It’s All in the Name
The first word in magazines is the name on the cover. As a flag leading the editorial and marketing parade, it should be clear, easily pronounceable, memorable, and not confused with other existing names. It should also tell, at a glance, what the magazine is all about.
That’s quite a handful of requirements. Of course, a name that’s been around for a while may have become so successful that exceptions are made. GQ is no longer a quarterly, for instance; and National Geographic is international in its editorial view of the world. But these are now brand names, and no one’s going to retouch them.
Eponymous titles include a founder’s name as part of the festivities: Forbes, Crain’s New York Business, Martha Stewart Living, O: The Oprah Magazine, to name a few. Others are not as successful. McCall’s became Rosie (as in O’Donnell) a few years ago, to dismal ratings. Other failures include Lear’s, Regardie’s, Mirabella, and Sly (as in Stallone). Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal shed the family hubris when the company changed hands and is now just Country Journal.
Other publications put the reader in the title. At first glance, this would seem to be a good positioning strategy, and by this standard The Runner is a stronger name than Runner’s World. Yet, last time I looked, Runner’s World was winning the race for readers. Some put the reader in with a touch of drudgery: Working Woman. Sometimes the reader is glorified;Elegant Bride, Practical Boat Owner, Wine Enthusiast, Cigar Aficionado. Self strikes me as an effective name for a magazine about self-improvement, while avoiding the rehab connotation of Self Improvement.
If you were editing a magazine about the surfing life, would you call it Surfer or Surfing? My vote would be for Surfing because it invites the outer circle of armchair fans into the magazine without excluding real surfers.
Most agree that a title should be descriptive and tell what a magazine is about. Penthouse, not exactly about sky-top dwellings, fails this test while Organic Gardening scores high;what you read is what you get. "People is a magazine whose title fits it perfectly," said founding editor Richard Stolley in the magazine’s first issue. "There is nothing abstract about our name. People is what we are all about. Journalism has, of course, always noted and dealt with people. But we dedicate our entire editorial content to that pursuit."
A Clarifying Tag
If a name uses jargon for an insider crowd, or is hard to understand at first glance, a "tag" or slogan line can help to clarify. According to the dictionary, folio means a page number (as in folio line) or "a large sheet of paper that folds to give four pages." According to the slogan of the magazine now in your hand, however, it is: Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management. The congeniality award for slogan lines goes to Bark, the magazine for dog-owners: "Dog is my Co-pilot."
Another way to achieve brevity for a long-winded title is through an acronym (or, more correctly, an initialism), assuming that readers know what the initials mean. I recently came away from an editors’ conference with copies of JDT, an association book with a slogan line that did not explain the title: "The Official Voice of the Dental Laboratory Industry." I had to go to the folio line to discover that this was indeed once known as the Journal of Dental Technology. Such decoding should appear on the cover.
Finally, is there any money in a magazine’s logo? (The answer at Money is a resounding yes, of course.) There is not always a direct correlation between a great name and great sales. Newsweek is an excellent title, for example;it says news of the week; whereas Time sounds like a book about hours and days. Yet Time leads the category. Many other variables;editorial quality, circulation achievement, advertising appeal;are part of the bottom line performance. And Time’s early slogan line, of course, leaped in with clarity: "The Weekly Newsmagazine."
Would a magazine by any other name be as sweet at the box office?"There are lots of opinions about what is a ﾑgood’ name, but there is no real way to measure the effect the name of the magazine has on its eventual success," magazine guru James Kobak once observed. Magazines often end up with titles that are considered "great," but, Kobak adds, you can never really determine "whether it is because the name was great or whether the magazine using that name was so good that it would have made any name great."
John Brady is visiting professional at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy, and conducts editorial workshops for professionals. For information on his Interviewer’s Handbook: A Guerrilla Guide for Reporters and Writers, e-mail him at Bradybrady@aol.com.