Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they're centered on two things: personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.
I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:
1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation2. The Awkward Personality Conversation3. The Underperformance Conversation
All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.
PersonnelThese kinds of issues run the gamut-from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don't work well together. Sometimes goals don't sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn't fit the needs of the job, and that's typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.
I've learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.
Business RelationshipsThis is another difficult area, but it's critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.
Of course, we're talking about conversations-whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I've learned you can't wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I've had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business-if that's the goal, sometimes it isn't-the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives-you'll keep the business. If they feel like you're officious, and policy-bound, you won't. Never use the word "unfortunately." That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, "We're not set up to do that" for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.
Business PerformanceFor a lot of professionals, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you've fallen short of your goals. But it doesn't have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you're going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.
"What were they smoking?" is a common joking criticism used by editors and art directors when referring to badly executed magazine covers. Well, in the case of the June 2014 cover of High Times, we know exactly what they were smoking. But the herb definitely helped with some wonderful creativity, because this is one of my favorite magazine covers of the year. I think a few more magazines could use what High Times is smoking; this cover is powerful, engaging, memorable and just plain fun (and funny).
The "Mount Kushmore" cover of High Times features a photo illustration of four top hip-hop artists, Snoop (Lion these days?), B-Real, Redman, and Method Man, all of whom are well-known weed enthusiasts. For FOLIO: readers who don't fully get the reference of the headline, the Urban Dictionary describes "kush" as "a high-grade strain of marijuana."
This is a gonzo cover that reminds me of some of the best altweekly newspaper covers, with an image that is very high conceptually, and somewhat funky (in a good way) in execution. But the idea and the passion behind it are what gives this cover such a great buzz and makes it a standout. Editor Chris Simunek explains that the idea originated with Snoop, who has been a regular cover subjectâmost notably as 2007's "Stoner of the Year." The original idea was to have the four heads carved out of hash. When that didn't work out (for obvious reasons), photographer Mark Mann was called in, along with creative director Bianca Barnhill, who organized the entire session. Additional tweaks to the cover came from art directors Roxanna Allen and Frank Max.
Speaking of Snoop, back in the 1990s I worked as the design director of Vibe. We were all hard at work one afternoon when a buzz went through the office because Snoop had arrived for an interview and was in the upstairs conference room. Within five minutes of his arrival, the sweet sticky smell of the most potent weed imaginable came drifting through the walls and floors. Needles to say, there wasn't any more work done that day (although the interview turned out great!).
This cover of High Times feels like it was crafted by people who love making magazines and who have an intimate connection with their readers . As editor Simunek says, "We definitely enjoyed doing this cover!" It's bright and refreshing, and the image mixes perfectly with the bold cover lines. The cover headlines are all winners: "40 Best Stoner Movies," "Pot in the NFL," and "Growing for Maximum Flavor." It's also a change from the regular High Times covers, which tend to feature beautifully photographed exotic strains of pot or a still life of a bong.
High Times has a rich history of cover design, stretching back to its launch in the early 1970s. Over the years they've had a series of talented art directors, and while the magazine has had its ups and downs, it's overall design has never been stronger than it is under the guidance of art director Frank Max, who has given it a structured, lively format with strong, engaging imagery and, of course, lots of beautiful weed pictorials.
When I was in college in the 70s, my friends and I would get High Times from the local head shop every month and rush home to read the heady (to us) mix of dope, rock ân' roll, politics and counterculture news. We would scour the Trans High Market drug price quotations every month, hoping to find our little town in the list (it never was) and marveling at what was available for purchase in other locations.
Years later I visited a friend who was working at the High Times office in New York City. After getting through an elaborate multi-lock security system (it was the 80s), I was ushered into a dark, heavily smoke-filled room. This was the office of the legendary High Times typesetter, who banged out endless galleys of type surrounded by piles of the most potent herb I had ever "seen." Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't remember much else about my visit.
Those days are long gone, though, and High Times today is a much more professional operation. The magazine's ads are booming thanks to medical marijuana and the movement to legalize or decriminalize pot smoking. Celebrities like Oliver Stone have been on the cover, celebrating their sticky love. And the editorial content is a potent and polished blend of service, news and strong opinion.
I was worried that I was being too uncritical about this cover, so I reached out for a second opinion from Dan Zedek, a former High Times art director (in the mid-80s), and now the design director of the Boston Globe. He confirmed my opinion of it: "Two words for this cover: not shy," he said. "It has attitude to spare! It helps that the illustration is a little crude, the type colors a little loud. It's a perfect match for the subject matter: fun, noisy, and a bit bratty. For a magazine about not working hard, this cover works hard in the right ways."
So, I guess the obvious question here is: What was I smoking when I wrote this review? This answer is: nothing, or it wouldn't have been finished! Still, I hope High Times invites me to their next cover shoot.
