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Your Good Word

Posted on Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:53 PM

Here's some magazine capital that even the slumping economy can't destroy. Now is the time to put it to good use.

By John Johanek

There are just a few really "key" pages for any magazine -- pages that deserve extra design scrutiny before they go into print. There's the cover, which should serve as a poster for the magazine -- grabbing attention on the newsstand, shouting its arrival from the stack of incoming mail, or flagging its presence on a coffee table. There's the Table of Contents, which needs to work like an advertisement for the issue (i.e., selling the content) and function equally well as a roadmap that quickly directs readers to favorite departments or major features. And, for some magazines, the closing page is crucial to ensure an issue ends on a strong note or to hit readers with an opening bang if they are the sort that scan an issue from back to front.

Often overlooked is one other important magazine component -- the editorial page. Some magazines don't even have one. Others treat their editor and/or publisher comment like a filler box, relegating that material to a page shared with fractional ads or the masthead (staff listing), or squeezed into a corner of the Table of Contents page.

If that sounds like your magazine, wake up. A functional editorial page may be your magazine's best sales tool -- something every magazine can always use more of, especially in this economy. Even if you have a page devoted to your editor's comment or publisher's note, there are ways to make it work harder.

Establish Rapport

If you don't already have a page that's the voice of the magazine, create one. Whether it's a message from the editor or a note from the publisher, your publication needs to connect with readers on a personal level. One client I worked with never had an editorial page despite repeated suggestions to do so. When it launched, it was the first magazine in its niche. Today it's the only family-owned magazine covering a now-popular, crowded market. The family aspect has become one of their biggest selling points -- but it's barely mentioned in the magazine. Instead, a portion of their marketing efforts and direct mail is devoted to promoting their unique family ties -- the price of never establishing an editorial forum to do so in the magazine itself. Having its readers know that the magazine's producers are not merely story shufflers but rather active participants likely has influence when it comes time to renew, purchase gift subscriptions, or buy an ancillary product from the company. Being able to cultivate that rapport with readers through an editorial each issue is a better and more cost-effective way to reach them.

Quantify Content

All good magazines go to great lengths to create balanced, authoritative, well-researched issues. A proper editorial page often highlights the scope of the issue and explains why the stories were selected and what qualifies specific authors that were commissioned to produce key stories (especially if the magazine doesn't have a contributor's page). This is an especially strong selling point worth informing readers about if you've landed a highly credentialed author, compiled a special selection of stories on a hot topic, or have in some way brought together content that is beyond what your competitors will likely deliver this month. This is the time to toot your horn, and an editorial is the place to toot it.

You ARE Your Brand

In my first year in publishing I read an item in a respected publishing trade magazine suggesting that magazines were better served if their regular columnists never included their head shot with their story. The logic was that a reader's imagination would probably paint a much more flattering picture than reality. That was more than 30 years ago, and I still disagree with that logic. If you're like most editors and publishers, you have opportunities to meet readers at conferences, events, or social gatherings. As a result, editors and publishers often serve as an embodiment of their brand. When readers recognize you, they won't hesitate to engage you in conversation -- about the magazine, the state of your industry, or an article they read. What editor wouldn't want to hear a reader's editorial opinion, or story suggestion, or industry insight? What publisher wouldn't benefit from heightened exposure with potential advertisers and media interests? A few years ago we redesigned a hobby magazine whose editor was considered a leading expert in the field. His editorial each issue had been a less-than-quarter-page box-all type, with a diminutive headline buried at the bottom of a page among fractional ads. In the redesign we gave the editor a prominent space with a photo and full-blown columnist treatment. The new presentation matched the level of respect his expertise warranted. As a result, the editor gained familiarity -- at trade shows and conventions -- and the magazine enjoyed elevated stature as well. When key magazine staff achieve authority status, the magazine benefits. A well-executed editorial in the magazine can be the soapbox you need to develop that recognition.

Head Shots

Several years ago our firm redesigned a large-circulation travel magazine. Although it already devoted nearly a full page to a well-written editorial, the old page design typically sported the same tired "obituary"-type shot of the editor every month. In the makeover we recommended producing a new photo for each issue -- an image that personalized the editor in ways that allowed readers to relate to him better. If his editorial was about rising gas prices, we wanted a shot of him pumping fuel at the local gas station. If the issue had a special focus on family vacations, we preferred a shot of him and his family enjoying the view at the Grand Canyon. The goal: get him out of his suit and tie and show his readers he was one of them.

Relating to your readers is key to gaining their confidence -- a first step in building reader loyalty.


Sign off your editorial column with your signature as well as your typeset name and title. The title establishes credibility and reflects authority and the handwritten signature makes the page more personal and human. If possible, print the signature in blue -- tests have shown that direct mail marketing letters with a blue signature tend to pull better than black. That might seem like a small thing, but in today's economy, every little bit of edge helps.

John Johanek is an international magazine design consultant and founding partner in the design firm of Ayers/Johanek Publication Design, Inc with offices in Zionsville, PA, and Bozeman, MT (visit their website at www.publicationdesign.com). His firm has assisted hundreds of publications, providing design and advice for startups, redesigns, and complete issue art direction and production. Contact him at 406-585-8826 or email him at johanek [at] publicationdesign [dot] com.

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