magazines have a very clear answer to this question of why.
Time magazine covers national and international news in depth. Sports Illustrated celebrates outstanding achievements in every sport. There’s Esquire, which is the playbook for the urbane, well-heeled, kind of modern man. There’s Tom Tom. It spotlights the feminist drummers of our area. There’s Modern Farmer, which is tempting you to change your career from being an editor to being a hobby farmer. Martha Stewart, that’s about this fantasy world of being an East Coast rich domestic goddess, where you do all kinds of crazy things that I personally will never do in my own lifetime — like bake something with layers in it.
But the point is that these magazines want readers to do something: to understand the world, to be well dressed, to make a fancy cake, or to get your goat on.
But in higher education, I think the sense of strategy can be a little bit murky.
Why are you producing your magazine? At some schools the answer is because every other school has one, or maybe it’s to keep my boss happy, or because it says in my job title that I’m supposed to make a magazine. What kind of reasons are these? These are sort of sad. I want to return to the big question, and I’ve edited it slightly, for those of you who are on a deadline or having a really bad week at the office.
As you head into the next magazine, why are you doing this magazine? Here are some questions we want you to think about: What is this magazine trying to accomplish? What do you want your readers to do? And what’s your strategy?
At Zehno, our goal isn’t really to redesign a magazine just so that it’s prettier than the predecessor. We want to make a magazine that’s smarter, that connects with your readers, that moves the institution forward. So today, we’ll talk you through some redesigns that were strongly guided by editorial strategy.
But I want to first start out by covering some basics.
So why do you do a redesign? There’s not really that magic answer to this question. It could be that it’s marching orders from your boss. We’re hearing more editors who are hired and told — as they are hired — that we want to redesign the magazine. Your readership survey might show that people have a lack of interest in your magazine, or they might tell you that what they’re interested in really isn’t what your magazine is covering. Maybe your gut is telling you at this time to do a redesign. I think that you know when the design looks dated, or when the editorial mix seems a little bit stale, or when your internal team is just walking through the motions. You know it’s time when you’d rather be reading some other school’s magazine instead of your own.
Another time to redesign is when your school or its brand is changing in a major way. And we’re seeing this more and more over the last few years as schools are recognizing that the magazine really is a lead branding tool for them. We think that’s overall a good thing, because it’s a chance to elevate the magazine’s importance. And the magazine is great at telling the best stories. And if we do them in a strategic way, the magazine looks really strong.
Questions to think about in your redesign: We want you to think of a redesign as a chance to reset your editorial strategy. We’ve got a few questions here on the page to get you thinking.
Where are we headed? We want to look at the strategic plan, one-on-one interviews with your campus leaders. All of these things can help you to know. And if you really want to know where the institution is headed, of course you need to check out the budget priorities, because that tells the real truth. If you don’t want to get stuck in the trap of having to run a super-boring feature story about a new strategic plan, then you want to look for interesting, colorful, and meaningful stories that support what the strategic plan is trying to accomplish. And that’s what a magazine is actually really good at.
The second question here: What’s the big story that you want to tell? A redesign is a chance to focus on content that tells this larger story about your institution. We want you to carve out specific spaces for it in the magazine. After people read all of your cool stories, the truth is that they’ll start to forget some of the details. So what’s the narrative that you want them to remember? That’s what we call the big story. How can your magazine help move the institution forward? How can you help it advance? Magazines aren’t good at everything. They’re not good at breaking news. They’re not really that good at asking for money. But they are great at this deeper story telling when you’re providing context, or you’re tackling complicated ideas, or you’re using powerful visuals to advance the story.
As you’re thinking about a redesign, look at what your magazine is best at, and think if there are ways that you could maybe do more of that.
Does your magazine have multiple functions, or should it? Probably so. I think almost every magazine these days has an alumni focus to keep people connected. Most of them have a news focus, which is to keep people updated. But a lot of magazines also have a secondary function on the fundraising side. At the schools where the magazine is really institutionwide, so that it goes to parents, donors, alums, sometimes even to students, you might have some secondary functions that you’re not thinking about very much.
For example, in the world today, people are asking is college really worth the cost? So with that as the backdrop, who at your institution is creating content that really showcases the best outcomes from your school? It’s probably the magazine. Who’s generating the stories that prove that your graduates end up with great careers? It’s probably the magazine. So you may have a secondary admissions function that you’re not thinking about. You’re already mining and producing the right stories, so if your institution is smart, it’s going to channel the best magazine content to other audiences — admissions and other places like that.
