Repositioning means change. Change is hard. Yet, when a magazine finds itself going stale, in a struggle for advertising, circulation or market share, it may be time to develop a repo strategy.
Repositioning takes as its subject the idea that change is at work in society and is reconfiguring the way we live and go about our jobs. For magazines—ever works in progress—this means surveying the transformations out there and determining how your publication can tap into and report on the results.
It can be done in six months to a year, often with no change in staff or resources. A repo program can create new opportunities for expansion in circulation and advertising. Circulation will have a new, improved version to offer to readers who have grown indifferent to the old. By expanding your editorial range, you also expand your advertising prospects, and it can be a morale boost at a book that has been on autopilot.
The editor creates change in the magazine’s DNA by adjusting the magazine’s mission statement, its contributor guidelines, and issue lineups.
Every magazine needs a mission statement of purpose that keeps you on target and broadly defines: 1) who you are; 2) your audience; and 3) what you do to get your message across. Waste Age, for instance, is a b-to-b “for solid waste professionals.” Its mission is to help its readership do their jobs better—more safely, more efficiently, and more profitably—through attractively designed editorial that is both analytical and topical.”
Magazines often have a firm sense of mission at the outset, but then, as the issues move along, the idea can change or shift and the ingredients that once made a magazine distinctive become blurred. Thus, in repositioning, the mission statement should be revised to encompass new audience needs.
In order to create exciting new issue lineups, the editor should take a fresh look at contributors’ guidelines and use this instrument as a repositioning guidebook. Here you can make certain that all incoming material is imbued with the new editorial attitude from the point of assignment to deadline and delivery. Explain what you want and what you don’t want—give examples, establish word lengths, and include the new mission statement. I often recommend emphasizing the reporting, not the writing. Without it, there is no story. If you are repositioning to be more investigative, for instance, lay it out here. Tell contributors not to be an ally to sources.
Final thought: Never use the word “relaunch” around the advertising department. While repositioning is a change for the better, a relaunch sounds like an invitation to come onboard Titanic Monthly.
Some additional Repo Rules to keep in mind as you think about rethinking your magazine:
1. Don’t be a “me too” publication. Repositioning is an opportunity to construct an identity that more clearly differentiates your book from competitors.
2. Make a special appeal to entry-level readers. Bond with them early on.
3. Compete more aggressively with the clock. If you are perceived as reader unfriendly, with stories that jump, continue next issue, or sell more than they tell—readers will leave you on a whim. With time so precious for overworked readers, we need to be perceived as easy to read and helpful in hard times—part of the solution, not the problem.
4. The business of business magazines is business. Address workplace issues, providing information and tools that affect job satisfaction, achievement and success.
5. Take yourself as a service, not a product. The goal of a service-minded publication is to be constantly achieving. With editorial planning, enlarge the range of service, thus pleasing more readers more of the time and enlarging the renewal rate.
6. Find a niche and scratch it. Go deeper, not wider. Remember, the more general-interest you are in your coverage of a field, the more likely it is that you are losing readers to vertical publications and having problems attracting new readers.
John Brady is visiting professional at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He conducts editorial workshops for professionals and is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy. For information on his Editor’s Tool Kit, e-mail him at Bradybrady@aol.com