About five months ago Texas Monthly’s senior management team decided to tackle a big industry issue: Reader engagement. So they formed a four-person, in-house reader-engagement committee consisting of the senior vice president and general manager, the vice president of consumer marketing, the vice president of marketing and the research director to see if there was anything they could do to move the needle and get readers actively involved with the publication.
"We realized that there’s a lot we’re doing that we do because we’ve always done it that way," says Meta-Margret Carson, VP of consumer marketing. "The initial purpose was to extend the relationship with the reader beyond the subscription. We want to remind the reader of what sets us apart from our competitors and get the messaging out there why they should care."
Why Winning Awards Matters
That meant doing a bit of gloating, in a tasteful way. Since its launch in 1973, Texas Monthly has earned 53 nominations for National Magazine Awards, receiving nine awards for excellence in editorial and design. This year, although the magazine was nominated but didn’t win, Carson says she had an e-mail blast ready to send to consumers explaining what the awards were, why they were so important, and what other notable magazines they were up against in their nominated category.
"The nature of media is so self-selecting now that we need to take a step back and tell readers why they should choose our magazine to read," says Carson. "From a consumer marketing position we need to tell the story more, we’re going to tell you what a National Magazine Award is so you know and so you care, and we’re going to talk about the magazines we’re in the company of. That resonates with readers."
Through the committee, Texas Monthly created an editorial mission statement used on house ads, direct mail pieces and buckslips, informing readers of the magazine’s strict church and state policy. "We now need to promote and talk about the steps we go through so people value what we do," says Carson. "It doesn’t cost us a penny but it’s a real psychographic shift within the magazine. If you look at anybody’s direct mail and renewal programs they talk about how great the magazine is and why readers should stay."
Carson also started inviting more readers to Texas Monthly events to interact with writers and editors, as well as to tapings of the Texas Monthly television program "Texas Monthly Talks."
"We’re starting to look at things in a very different way, by doing things we always do but making sure we wring everything out of it that we possibly can," says Carson. "We’re taking anything that we’re already doing and asking ‘How can we involve the consumer and how can we put that messaging out?’"
The committee also has a hand in the process of a Web redesign, to make the magazine’s site more user-friendly, capitalizing on what the publication is best known for (travel, food, service, politics, etc.). The committee also targets community involvement down to Zip Code levels in various communities via direct mail. "We try to say this is why we’re relevant to you and be very specific," says Carson. "We get our writers out there to talk to the readers."
As for measuring the success of the committee’s efforts, Carson says she doesn’t know if it will ever be overly measurable, beyond gauging the effectiveness of certain direct mail programs. "We’ve never talked about ourselves before and it isn’t necessarily measurable," she says. "But we hope the payoff is people see us in a different light versus the competitive set. It may not move the needle up but it may keep people from choosing not to read our magazine.