All right, we want you to always listen to your readers. We think this is a great starting point. You want to get to know them. We think the best way to do that is with a readership survey. You could develop your own survey, which is great and ambitious, or you can use the CASE Magazine Readership Survey, which we think is better. The reason we recommend it is because it lets you compare your readers with more than 100,000 readers at other schools. So you can draw some comparisons and learn about your school in that way.
From looking at the CASE survey, just overall, there are certain things that you will learn. One is that magazines are the number one source of information about institutions — ahead of email, ahead of websites, all those other things. Magazines are also good at driving certain readership behaviors, so about a third of your readers will probably have recommended this school to prospective students, or made a donation, or attended an event. That kind of thing.
Readers are still showing that they prefer print, although a combination of print and web is rising on the list. And this is going to change over time, especially as the younger audience rises up; they’re not as wedded to print.
The survey is going to give you some hard numbers to work with. But then we like to supplement that with focus groups, where you have actual face time with your readers. You can hear people talk, you can learn what it is they really want from your magazine, and you can learn some things that are different from what you’d find out in a survey.
And frankly, once you’ve done a focus group, why stop there? One of the editors we work with, Sherri Kimmel at Bucknell, does a cross country listening tour, which is a great way to find out if the alums in California are thinking differently than those who are back home in Pennsylvania. And it’s also a great way to unearth some stories that you’d never really discover if you were closed away in your office all the time.
I mentioned that our philosophy at Zehno is that every redesign needs to be guided by a strategy and not just the style. So whether you’re working at a giant state university, or a small K through 12 school, or whether your project is only the print magazine, or maybe you’re tackling both a print and web version at the same time, we want you to make sure that editorial strategy is driving your redesign. So we’ll look at some examples here today.
We’ll start with Swarthmore College. You’ve heard of it, even if you’re not quite sure how to pronounce it! It’s ranked number three among national liberal arts institutions, which means everyone who gets in at this school is bright. The readers of this magazine are ideas people, they are thinkers, they are bookish, a little bit artsy. That’s the background of a Swarthmore reader.
Here’s the magazine before. It was known for long-format feature stories that went deep into the topics. It also had what I think may be the world’s smallest cover line, which is that tiny little bar in the upper right. So there wasn’t a lot of mailbox appeal to this magazine, if you weren’t captured by the cover image. The features inside have solid content, but they weren’t presented in a very contemporary way. These long-format feature stories really needed to be packaged better to extend the appeal of the subject. So if you looked at this, what if you’re not really interested in Japan? You’re not really interested in history? If you’ve got just 10 minutes to read it, would you start this story?
This is the only school that we’ve ever worked with where we were told that the stories needed to look like they were long, and substantial, and like they were in a book. And the president, when we met with her, was extremely nervous that we were going to try to turn this magazine into Teen People, or something like that.
And that story goes on. Here’s the conclusion. It ends with a sidebar. That’s not very imaginative in how it’s presented. But here’s the bottom line. This magazine was good, not great. But it’s for a school that’s great, not good. Swarthmore is ranked number three in the country. Does this look like the number three magazine? Not really.
We came to campus for our discovery process, which means we’re meeting with the president and the provost, and other leaders to learn really where this school’s headed. We were looking at a strategic plan, and what’s on the schedule for growth at the school. We do focus groups, and we do a survey with readers to find out what is it that people really want more of from the magazine. And then we set some goals that will drive the redesign strategically.
Here’s a short list. The most important of these goals was really the first one: To embody the liberal arts experience. Now Swarthmore’s president at the time was a lead voice in these discussions about redefining liberal arts education, and connecting it to today’s careers. Also on this list, we wanted to appeal to the intellectualism. We needed to draw in some younger readers, because it turned out that people in their 30s were actually the biggest audience segment. People weren’t realizing that until we combed through the mailing list. And we wanted to give readers some different ways to interact with the magazine.
What we learned from the focus groups, the CASE survey and Sherri’s listening tour across the country was that the magazine needed to feature more everyday people, and not just the overachievers.
Now this is a fact: Everybody at Swarthmore is smart. You have to be to get in. But if you’re not a UN ambassador, or you’re not helping to find a cure for cancer, you can get a complex about your career success. So readers were telling us that we needed to look for ways to spotlight people who were successful in more normal careers.
We needed to include more stories that looked at big issues, because these were ideas people. We wanted to show how careers unfold as sort of a life journey. This was something that we thought could appeal to people, especially in their 30s, who were still navigating their career in life.
We heard that we needed to include some short stories, which was a little bit opposite of how the magazine had usually worked. The focus groups added a new dimension to this survey, because they half whispered to us that even though they really loved those super long stories, they sometimes didn’t really have time to read them. They wanted some shorter pieces added to the mix. So we knew we needed a balance there.