While readers of my blog often contact me with intriguing and sometimes unexpected information or ideas, it isnât often that anyone brings up topics that I donât think I already know something about.Larry Scheur succeeded in doing that in a recent series of communications.Larry is a real old-time independent wholesaler from Buffalo New York. He created âThe Buffalo System,â which pioneered the use of title- and retailer-specific formulas into order regulation. And he asserts that NO ONE truly understands the economics of magazine distribution from the wholesaler standpoint.Based on what heâs been telling me, that is certainly an assertion that applies to me.What the wholesalers are saying about being unable to make money under existing conditions, Larry told me, is absolutely true. In fact, he says, wholesalers rarelyâif everâmade money from sales. Profits, he says, came from âservice charges, retailer under claims, retailer bankruptcies, return over claims, shortages, unreported overages, and special deals with national distributors.âNaturally Iâlike anyone whoâs been in newsstand distribution for enough yearsâhad heard rumors of some irregularities in the old days of our business; but the concept that these irregularities might be so institutionalized as to provide the very basis of the survival of our business was (and is) astonishing to me. Larry, however, was willing to provide many examples.âA highly respected EVP of a major national distributor once took to me to lunch,â he offered. âHe said he would approve all my affidavits, no matter what the claim, for a 10 percent fee. I was shocked and upset. He called after me as I ran from the restaurant, âIt's all right, I already have three wholesalers on board.ââ The Buffalo System was, Larry tells me, the first single-entry returns system. The purpose of the single-entry system is to ensure that the total (bulk) sales on the wholesaler system reconcile with the sales tracked by individual retail outlet. As an example, Larry told me about a wholesaler whose system showed two programs. One was designated âOverReturnâ and the other was named âShortReturn.â OverReturn added the totaled retailer returns for a title and issue and compared it to the wholesaler bulk record file for the same title/issue. If the retailer returns were higher, the program added a compensating amount to the bulk record for processing to the ND. The ShortReturn program functioned similarly. If the O&R returns totaled less than the bulk return, the program determined the missing amount and either created a stock account or multiplied returns over a determined number by the factorial difference.Improvements in auditing and tracking must have cleaned up these irregularities to a fair degree, though Larry maintains there is still an element going on today. Although, he admits, there were some wholesalersâBob Cohen of Hudson News was oneâwho kept everything strictly above-board. âHe wanted everything legit,â Larry said. âA very clean system.âRegardless of what may have happened in the wild-west days of magazine distribution, the situation is considerably more precarious today. I told Larry about a consultant who contacted me with to talk about âPlan Bââcode for, âhow are we all going to keep our jobs?â This consultant asked, âEven with all of the recent technology, how are returns going to be handled if, as some people have suggested, we bypass the wholesaler? What happens to the affidavit? Can the retailers scan returns the way the wholesalers can? And doesnât setting up direct relationships give the retailer a license to steal?âLarry thinks there are possible direct-distribution-based solutions to our current predicament; and to put them in place he suggests, as another former independent wholesaler did not long ago, going âback to the future.â His suggestions:1) Re-implement the once highly successful Family Circle/Woman's Day direct model, devoid of national distributor involvement, utilizing cross-docking. (Cross-docking is a term used in shipping logistics that involves moving product from truck-to-truck without the intermediate warehousing; WalMart has used it to move retail product since the 1980s).2) Similarly, Larry suggested, the industry should take a look at the once highly controversial Kresge/TV Guide system. This system, Larry explained, was similar to the Family Circle/Womanâs Day model, with the addition of expedited delivery. âTV Guide printed on Saturday and shipped 20 million copies with over 170 editions to wholesalers expecting Monday on sale,â Larry explained. âTV Guide made deals with national chainsâKresge, Neisners, F.W. Woolworths, W.T Grants, etc.âthat were not typically wholesaler serviced. They required the wholesaler to deliver the predetermined allotment as well as collect the unsolds (if any) for a small fee paid by TV Guide. A store stamp verified delivery. As some of these stores were in rural areas, wholesalers sometimes used busses and trains, hiring a delivery agent in these areas. A reship allowance was paid by Triangle Publications to wholesalers providing this service.Â These solutions, I thought, appear tailored to the large general-interest publications whose day has come and gone. What about the special interest publications and the independent publishers?Systems today, Larry pointed out, are also tailored around those mass-market publishers. âLook at the Order & Regulation systems,â he said. âPrior to UPCs, only 10 percent of titles were tracked issue by issue. Comparatives worked. They built the crosswords category. Wholesalers maintained O&R on the top two or three crosswords and used those sales to determine retail store allocations for the rest of the line.âWhat does that mean for the special-interest publisher? I asked. Was he expressing the idea that a more targeted publisher can be hurt by over-regulation?But Larry was talking about more than a publisher or a publication. His point was that a whole categoryâa whole industryâcan be hurt by over-regulation. âO&R destroyed comics,â he said. âYou start a downward trend which then negatively affect allocations. Thirty percent sell throughâwhat you get with the niche publicationsâneeds no O&R. Look at history, and you will see how it works.â
New YorkâOn Tuesday, a capacity crowd gathered at The Museum of Jewish Heritage to listen in as disruptive business leaders from various industries discussed how they are confronting an ever-changing landscape. Wired's BizCon was a daylong event that tied together a common themeâhow technology and design intersect with business.
