All issues are created equal, of course, but, to paraphrase George Orwell, some issues are more equal than others. We call them special. Special issues can bring new readers and advertisers into your pages-or they can be editorial oddities, even turn-offs.
It all depends on what you call "special," a word-like "natural" and so many other sell words-that has lost a lot of its credibility and impact. A few seasons back, for instance, Muscle Magazine International devoted an entire issue (210 pages) to abs. I’m sure it appealed to the five or six guys on the planet who have six-pack midsections, while the rest of us, cough, publishing hunks know that cover-model abs are best achieved through workouts in Photoshop-don’t you think?
According to the dictionary, special means "distinct, different, unusual, or superior in comparison to others of the same kind," something that is "planned for a specific occasion," presented as an "addition to or more than is usual." In magazine parlance, special issues contain all regular features-plus extra editorial. They do not replace or disrupt the continuity of the regular issue.
Special issues are editorially driven, often pegged to an event or topic outside the magazine’s normal beat. They require extra pages, extra budget, and they pay off in terms of editorial prestige, leadership positioning-and increased market share and advertising from advertisers who want to pick up on the excitement. Some special issues become news events themselves-such as the Forbes 400 Richest.
Special issues can enable you to combine two issues into one-a huge savings in every way. New York does "special double issues" on topics such as Cheap Eats.
Some special issues become regulars. Show issues, for instance, appear twice on most b-to-b schedules-the Pre-Show issue followed by the Show Issue that actually reports on what happened at the show. Some special issues turn into "franchise" issues. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is perhaps the best-known example of this. Others include People’s Most Beautiful People issue, the Fortune 500, and Time’s Person of the Year.
Special issue topics often move from consumer to b-to-b to custom publications with ease. Lately, for instance, I have seen The Green Issue from airlines (American Way), Amtrak (Arrive), the United States Postal Service (Deliver), and Vanity Fair. The editorial formulas are remarkably similar. All of these books include stories on how to protect the planet and build energy-efficient spaces and places in our lives; stories on putting old things to good reuse, on eco-celebrities like Al Gore, tactics and strategies for consuming less power, operating things more efficiently and, of course, saving money.
Indeed, many companies are finding ways to a greener, cleaner future, minimizing environmental impact with tactics that prove to be as good for business as they are for the planet. Magazines do their part as they underscore the importance of green marketing, printing on recycled paper and taking steps to reduce their own environmental "footprint" for the issue. As a result, publishers are seeing green from advertisers who are increasingly building their brand images by associating themselves with environmentalism.
Special Tips on Special Issues
Special issues are based upon topics that dominate the issue, often with more drama and impact in the design and layouts. Don’t overspecialize. Topics should be editorially appropriate, and should appeal to a majority of readers.
Special issues are not editorial calendar theme topics, special reports or sections. Theme topics do not dominate an issue. They are designed to blend into the style of the issue, and can be devoted to niche interests in your audience.
Special issues can take up some slack in a slow season such as holidays or the summer. Advertising Age positions the Top 100 Advertisers for the pre-Labor Day issue, and 100 Leading Markets for the pre-Christmas issue. City magazines often do Beach Guides for summer reading.
Don’t confuse special issues with advertorials. Those are pseudo specials.
John Brady is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy in New York, Fort Lauderdale and Newburyport that specializes in redesigns, and conducts workshops for professionals. For information on his consulting services, and to order his Interviewer’s Handbook: A Guerrilla Guide for Reporters and Writers, his Web site is http://www.johnbrady.info/.