And then few people knew that the magazine website even existed, which was a little bit depressing, since we were going to be rebuilding the magazine website at the same time. That’s the backdrop.
Here are some of the issues that we decided to really address in the report. Our recommendations report floats a lot of different ideas for content that could align with the goals and with the strategic direction. But this is a short list of some that we focused on.
There was the liberal arts issue. At the time, the liberal arts were really under fire in the media. So it was important that we addressed this. It was a key part of the strategic plan. The president was one of the main voices in the national debate.
We knew we needed to hit some normal people so that nobody gets a complex. We needed to include some content for younger people. We wanted to really bring out ideas. So even if we were shortening up the length of some of those stories, we wanted to make sure that the ideas were coming through to appeal to this intellectual readership.
And then for class notes, they had 40 pages of class notes. That’s four zero, not four, not 14 — 40! And you know that’s great, but it’s also a downer for a magazine because what it means is that people typically flip to their own class, and then maybe skip 39 pages of your magazine. So we wanted to look at some ways to make people linger in the class notes.
Let’s talk a little bit about some key points in the process. We put together a new pagination grid. This is the chance to redistribute all the real estate on the project and think about what should go on each of your 80 pages in the magazine. For us the key change here was because these were thinkers and ideas people, we put all of the ideas content at the very front of the book — the columns, the letters, the editorials. The book reviews, which are usually at the back of everybody else’s book, moved to the front, ahead of anything else. So you’re determining the content that seems right to address the goals.
Then we do a mood board process. That is where we’re taking what we’ve learned and heard, and trying to translate it into a style that we think could match up with the strategy. We’re combining typefaces, and colors, and illustration, and photos, and graphic elements. And at this point it’s not really anything, it’s a mishmash of elements that could work together. This step is really about trying to identify the vibe. And we’re asking, “Could this style meet up with our goals? Could this feel like our institution?”
At this point, it’s kind of like an interior designer on one of those home improvement TV shows. Before they would tear out your kitchen, they would take the time to show you some samples and find out if you wanted mid-century modern, or Tuscan villa, or something else.
Then we work on a prototype that we think is a smart way to approach your redesign. This way you’re always thinking about your magazine in an alternate universe. Instead of just making the next issue be the redesign — where you’re rushing around to meet the deadlines and possibly reinventing the same old magazine — the prototype puts things in an alternate world and says “Let’s get the best kind of recipe in place.” So at this point we’re building out these key page types that would handle all of your strategic content.
Here was our cover. We introduced a typeface. Because we had a bold one for the nameplate, we had a bookish look for the cover lines. We added some more cover lines — and they’re way bigger than the old ones — to add some newsstand appeal.
On the right is a divider page that was at the front of the book. We called it the Common Good, which is a nod to the school’s Quaker heritage, and a reflection of its culture of sharing and discussion. Then we also developed a set of feature types, where we’re planning out — without real copy, without real photography — what the look and feel and content could seem like.
Here’s a feature opener that gets a reader to stop and focus. It could be one giant image, double truck. Or here, we’re showing you two images side-by-side. There’s an internal page. It has the mix of multiple images and text. Here’s another feature that uses the serif typeface and an illustration. This whole book was built off just two typefaces that had a lot of weights, and we thought that was a nice touch.
If you do a good job planning your editorial signatures and your prototype pages, the finished magazine will look very familiar to the prototype, very similar. Here’s the final cover. You can see that more cover lines are there. We have a dramatic illustration — the opposite of what the previous covers looked like so that people would notice it was a new magazine. And the cover story here was about the FBI spying on Swarthmore students during the Vietnam War.
Here’s the table of contents. It’s super-efficient. You find one great photo, and you’re ready to go.
Here’s the books page, which we moved all the way to the front of the magazine. There are so many books coming in from Swarthmore that you have to have a real strategy to post some of them online. So that was part of the thinking here. Because apparently if the Swarthmore grads aren’t curing cancer, or negotiating a treaty at the UN, they are turning out a book! We had a lot to balance here, but we put this all at the front alongside columns. On the left, there’s one about nuclear proliferation. There were several in each issue.
And then after you finish that opening section of ideas, there’s a divider page that brings you into the Common Good, the front of the book. Here are a couple more pages that would be in the Common Good. There’s a sports story on the left, which was a new emphasis in the strategic plan. So there’s always a space to cover athletics. For younger readers, we added a signature editorial element on the right that was called The Learning Curve. And that plots out a life journey — how you could go from an English major to the logistics director of Doctors Without Borders. It was all about connecting liberal arts to careers.
And then, remember how I told you that readers said we needed to include more normal people? We added a special recurring section that is called Liberal Arts Lives. And this is the space where you will never, ever read about a UN ambassador!