The day's speakers were a mixed bag, including brand leaders like Tumblr's founder David Karp, Twitter Amplify's founder Glenn Brown, UNRULY CEO Sarah Wood and several others. Few stones were left unturned, meaning that everything from social media to gaming, robotics and even experiential theater was covered. Catherine Mohr, senior director of medical research at Intuitive Surgical put it best when she stressed the importance of "looking into adjacent fields to find solutions in your own."
This was a Wired event, so naturally the solutions were often steeped in technologyâand with good reason, given the rapid evolution happening all around us. In essence, technology is presenting both challenges and opportunities for every business leader, which is why merging thought leadership in various disciplines is a chance to rethink strategies and best practices.
For media brands, some of the new challenges discussed were not brand new, however the paradigms are shifting. Take for example social media, which both Brown and Wood discussed. The sizes of your followings and vapid engagements are no longer in focus. Now it's more about staying in and in front of the bigger conversation.
Brown admits that Twitter Amplify tapped into more than they expected when they launched the product to tweet instant replays. That is, the company discovered they could use objects to tweet messages in real time as conversations develop, enabling Twitter to keep up real-time and offer a valuable second-screen experience. He also tipped his hat to magazines for being out in front of this trend. "Magazines knew early on that it's a lot to ask readers to always go to the newsstand or wait for their hard copies," he said while reviewing the importance getting out in front of trending topics.
Wood concentrated on the importance of sharable contentâspecifically video. She dispelled a couple of myths that have surfaced about video, 1) it's done easily and, 2) it's unpredictable. UNRULY has the data to show that viral content can be predicted, but there is something brands must keep in mind: "It's hard to compete with friends and family," she said. And added, "for bands that are serious about video, paid media is the solution; don't post and pray."
Karp's Tumblr platform purportedly is a hub for brands that wish to share their content through the viral Web. Remarkably, sponsored posts average around 10,000 reposts versus an average of 14 reposts from a common user. But Karp confesses that it is the smaller number he takes the most pride in because "brands are some of the most capable content creators," and his platform complements that attribute. But for the common user, that multiplyer offers the potential to tap into a new audience, which is paramount to what Tumblr is all about.Â
Wired has been at the forefront of the design movement. In fact, even at its Data|Life conference, design surfaced as an essential element for progressing the healthcare space. BizCon further supported that thesis, and extended it outward to all industries.
What was once considered an aesthetic element is now becoming the basis for brand identity and user experience. So whether it's the architecture of a building, an immersive theatrical production or the user interface for a mobile game, design determines the experience.
Recently I was sending out a series of email re-qualifications. The process is mercifully simple. I design them, send the html to the email dispatcher who loads it into the email equivalent of an electric toaster, and presto, out pops my email effort.In addition to the html, I also have to provide a promotion code, the subject line copy and who the email is fromâand hereby hangs the tale.I changed the name of the email sender from the last time the email was sent in the belief that familiarity breeds contempt. It could be the very fact the email is coming from âSubscription Departmentâ that is putting off the recipients from opening the email. I donât know, so I tested it. But when I got the test, the sender name wasnât âRoy Beagley,â it was still âSubscription Department.â I was intrigued by this and called the person in charge of the email toaster, who said that it was not âconsidered good practiceâ to change the sender name. Always wanting to learn things, I asked how this conclusion was reached, was there a report, had someone done a test, who had discovered this and how? The answer was there is no report, no test and no discovery, someone once again decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and just decided this was the new protocol. In an email promotion there are several things that could account for a bad response: bad copy or bad design being chief among them. There is also the spam filter that has decided certain words demand automatic banishment to the trash canâeven though those words help sell subscriptions. The text-to-picture ratio has an effect on whether an email will eventually end up in the recipientsâ inbox or trash; can you imagine postal carriers deciding if they are going to deliver mail to you or not depending on whether they think there are too many, or too few words on an envelope?I would also have thought who the email is coming from would matter too. A letter informing me I may have won $50,000 excites me; a letter with the letters âIâ, âRâ and âSâ causes my heart to go in to arrhythmia. An email from the âsubscription departmentâ may not excite me, but an email from âThe Publisherâ or âXmag Subscriptionsâ or simply a name like, well, âRoy Beagleyâ may induce me to open the email. I donât know, that is why we test, and, based on those results, decide what is âconsidered good practiceâ rather than letting a good tale debase the facts.
