Whether or not we are already in a recession, publishers are already feeling the crunch. Travel and freelance budgets are being curtailed. Hiring is scaling back, and positions that open up are often being filled by junior staffers.
Magazines may find themselves competing with sister publications (not to mention the Web and events) for dollars. The key is drawing attention to the job you’re doing, and no one is more familiar with making the pitch to the parent organization than association publishers.
Edward Adams, editor and publisher at ABA Journal since 2006, spent most of his professional career with for-profit ALM. “I don’t see them as that different,” he says. “When you make a pitch for additional resources it’s the same whether it’s in the association world or the for-profit world. You’ve got to be able to say, ‘here’s what I want to accomplish,’ give metrics that say, ‘here’s what we need to accomplish this, and here’s the pay off.’”
In July 2007, Adams revamped ABA Journal’s Web site, which included turning it into a daily with 20 to 25 new stories per day and a network of 1,600 blogs, as well as magazine stories going up every month. To get it done, Adams convinced his bosses to let ABA Journal serve as the trailblazer for tactics that could be applied to the overall association Web site. “I didn’t have all the resources we needed in the magazine,” says Adams. “The pitch I made was lend me ABA’s Web Master during the launch phase, and he will learn a bunch of things in course of launch that he can take back to the larger ABA site.”
Know How To Describe What You Do
Make the pitch in ways that everybody understands, especially the finance people who may not be aware of the subtleties of something like art or edit. “People want to talk about what project you work on but it’s hard to break that down because we have one big project we work on with a lot of moving parts,” says Apryl Motley, editor-in-chief of Community Banker. “You need to be able to demonstrate what you do beyond just black and white numbers. I don’t want to pick on the finance people but a lot of times they don’t get it and you may experience budget cuts in areas you didn’t expect. If I budget $4,000 for art and you’re sitting in finance, you might be thinking, ‘OK, how many issues do they do? I think $4,000 per month is outrageous. I think they can do it with half.’ Something like art and photos seem frivolous to someone not involved in the publication. You have to say, ‘OK, you like the fact that we win awards, this is what we need to do to have a decent-looking publication each month.’”
Nobody likes a self-promoter but staying visible with management can help come budgeting time. “I used to be shocked at how many people who worked at the association didn’t read the publication or were even aware of the ways the publication can help them,” says Motley. “You have to do internal PR and reach out to different people on the staff. Over the years they want to know how you contribute to the bottom line and how you make them a better organization.”
Motley advises mangers to attend as many staff meetings as they can and recalls her association developing a member survey and only discovering that the initial draft had no questions about the magazine because she attended a meeting about it. “If I can go to regular staff meetings, even if it might not be related to my job, that might help me down the line when I have to ask for resources.”
Staying visible with advertisers helps too. “What kind of relationship do you have with advertisers or the vendor community?” says Motley. “You’re treading a thin line partnering with those folks but they may have influence within your organization that you don’t have.”
Making the Pitch
John Maisel, publisher of Electrical Contractor, shares three essential steps to making the resource pitch to the parent organization.
1. Know your management. “Understand how they view your product in the entire mix off things.”
2. Make the case for what you need, what it’s going to cost, and especially, what’s the downside if this doesn’t work out.
3. Put your track record out there. “Think about your past successes so you can build a case of credibility. ‘They’ve been doing this for five years, so we can give them a little leeway.’”