On the right, there’s a veterinarian who’s a specialist in raccoon viruses. That is a very Swarthmore kind of career. And on the left is an inventor who created a device that goes on a beer bottle so that the beer won’t lose its fizz after you open it. And I’ll just leave it up to you to decide which of these grads is doing more to make the world a better place.
Here’s our feature story: it was high impact with the big graphics. This was actually a really fascinating story. J. Edgar Hoover was spying on the Swarthmore students that the FBI thought were a part of the anti-war movement. And at one point, FBI agents were actually intercepting all the campus mail before it made it to the mailroom.
The details of this story sounded kind of like they were out of a movie. There was a group of adults who posed as Swarthmore students, and they broke into the FBI office and stole the files. And they scheduled the break-in during a big Muhammad Ali fight, when they knew the policemen would all be hovering around televisions rather than out on the street patrolling. Then the files were passed on to the student newspaper editor. You can see her photos down on the lower right. The school published the files proving this was happening, and it really set off a national debate.
And these are the internal pages. You can see there’s more copy here. There’s a mix of archival and current photos. And this was a story that was great strategically because it had the history element that readers said they liked in the nostalgic sense. It was also about bigger ideas of privacy: this case at Swarthmore actually led to a lot of the privacy laws on our campuses today.
Another feature: this one was Two Take Toronto. It has that three-quarter opening shot. This was about two classmates who are shaping Canada’s biggest city. One of them is in architecture. The other one’s in government. And then it continues on the inside, and we can see it does not look like Teen People! We’re using some oversized capital letters to give it graphic appeal. But this is still very much a reader’s magazine, and it’s tapping into the culture of the school.
Here’s another example of liberal arts connecting with careers. A Swarthmore grad is the turtle archivist at the Smithsonian. Who even knew that was a job, right? Then it continues there. You can see the turtle man on the inside.
On the right is a divider page that kicks off the 40 pages of class notes. As I mentioned earlier, we added content throughout this section that would entice readers to come in and spend a little bit of time, not just flip to their year’s page.
There’s always that map of alumni clubs. Swarthmore chapters don’t host wienie roasts before a football game. They’re doing piano recitals and symphony nights and all those kinds of things. So that’s highlighted there. There’s also a push to check out the reader-generated photo galleries. This was a new feature that we added online. It’s very Swarthmore to want to share your vacation photos. Everyone did that. We added a cartoon contest, where you could supply the caption. You could prove yourself to be as witty as The New Yorker.
We also tackled, at the same time, the new magazine website. The finished version of this has a feel of The Atlantic. It includes all of these new strategic story types. It also includes some web extras like video clips and extended interviews.
This magazine, as we mentioned, was strategic. All the content decisions were made to tie back to what the goals were in the project. Some good results: Developing the story lineup each time is faster, because we have these signature editorial pieces that are recurring. Posting content online got way faster, because we redid the interface there.
But more importantly, I would say is that the readers now know that the website exists. And they were thrilled to see that the time people were spending on the pages was about 10 times what Time magazine gets. So again, it’s that reader culture, and not wanting to shy away from it.
Then you’ll also hear sort of individual responses from readers: “The quality of the bulletin made me consider increasing my contribution.” Well, the development people were happy with that! And this person suggested “a grade of A+++,” which is fantastic because I don’t think there’s a lot of grade inflation at Swarthmore.
Most of the comments here were extremely positive, but of course you’ll always have a few that come out of left field. My advice to you is if you can make your magazine smell better, please do!
All right let’s take a look at another institution. This is a different type of school. This is Tulane School of Medicine here in New Orleans. We developed an earlier version of this magazine after hurricane Katrina, when Tulane needed to tell the world that it was still in business. But then years later, you need to ask the question again: What does the magazine need to accomplish today?
So here was the old version. Surveys and focus groups told us that the readers wanted more stories about programs that were making a difference. They wanted to see more examples of interaction with the city of New Orleans, because it was a place that they had grown to love. They wanted some more short stories because they said “We’re busy.”
Working with the Tulane team and getting feedback from our readers, here’s our short list of goals. The university was rolling out a new brand, so we needed to align the magazine with that. That wasn’t about just adapting to some kind of a new look. It was also about embracing this strategic theme of standing apart, and telling richer stories about the school’s impact.
We needed to build out a coverage of expertise and research innovation. Research there was world-class. It’s just not as extensive as it is may be at some other schools like at Stanford or something like that.
And we needed to spotlight some programs that were really surprising. For example, there’s a culinary medicine program. You know that New Orleans is a foodie city, but it’s not really a low-calorie place. And that’s why the culinary medicine program teaches doctors about nutrition. It teaches chefs how to make healthier meals. It teaches patients how to eat better. We needed more coverage of some programs like this that were innovative.