As publishers,Â your ultimate goal is to create compelling, lively, and interesting content that your readers will love and share with their friends. You know that social media can be a great way to engage with those readersâbut are you sure that your social sharing strategy is as effective as you need it to be?Â Womenâs Health, which publishes 28 editions in 51 countries,Â is a part of Rodaleâs International Conference every April, hosting Women's Health and Menâs Health editors-in-chief and CEOs across the globe. To help these leaders take their social media practices to the next level, we put together a guide of the essential tips and tools all brands should know. The AmericanÂ Women's Health has used this guide to build an audience of over 6.1 million fans and followers across all the major social networks, and today reaches 15+ million unique visitors on a monthly basis.Â Whether youâre hoping to grow brand engagement and interest, or want to drive more traffic back to your site, here are 20 must-know social media tips and techniques to help you along the way.1. Each social media platform plays a different role in your overall brand strategy.For instance, Facebook is a great traffic-driver; Instagram is enormous for brand building; and Google+ is essential for SEO.Â FacebookÂ 2. Different types of Facebook posts benefit your brand in different ways.Not all âengagementâ metrics are necessarily the ones that matter to you. The old rule you hear again and again is that Facebook posts with pictures in them perform the best and have the highest engagement. But what if your goal is to drive traffic?Â After doing a deeper dive into our analytics, we realized that while reach and engagement (likes, shares, comments) were better for image posts than any other type of post, the actual click-through rate (the number of people who clicked on the link back to the site) was miniscule in comparison. On the other hand, when we posted link posts, we found that the engagement wasnât as high, but that the clicks back to the site were much more significant. Since traffic-driving has been a major goal for us over the past six months, weâve prioritized our link posts over image posts.Â Hereâs our basic understanding of what each post type is best for:Â Image posts are great for engagement, terrible for traffic.Link posts are great for traffic, not (always) as great for engagement.Status Update posts can be used to solicit feedback from your readers.Â 3. When posting a story to Facebook, you can change the image, headline, and subtitle to be more compelling to readers.Certain types of headlines solicit a good number of comments, but not many clicks back to the site. One example: Headlines posed as questions. Instead of clicking through to see the answer, our readers will try to answer the question in the comments of the post itself. We now change the question headlines to more straightforward language when we post on Facebook, in order to better encourage the behavior weâre looking for.Â 4. If youâre promoting a story about a famous person, tag her in the postâher followers may see it in their newsfeeds.Certainly canât hurt, right?Â 5. People love infographics.Since we know that posting images wonât drive traffic back, we optimize our image posts to reach as many people as possible. Infographics are great for that. In our experience, successful infographics are useful, interesting, and/or relatable:
6. When it comes to viral content, Feelings + Excitement = More Likely to Share.Positive emotions are better than negative, and worked up is better than bummed or mellowed out. Ask yourself:Â Would I share this?
TwitterÂ 7. Keep it short. Tweets with 81 characters or less get the most clicks, on average.This is based on an analysis of our own tweets from August 2013. We counted the characters in the tweets (including the URL), and charted them against link clicks. Shorter, more straightforward tweets got the most clicks. Longer, wordier, more conversational tweets got the fewest.Â 8. The best tweets are intriguing, yet unsatisfying. They compel the reader to click.Donât give it all away in the tweet. Give the readers a reason to click through. This post gave it all away in the headlineâand only 136 people clicked on the link:
Seriously, be a tease. Leave them hungry for more informationâŠ that they can only find by clicking through. This post made people wonder âWhatâs the snack?!â, and 3074 people clicked through:
9. If a tweet performs well once, tweet it again!We learned this one from the New York Times, via Neiman Labs. Thanks, guys!Â 10. Retweet people who are linking to your content.They'll appreciate the attention, and your followers will notice the new faces in their timelines more than the oldâmeaning theyâll be less likely to tune out your headlines, and more likely to click through. When we started retweeting the readers who were sharing our content, our traffic from Twitter increased 31% month over month.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Pinterest
11. Add the Pin It button to all images on your site, to make your content as easy to share as possible. Womenâs Health has over 283,000 followers on Pinterest, but the majority of our Pinterest traffic comes from content that our readers shared organically from our web site, not from our own Pinterest boards.Â Kind of amazing.Â 12. Create designed title cards for all of your content, so that readers know exactly what theyâre getting when browsing Pinterest.Images with words = better user experience = more re-pins. For your brand Pinterest profile, create designed title cards for each board.
13. Tall pins get more repins than short ones.The most optimized pin is a tall rectangle, with large words on it.Â InstagramÂ 14. Instagram users love beautiful, professionally photographed pictures.Yes, Instagram is the platform where the amateur photographer can shine. But users still respond well to gorgeous, professional photographs, as well (just look at the National Geographic Instagram account). We occasionally use pictures from the magazine to promote the issue when it comes out.Â 15. Use Instagram to solicit and find user generated content.Encourage users to share their creationsâand then use what theyâve shared as content on the site later. One of our weekly columns is called Share Your Smoothies, and we get the content for it by soliciting smoothie recipes and images on Instagram each week.
16. Take advantage of Instagram video. You can do a lot in 15 seconds.For us, weâve used it for: 15-second exercise move demos; beauty how-tos; slideshow teasers on the site; super quick Q&As with celebrities. Using the app Flipagram helps with a lot of these.Â Google+Â 17. Post frequently to Google+. It might not drive much traffic, but itâs essential for SEO.Â 18. Use a social media management tool to post to Facebook and Google+ simultaneously. Or auto-share all new content as itâs published.This might not be true for all brands, but weâve had more success when we cross-post Facebook posts than when we cross-posted Tweets. The images definitely help.Â 19. You can create GIFs on Google+ by uploading 5 or more images.Fun little party trick, right?