And then we needed to also make sure that we continued to tell these stories of taking medicine out to the people, because that’s why people come to Tulane for school. They were excited about wanting to heal this city.
So we followed the same process: identify the goals, do the grid, get the mood boards, get the prototype pages.
And then here’s the after version. Here’s the new cover with the new brand, typefaces, and colors. The cover story here is about two admissions programs for students who have unorthodox backgrounds. You can go from being a theater major to a med student here, and there’s an express lane to do so.
The front of the book works with the school’s branding. We used the brand typefaces, but we played with the scale. Sometimes the letters were very large. We added this bright green border, which is one of the school’s colors, to define this as a section within the book.
And then, highlighting expertise was one of the goals, so we added a viewpoint section to discuss current topics in medicine. And our doctors and alums will be presented as experts on subjects that are ranging from opioids to healthcare in prisons — that sort of thing.
Tulane does this world-caliber research, but not as much as some other institutions. We needed to define a place and give some weight to the research that was done here. In every issue, there are two giant full-page illustrations. These two stories were about cooling the brain to treat stroke victims and about testing sunscreen protocols. These pages are always very bold. You can’t say that you didn’t see them, or you didn’t know that Tulane was a research powerhouse.
Here’s the cover story. It highlights people who have creative backgrounds like music. It talks about how they can become doctors. Or how teaching tennis to underprivileged teens or doing other types of community outreach and service can make you a more empathetic doctor.
Our editorial mix for this magazine always leans on the service side. Here’s the story of Tulane out in the community. You might have seen this story on CNN or “The Today Show.” There was a shooting in New Orleans, and a Tulane medical student named Peter Gold was the Good Samaritan who stepped in to help. And then he turned his fame into a foundation here, called Strong City, that gives kids safe spaces to grow up. It opens with a big illustration. On the inside, it continues with some images of people out in the city.
Choosing the content that reinforces these kind of bigger brand messages doesn’t have to make your magazine boring. This one was super interesting and was very in line with what readers said they wanted to see.
Throughout the magazine, we’re looking at ways to raise all the features up to be newsstand quality. Here’s a story of a doctor who’s pioneering new dermatology treatments. And she’s shot in a way that she could appear in Real Simple or something like that.
BRYN MAWR COLLEGE
Erase your memory banks, but not entirely. Here’s another school that you probably know how to pronounce — but you’re not sure how it’s spelled! Bryn Mawr is one of the Seven Sisters colleges. It was founded back when the ivy league wouldn’t accept women. And it’s got a nice history of pioneering spirit. If you’re a movie buff, you know that Katharine Hepburn went there. If you have a commute in the morning, you also will recognize a recent grad, Neda Ulaby from NPR.
Here’s the old cover. And then here’s the inside page. The features, like the one shown here, didn’t seem very special in this magazine. And the magazine didn’t have much of a pace, because everything sort of blurred together.
Our challenges, or goals that we set, were really all about how to create a magazine that was for smart women who take academic content seriously. The survey showed that Bryn Mawr readers had unusual reading habits. A typical person might read Real Simple, and then the International Journal of Actuarial Science, something like that — something newsstand plus an academic journal. And this isn’t a joke. These are serious enough people that the president had to launch a “fun” initiative so that people wouldn’t study all the time!
We also wanted to bring more voices into this magazine. These aren’t cookie cutter women, so the magazine had to reflect that. They were also merging two separate alumni associations into one, so it was important that everybody could be heard.
It’s also great when the magazine can reflect the unique culture of the campus. At Bryn Mawr, the campus culture has this constant cycle of evaluation and critique and improvement.
Somebody put it like this. They said, “If you win a silver medal in the Olympics, Bryn Mawr is going to give you a quick congratulations, and then people will start plotting what you need to change next time so that you can win the gold.” It’s said this is hard to understand if you are not from Bryn Mawr, and we experienced it when we showed our prototype pages. There was lots of discussion with the key board members — and analysis and criticism . Even about which way we should spell the word “dialog,” which was one of the new sections we were proposing. And after all this evaluation, I had to ask them, “Do you like this? Because I can’t really tell.”
And they said, “Are you kidding? We love it.” So you’ve got to adapt the magazine to the culture.
And then the tradition of educating women was super strong there. We wanted to make sure we were tying that back to now. Those were the goals in the background.
Here’s the “after” version of this. The key changes: We reduced the size so this is smaller, similar to an academic journal. There’s tons of white space. It’s sophisticated. It’s no-nonsense. There are no extra frills in this magazine, which matches the personality. The name plate can slide up and down based on the image. That’s the cover.
In the front of the book the stories are numbered in the order that you should read them. This is designed, but it’s minimalist, and it has a nice texture from using different type weights and colors. Based on the goals, we knew we needed a lot of new story types that we could make as recurring signatures in the magazine.
And I mentioned earlier that Bryn Mawr has a lot of history. The challenge with history is always to drag it out of the mothballs and connect it to now. On the right, there’s a story comparing the women’s march of 2017 with the one in 1913.
And we added a new section called Discourse in the middle of the book. We gave it its own little divider page, so it’s self-contained. This is where you go to debate and discuss and to hear different viewpoints — and to learn something. For example, you could dip into what researchers are studying and what students are learning.
On the left is a page that’s teaching you the brief history of water. And it’s answering the age-old question: Are we really drinking recycled dinosaur pee? And yes, that is actually in the story!
On the right, we’re spotlighting a class that’s called The Cultural Politics of Sound. And it’s covering the anthropological meaning of tones and pitches, and what is the difference between music and noise? At a certain point, we debated whether or not we should include all of the course reading materials here. Because the focus group said that they would actually like to dig into the textbooks, which might be different than at your institution.
We added a new section called Debate to encourage an exchange of ideas. And not everyone is expected to agree, because it’s Bryn Mawr. The first one was adapted from a panel discussion of Silicon Valley women.
There’s a column, first-person writing, where graduates can talk about their lives, and it’s highlighting someone who teaches poetry in prisons. And the little sidebar there is a snippet of a poem from one of the students.
This section also has a lot of academic content where you can really get into the materials that people are learning. If you needed to get up to speed in physics, you could read about students on the left-hand page that are creating spheromak bubbles. And the idea is that we’re scaling up nuclear fusion to create more energy.
The right-hand page is the books.
There’s a column called U Curve, which is essays on life after college. It’s a mix of career and non-career stories. And people can have discussions about that at every stage of their life.
Then here’s the feature openers. The new magazine is really presenting more stories of being a ground-breaking place. That’s a recurring theme.
Cover story is about the Posse program, which brings the brightest women from underrepresented schools to some of the best colleges in the country. Bryn Mawr is the first one to have a Posse that’s only focused on STEM. We open with a giant image that telegraphs that this is a feature. The power of the program is people working together, so you get to see students at work on the inside.
Another feature: instead of the student government association, Bryn Mawr has what is called the Self-Government Association. And it started in the 1890s, when they decided that Bryn Mawr students would set all their own rules, which was pretty darned radical. There’s the opener. It’s historic, but to bring it up to date, there’s a little timeline that shows you the rules that students made through the ages. There was designating one room in each hall for smoking. There was another one that set fines for anyone who was caught climbing in the window at night.
Because this is Bryn Mawr, they warned us about the culture of evaluation and improvement. Before the magazine came out, we had a column that explained the reasoning before the changes and the redesign. And then in the second issue, the debate column asked you to weigh in on the new look of the magazine.
And we loved this! It had negative comments like “the font was too small for my aging eyes,” and “I thought it is was a clothing catalog.” Other people said: “It was fresh and bright and fearless.” “It fits in my purse, so I can read it on the commute.”
The longtime editor had recently died, so two readers spoke on her behalf. One said, “She would have loved it.” The other said, “She would be spinning in her grave.”
And then one reader wrote this, “Just beautiful. I’m sitting at my desk with little sparkling tears in the corners of my eyes.” And I want to remind you, tears of joy was not one of the goals of the project!
All right, let’s take a look at Shipley School. This is one of those top-level independent schools in the Philadelphia area. It’s a market that’s very crowded, and very concentrated. All of these top schools are right next to each other — with only a sidewalk to separate them. Because they’re all clustered together, it’s really a challenge to stand apart from the crowd. In this market, your education is a big investment. I don’t want to say you should be surprised that pre-K at some of these schools is probably more than a full year at some of your colleges. So the challenge is really about: How can you differentiate yourself from the people across the sidewalk?
Here’s the magazine before. It was a low-budget piece. It was kind of like an awkward teenager — not quite a kid, not quite an adult. It hadn’t really made the transition from being a newsletter to being a modern magazine. Here’s a sample feature story on the right. The presentation was dragging down the information. This is where we started.
Then we set our list of goals, looked at the strategy, saw where the institution was heading. We really needed to define Shipley’s place in the market. They have a curriculum that’s different than some of the competitors. It’s really more about creativity and arts. And they’re a school that doesn’t want to be a factory and send more people to the Ivy Leagues.