Ad Sales and PRÂ
20. The best sponsored social "campaigns" are:
âą Editorially conceived and drivenâą Beneficial to the readerâą Simple, w/low barrier to entryÂ (Read that againâthatâs a lot of info in 140 characters!)Â One of the benefits of our massive social audience is that weâre able to do fun and interesting social activations as part of larger sponsorship campaignsâand we do, often. We also have very strict guidelines for whatâs an acceptable sponsored social campaign experience, and what weâre not able to do. The rules above get at the main point: In order for a social campaign to be successful, it has to be something that the editors have come up with (so that itâs organic to your brand and makes editorial sense); it has to benefit the reader in a clear way (otherwiseâŠ why would they be participating?!); and it canât be too complicated.
Feel like you could use a deep-dive into next-generation social tactics? Learn more at the Folio: Growth Summit, June 16-17 in Chicago, which includes a 3-hour workshop featuring instructors such as Women's Health's Carolyn Kylstra, National Geographic Travel's Carolyn Fox and GrindMedia's Aaron Carrera. Find out more here.
I first saw this Politico cover the way it was meant to be seen: in a tweet that teased one of the inside features, "How to Lose $100 Million: The Undoing of Tina Brown." You can bet that I read that story, but it was the very cool, all-type cover that initially hooked me.
All-type covers are a tricky business. They work best with a provocative message like "Is God Dead?" or "You Idiots!" But as Politico creative director Janet Michaud explains, the magazine covers politics and Washington "in a non-partisan, non-ideological way." That means that they don't have a mandate to craft a headline that is going to antagonize or provoke readers.
Politico did the next best thing, which was to craft a solid, label-like headline into an engaging, stylish image--a perfect fusion of text and graphics. With its stop sign-like white logo on red, and a headline made up of letters taken from major newspapers and media outlets, this is a seamless graphic delight that works on multiple levels. It's the perfect cover image to propel the extensive hype that Politico has received for the stories in this issue.
I like the simple, unadorned design of this cover a lot. It's stripped down the basics: red, black, and white color (why does this seem to be the color scheme of choice for all-type covers?), with understated secondary cover lines under the main heading. The headline type, by Post Typography, is bold and refined and is obsessively engaging. Once you realize that the letters are taken from actual newspaper, magazine, and TV logos, it becomes a puzzle to figure out where they came from (you can play along; we've included the source logos for all the letters below).
I was actually disappointed with the first two Politico covers (The Media Issue is the third; it's published on a bi-monthly schedule). They were nice enough, but somewhat generic, without a sense of immediacy and failing to fully reflect the dynamic content inside. That disconnect is even more apparent when you view the interior page designs, which are powerful, elegant and very distinctive. However, this new cover changes all that. Part newsweekly, part opinion journal, part poster, the type channels covers of New York magazine, The New York Times Magazine and Time, with a nod to the 1950s Blue Note LP cover design of Reid Miles that Michaud cites as an influence.
There's a hip, stark, modern feel to this cover that I think eludes many other political magazines and journals. A lot of publications would have taken a more involved, illustrative approach to the topic (and according to Michaud, Politico tried a number of those approaches but weren't satisfied with any of them); the spare, graphic treatment here is what makes it so unique and effective. I feel like this is the issue (and cover) of Politico where the magazine has been fully realized for the first time and we truly get a sense of the potential of this publishing project.
Michaud came to Politico after a stint as design director at the Washington Post, and an earlier stretch as an art director at Time. She describes the overall look of the magazine as "visually confident, bold and surprising, simple and classic." She goes on to say, "We're not on the newsstand, but we're competing for the reader's attention. With the cover, we want to grab as much of that attention (and time) as possible." The Media Issue cover of Politico accomplishes that task brilliantly. I hope we see more creative covers like this in the future from the Politico team!
I've touched on this before, but I'll say it again: American attention spans, as tiny as they were before, are getting tinier. We are device-agnostic. We text, Twitter and Flipboard our lives away. We don't mind switching brands to get at the meat of a matter. We're like a nation of channel surfers with eight different TV sets and remotes in every corner of our lives: on our desks, nightstands, kitchen counters. Even as I wrote this, I checked my email four times, my texts three; I searched three different websites for mains, brunches, breakfasts and sides; I opened five different articles referencing five different industry studies; and I'm watching (don't judge) âCastleâ on mute.So it was no surprise to learn that according to a new study by the Media Insight Project, when it comes to news, our attention spans jump from story to story. The project was an examination of people's behavior as it relates to news consumption, and it specifically focused on whether people distinguish between the news organization (âwho gathered the newsâ) from the discovery (i.e., social media or search engine) and via what device (smartphones, print, television). Not surprisingly, people cared less about device and more about the source of news and how they get it. Technology is a tool of convenience, a vehicle for the stories that people want to read. Of smartphone owners, 78 percent used their phoneâa tool of convenienceâto get news.
Almost half of US adults have zero preference in specific device or technology for following the news. That same number of adults, approximately forty-five percent, have signed up for news alerts, including text, email or app notifications.Which perfectly exemplifies the way we should approach our business. The point is to be a media companyânot a print media company, not a website, not an app library, but an actual media company encompassing change. I can't say it any more clearly than Peter Houston, of The Drum: "People born to the Internet age don't describe things as digitalâcameras are just cameras, not digital cameras.â
Houston is spot-on. We're in a world looking for more distraction, not less. At the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin, Buzzfeed VP Scott Lamb chalked up his company's success to monetizing people who are bored: at work, at home, in restaurants.Gone are the yesteryears when we relied on one man (Murrow, Cronkite, Brokaw, and in my case, Jennings) to deliver our news. And fading quickly to yesteryear is our reliance on even one news networkâor brand. According to the Media Insight Project, the news dictates how we learn about it. For breaking news, television still dominates, with half of survey participants saying that they first learned of a breaking story on TV. But after hearing of the story, people broke with the medium, and fifty-nine percent turned to the Internet to follow up. Of those people, 37 percent went to TV websites, while only 9 percent went to sites of print outlets and 10 percent went to online-only sites.So how does a news brand remain relevant and, well, branded?Start by considering your own habits. Do you wait to hear about breaking news from the TV or radio? Of course not. Most people get (and prefer to get) news throughout the day, which means you always have to be on with your brand. Test the timing of your emails, test subject lines, test your social media ins. Set your tweets to at all hours of the day and night. Gauge what works and what doesnât. Encourage participation throughout the entire day about a story. Keep pushing for actual engagement with your readers. Give them surveys, quizzes, and polls. Donât ask open-ended questions; offer them A or B and then follow up on their choice. People like to think they have a lot of freedom in what they're deciding, but offering a banana or an orange is not really like giving them a choice of fruit. Always remember to control your message; tailor the offer based on what's going on in the news cycle and on what your internal data show, but be in control of your own message.You know what the most interesting point in the study was for me? Generational gaps are fading away. People young and old are exhibiting similar behaviors in that they go to multiple sources for news.
Social media use continues to be a major outlet for American news consumption, and maybe your 15-year-old (or press-hungry nerds) told you that Facebook is dead, but it's still growing among older people. This means that when it comes to news sources, it doesn't matter that your readers skew old or young. At publications where audiences skew older, it's easy to âblameâ revenue loss on older people not wanting to engage with social media outlets. Guess what? This study debunks that. What matters is that you hit your readersâold, young, and in-betweenâacross a spectrum of outlets, discovery and devices, because they're reading on everything.
Every now and then a blog post I do gets people talking. Thatâs always fun, and the ideas that bubble up are often fresh and useful. Irwin Krimke, whose work with Backwoodsman magazine has been very successful, contacted me to say that I neglected, in my reporting of a recent conversation with him, to give appropriate credit to the wholesalers with whom heâs been partnering, and especially to Kable News Company, which has worked to grow his client publication over 600 percent since they took it over. Hats off to everyone involved in this great success story!See Also: The Newsstand Is Not All "Doom and Gloom"From a reader responding to the notion that the conversation has become too negative: Does anyone seriously believe that retailers do not notice how their sales are down? Please. What would be really strange is if we as an industry didnât address these issues.Ideas and suggestions have also been pouring in about Plan B. Many have to do with eliminating one layer from the distribution processâeither the national distributor or the national wholesaler network. Suggestions center around setting up direct-style distribution, drop-shipping from distribution hubs, and eliminating merchandising or doing it on a fee-for-service basis. Here is a sampling:âą From a former direct distributor: "Based on the free market system, if this system collapses another will arise to take its place. Currently I am working with India-based businesses on outsourcing solutions for data analysis that might prove useful to publishers and distributors."âą From a newsstand consultant: "Wholesalers are clear they cannot stay in business without more money; publishers are clear they cannot provide more money. If we donât listen we are perpetuating a vicious cycle. What if the printers were to develop tie lines for the pick and pack and drop ship direct to retailers? Wholesalers could reduce their business to merchandising on a fee-for-service basis; national distributors can bill and collect the retailers on behalf of the publishers. It takes a step and several costs out of the process."âą From a group publisher: "Set up the tie lines/distribution hubs at the Clark (or other trucker) warehouses and ship direct from there. Retailers take back merchandising responsibility." âą From an independent publisher: "Work with the major retailers to truck to their distribution centers and ship from there." âą From a national distributor executive: "Use a system already in place to swing to direct distribution."Â Are any of these plans strong candidates for Plan B? What do you think?