This is a magazine that cuts across all the audiences. We wanted to acknowledge that it has admissions and development and fundraising. All these functions are all in one piece. And then they just adopted new branding, so this was a chance to find the right kind of stories that would make the most of the new brand.
Here’s the “after” version of the magazine. The readership survey showed that it sits on people’s coffee tables for a long time, so we added a national merit brag there on the cover. One-fifth of the students are National Merit, so let’s let that sit out and let people read it.
It always opens with a roundtable discussion. This was one of the new signatures. We said let’s make each issue start with a discussion. So in the prototype we asked this question: Is the Ivy League right for everyone? At Shipley, the answer happens to be “no” because maybe you should go to Cal Tech for engineering or RISD if you’re really serious about art.
Then in the first issue, it was a discussion of leadership. It was a mix of teacher and parent and alumni and student voices. And you know this story is really in there to help people learn about the school’s vision and understand the issues.
There’s always an infographic — you can see it here on the right. It mixes hard numbers with some highlights about the school’s own philosophy. This one was about leadership. In one of the later issues they did a great one about head injuries from sports.
There’s always a teacher profile. This is acknowledging the admissions function of this magazine. It gives you an idea of how the Shipley method works in the classroom and lets you know a little bit about the teachers and their style. Mrs. Riley, she always has free popcorn in her room. She wishes she could take a gap year in Spain. She’s really into The Hunger Games. If you want to get on her good side and butter her up, you need to buy her a cupcake. You get an idea of the people.
For the back of the book strategy, we moved the headmaster’s message from the very front, where it was just kind of like a fancy table of contents, to the new section, where it was in a context of what was happening at the school.
For the class notes, we added some alumni profiles, which was a new thing for them. It’s acknowledging the alumni focus of the magazine. And then we always heard that every family has a Shipley story about why they chose this school. So that became the endpaper, that final touch, that final note of the magazine. We thought this would mostly be working for admissions, but the development staff actually loved it, too.
ST. EDWARD’S UNIVERSITY
We’ll take a look at one other school. This is St. Edward’s University, which is a Holy Cross college in a very cool neighborhood in Austin, Texas. And in recent years it’s grown so fast that it now has an alumni base that’s atypically young for an American university.
At St. Ed’s, the key thing you need to know is that there’s not a magazine website at all. The stories that are written for the magazine show up on the university homepage and in other tools. It’s kind of a different model than what most universities are using. And it’s a different way to think about content sharing. So that was the strategy behind this project: How to make the magazine so that it was great as a magazine, but then the pieces could be torn apart and reused online, in social media, in admissions mailers — really everywhere.
Here’s the cover. This is where we started. This magazine was already pretty good. It was good on outward-facing content. It had good production values. They were recycling the information, which is great. People on campus felt good about it. Here’s a sample inside page.
But there were areas to improve. The features could be shown off a lot more. They needed to streamline the production of some sections that were taking a lot of time without a lot of bang for the buck. And then we really wanted to build this editorial signatures library — of things that could appear issue to issue. We thought that would be great in the magazine, and also great for repurposing as a broader content strategy.
Here was our set of goals. We wanted to maximize content sharing. And this was a magazine that definitely served multiple functions. It went to alums, parents, all those usual audiences. And then it was also very connected to recruitment. We wanted to look at this magazine to see how it could maybe help in the recruitment cycle and how the stories could be leveraged to attract students.
We wanted to highlight the Holy Cross tradition, and we wanted to amplify the thread that was running through the magazine’s best stories. The writers had done a good job in the past of pinpointing these pivotal moments, when people were discovering their strength or having an epiphany or taking their life in a new direction. And so we wanted to amplify that element of talking about the St. Ed’s experience.
All right, so we did our usual discovery process: focus groups, listened to everybody, checked up on the strategic plan — all of those things. And then we set up this short list of things that we were going to address.
How many of you wish that you could pack up your school and move it to Austin? Probably some of you. St. Ed’s has this great dream location in a city with a lot of buzz. It has cool culture. There’s a lot of internships. We needed to show the city, not as a funky place to live, but as a meaningful part of your education. And it was also part of the strategic plan to build up the links between the school and Austin.
I mentioned that we actually had a very young readership. Half of the graduates will have graduated since 1999, so we couldn’t just produce a magazine for little old ladies. The residential campus was important. We needed to show the mix of what happens both in the classroom and outside. They had students of all types doing lots of different things, so we needed to look at how to find more places to showcase them. Then the writers had done this great job of describing these turning points and pivotal things. So how could we make the most of those?
Those were the strategic things in the background. Here’s the finished cover for the first issue out of the gate. We’re definitely appealing to the younger readers. It’s good to kick off with this cover story about a group of photo communications grads who all live together in New York and work together. The feedback we heard was it really seemed like a real magazine, so that was nice to hear.