Recently, an article on medialifemagazine.com noted that "the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that more than a third of web traffic is fraudulent," suggesting the fix is in as results are being inflated by "viruses and bots designed to artificially inflate traffic numbers." This all sounds underhanded, but is it really a problem? BPA in a recent study learned "that only 40 percent of the ads measured were actually viewable," which means that 60 percent are not, but again is this actually a problem?We used to ascertain whether a marketing or advertising campaign was successful by the amount of money, or orders, the campaign gained. For some, the important factor was money in the bank, for others it was orders. Nobody ever judged the success, or otherwise, by how many people actually saw the promotion. I donât think anybody presumed that everyone receiving the promotion would actually look at it, so why are we making this an issue now?Regardless of whether you are trying to achieve more traffic to a website, or are sending out an email campaign, it does not make sense to determine whether a campaign has been successful or not by the number of âclicksâ or âviewsâ that are achieved. Direct mail campaigns can, and have been measured accurately for years based on total orders as a percentage of total quantity mailed. No one ever suggested that the 97 percent who DIDNâT respond doomed every direct mail campaign to failure. In these days of instant results we lose track of the fact that different email programs do different things. For example, of the email I received this morning 87 percent of it was spam, but because of the type of email program I have, all of my email will have been considered opened and read, even though all I did was click on the email and delete it. I know, because I asked a company fully proficient in deploying and analyzing email promotions. In other words, I look like a good prospect, but Iâm not.Until recently it was the total dollars or orders that counted, not the number of people that opened the direct mail package or read the advertisements. Shouldnât that still be the standard? No advertiser ever assumed that every reader of a magazine looked at his or her advertisement; the measure of success was cost verses income. I donât think they would even expect 40 percent of the readers to view the adâjust as long as the expenditure/income ratio was acceptable. Advertisers and advertising sales personnel can determine their market; many of them have been doing it with great success for years. They know that a 100 percent paid publication in their market is probably a good bet to get orders. For controlled publications advertisers were able to look at one-year direct request subscriptions, in conjunction with adds and kills to get a picture as to a magazineâs circulation health. By comparing a recent statement with an older statement it was easy to determine a controlled publicationâs value to its readers and make a decision based on that data. Since BPA made some reporting optional, making a fair and accurate comparison is no longer possible.The world has changed, many people run promotions to get people to look at websites, and the website owner sells advertising based on the number of people looking. The fact there are âbotsâ and âvirusesâ inflating figures is disturbing, not to mention dishonest, and one could argue illegal. It should be stopped, but if advertisers returned to judging a promotionâs effectiveness by the orders or money gained, surely they would be better off. Viruses and bots can inflate click-throughs, page views and a whole host of other nasty things, but as far as I am aware, viruses and bots have not actually placed any orders.It is natural to desire the most effective response to a campaign, regardless of what it is for. Direct marketers have been doing it for years, and yes we all want to promote the most positive figures we canâbut those figures actually have to mean something, and in many cases, they donâtSome have argued that as a result of the Interactive Advertising Bureau findings, rates for advertising should be reduced. The argument being if you are not reaching a certain percentage of the file, your rates are inflated, but this really is not the case. Nobody ever claims to reach a certain percentage of the file, because if they did, they would have to prove itâand that is a claim that is unsupportable. You can have 20 million page views a day, and blast out millions of emails with links galore, but unless someone places an order, the bubble you operate in will burst. We should get rid of the bots and viruses if for no other reason than as an industry we need to correctly analyze data many of us have spent quite a bit of money investing in, as with most viruses we need to develop a vaccine so our industry remains healthy.However, if you get rid of all the harassments people can devise to inflate figures, and we manage to achieve a world where page views and such are 100 percent correct and accurateâunless you actually gets orders etc.âwe will be no further forward than we are now.
When the Time 100 was released last week, our editorial team discussed how we might cover it. The context was its relation to PR, and how communicators could leverage the value of making the list. This list is a PR person's dream. It's eclectic and interesting, and it covers a wide variety of human endeavor. It's global in scope. Unlike many magazine lists, the Time 100 is worth coverage and every person on the list is deserving of recognition in some form or another. Are they the "Most Influential People in the World?" Some might be, but many are not. Why, for example, are Kirsten Gillibrand and Rand Paul on the list, but not Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren? It's all kind of random. The common denominator is that all the selections seem to be whom the coastal elites and people in the power centers of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are talking about. Or think they should be.The cover of this year's edition was BeyoncĂ©, featured in a revealing costume and an open-mouthed expression. To me, the image didn't convey the gravity that the list aspires to. Would other designees be posed that way? But BeyoncĂ© has the gravitas. She was also on the list last year, after her performance at the Super Bowl. Sheryl Sandberg did this year's writeup.(This is a cool feature of the listâcelebrities do write-ups of other celebrities. It solidifies the likelihood that the list will be the preferred dinner party conversation at not just 100, but 200 parties. Of course, it leaves the door open for questions. Did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make the list because he is a "bold reformer," or because his profilerâU.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lewâthought that touting Abe's economic policies might be useful?)But back to BeyoncĂ©. Sandberg noted that she "doesn't just sit at the table. She builds a better one." (This is a variation on a line from the old movie about Sting, where, when his hired musicians complain about what Sting is paying them, the response from one of Sting's handlers is, "You might have a seat at the table, but Sting owns the table.")But Sandberg likes BeyoncĂ©'s message of empowerment for young girls. "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss," Sandberg quotes BeyoncĂ© as saying. What I like about BeyoncĂ© is her authenticityâthere is a sense that what you see is what you get. She's not a phony. I also like her staying power. She's been a star since the late 1990s. That seems like forever ago. My kids loved her in the old Austin Powers movie when they were little, and they still love her for her music and style now. That is remarkable. And then there's her sense of innovation. I've followed music my whole life, and I can't remember when anything as unique and unexpected as the release of a new albumâa concept album complete with videosâwithout anyone having the slightest idea it was coming. So if you're the communications person for any of the Time 200 (the Time 100 plus the celebrity essayists), there are three things you can take from the example of BeyoncĂ©: Authenticity and talent beget longevity, and both beget the ability to innovate.Â
You wouldn't expect something as simple as the April 26, 2014 cover of Billboard to be groundbreaking and envelope pushing, but that's exactly what it is. The cover features a cool photograph of singer Enrique Iglesias, sleek, minimal cover typography and a bold, poster-like logo; it's highly original, extremely artful and a crowd-pleaser all at the same time (I know because I checked with my 13-year-old daughter who is a big Enrique fan).
Most magazine covers, and especially trade publications, tend towards a standard formula with lots of typographic and graphic devices to grab the readers' attention, and crisp, sharp photographs with riveting eye contact. This cover has none of that; it even flaunts a big green logo in stark contradiction to the magazine urban legend that "green is death on the newsstand."
Since their cover redesign earlier this year, led by creative director Shanti Marlar, Billboard has been aggressively pursuing more creative photography, with very sensual color tones and poster-like framings. This is their eighth cover since the format change, the second under new design director Rob Hewitt and, to my eye, it's the strongest to date.
The photograph of Iglesisas by David Needleman is dark and moody, with his face in shadow and his eyes looking down away from the reader. It's a powerful portrait, intimate and sexy. And the cover typography is very sparse and understated, letting the strength of the overall design rest on the photograph and the graphic logo.
Just 10 years ago, Billboard still lived up to its trade magazine reputation on the cover, with a newspaper-like design that was occassionally broken up with special large photo designs. For much of the time since then, the covers have featured creative, aggressive, rock ân' roll design, with a heavy nod to the look of magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. The design exploded off the pages, bursting with distorted typography and huge amounts of cover lines. They were pop, and they popped! A cover redesign in early 2013 led by then-art director Andrew Horton eliminated the classic, multi-colored logo for a new, smaller treatment, combined with more subdued cover typography and sophisticated photography.
See examples of those covers here.
When the vertical Billboard logo was introduced earlier this year I was dubious about its long-term status. My first reaction was that it was a nice gimmick that wouldn't last. Plenty of magazines have added nontraditional tilts and positionings to their logos, and about 99.99 percent of them revert back to "normal" in short order after readers, marketers and subscription mavens amply complain. But now, I love it. The logo frames the cover like a poster; it's an acknowledgement that for a magazine like Billboard, the image on the cover is most importantâespecially as it travels across multiple platforms. The concept of newsstand sales as the driver for the cover design is no longer valid; the most effective covers work as images on Twitter, iPads, Facebook, etc. And the new Billboard logo, its very modern and distinctive design along with its photography are perfectly suited for this new cover paradigm.
I watched this cover get pushed on Twitter over the past weekend and noone cared that the logo was sideways or that there weren't a lot of cover lines. It was a memorable cover of Enrique Iglesias, fans loved it, and that's what sent it flying around the internet. It's great publicity and drives interest and traffic to the brand, as opposed to selling a couple extra copies on a newsstand.
What this cover and the overall Billboard design strategy says is that the old school approach to cover making, where tiny bits of magazine material are shoehorned into every corner of the cover, stuffing it to overflowing with photos and teasers, is no longer applicable. This is a cover design that recognizes the multiplatform, viral, instantaneous nature of the times, and that's what makes it so successful and so exciting. Other magazines should take note: an original, distinctive, contemporary cover design is the best way to visually revitalize your brand. There was a time back in the 1950s, when trade magazines were art directed by some of the most talented folks in the business (Walter Allner and Bradbury Thompson are just two), who approached the publication covers as part of the overall corporate packaging branding and design. This new set of Billboard covers is firmly in that tradition.
My enthusiasm for the big-picture aspects of the Billboard design should not obscure the good work that went into this particular cover, both in terms of the crafting and creation of the photograph and the detailing of the typography. It's a refreshing and energizing graphic step forward, and as my daughter Lillian says, "it looks so cool!"
UPDATE: Thanks to art director/illustrator Andrew Skwish for pointing out the similarities in overall tone between the current Billboard cover and covers of The Face in the 1980s, when it was designed by Neville Brody. The Face even had a short-lived experiment with a vertical logo! This era of The Face (the cover pictured is from 1985) was one of my favorites, and a huge influence on me and many other art directors. This makes me like the new Billboard design even more.Â