Play up the Austin connection — there’s always a space reserved in the magazine. This particular story is about Austin’s urban jungle, which is known as the Wild Basin Creative Research Center. The St. Ed’s students are taking photographs of the wildlife. They’ve shot 10,000 photographs of bobcats and armadillo and foxes, and all the other creatures. And the idea is that their research will help to keep the city more wildlife-friendly.
The content is made to look great in the magazine — then also to be torn apart and used in other ways. So let’s look at that. This is how the Austin story appears on the homepage. If you click through, you’ll get a very similar story to what you could have read in print. They also shared this information with the urban jungle to post on its website. It’s also on some departmental websites that relate to this research. Social media: it’s distributed throughout the social media channels.
Another section in the book is called Pursuits, and it’s showing off the quality of students there in little short bursts. St. Ed’s is constantly building a library of student and faculty profiles, and the writers are adding content all the time in a standard way. So this is a chance to see how we could use those in print.
The My Hilltop section shows off the full campus experience by tracking someone through a full day — from workouts to internships to student senate meetings. How does that get used in social? They also made a video. So it previewed in social as a video before the print story came out, and then reproduced in other social channels.
The Think Big section is a new content signature that’s elevating the faculty, and it’s building on some of the faculty profiles that they already produce.
On the left is a catchall page for seasonal news. It’s sort of a roundup of summer internships, and this story type is built in part from these profiles that St. Ed’s always has in their library. On the right, there’s a column where you could handle commentary on issues or find a space for the president’s message when he wants to have one.
Here’s the cover story. It opens and looks like a consumer magazine — big photo, snappy headline, quick deck. It’s got the younger readers pegged here. It’s about the photo grads, and we actually had them do this shoot themselves. On the inside, we added a sidebar that summarized how this collective had worked together, how they worked together, which ones were former roommates. And on the first proof we actually made a third column about who dated who. That was mostly as a joke for our editor, Frannie Schneider. On the inside, the story continues. You get a mix of portrait styles — some people looking at the camera, some looking away. This story has these really great visual assets, so we used them big. One of the subjects was Lady Gaga’s clothing designer, who now has his own fashion line. So that’s what the shot is here that you’re seeing.
And then how was this story content reused? Here’s the carousel that ran on Facebook. You can click through the items. It also was on Instagram, and this got really big numbers as alums shared it with each other.
And then remember the library of profiles I told you about? St. Ed’s combines them into what we call roundup features. It might be five cool internships or four people making a difference, that kind of a thing. These features took a lot of time because the team tried to custom design them each time. We said let’s streamline the process, let’s give them a package look, and whenever they show up they can look sort of similar to this. This is smart because this content performs the highest when it’s on the web — these little stories of individual people. So it was important to find a place for it in print as well.
The alumni section always includes two profiles. One is a person at the top of their game, sort of mid-career and cresting, the other is someone who’s very young. It’s a definite appeal to show this younger readership that there’s content in the magazine for them.
And then the magazine closes out with what we call the Moments profiles. These are like St. Ed’s version of “Humans of New York.” So Brandon on the left is telling you he wanted to be an RA to help people. And Madeline on the right realized that politics wasn’t just a slimy business but a chance to do something good for the world. So it’s describing these little pivotal moments in people’s lives. And then it could also be its own separate campaign in social media as we’re building out the library of stories.
All right, let’s do some tips at the end here.
I want to remind you to keep your eye on the big story. Think about where the institution is headed and try to really sync up your magazine content with that. But not in a boring way. There’s a big difference between writing about a strategic plan — it’s a dull document — and writing the stories that really embody the strategic plan. So do what a magazine does well. Provide the context and the color and the details and the feeling.
You want to listen to your readers. If you ask them, they will always tell you what they want from your magazine. They might tell you they want you to work harder. They might tell you they want you to work smarter.
I want to have you set some goals. Think about what you want the readers to do. Is it to share a story? Come to an event? Donate to some scholarship? Enroll their sons or daughters? You want to make the desired actions part of your editorial strategy as you head into your redesign.
And then think about developing these signature editorial pieces that can appear in every issue. That builds the personality for the magazine and can create a nice bond with your readers. If you mix up the writing styles, it makes the magazine a lot more fun for your internal group to produce and for your readers to read.
And finally, definitely look at ways to find ways for your stories to live beyond a print magazine. Your magazine is probably telling your institution’s stories in the absolute richest ways, so don’t let this content all die on somebody’s coffee table. Think about how you can leverage this premium content beyond the magazine.
Ask us how we can help you. We’ll talk through a customized project scope to fit your budget and schedule.