Extend your magazine’s brand for more impact

Brand extension is a key to continued and enhanced success for magazines, according to publishers like Rupert Turnbull of Wired magazine, who asserts that education is the “next big thing” in brand extension. In the last two years, Wired, a popular print magazine, has launched an online magazine, mobile and tablet editions, a podcast, an events business, and a consulting arm. Print is still key for Condé Nast, publisher of Wired magazine. Over the last eight years, Condé Nast has launched some 60 magazines and is ready to launch another four in the next four months.

However, the publishing giant is looking at ways to extend its brands and its leaders see educational strategies like its newly launched College of Fashion and Design or recent London tech conference as key, along with events like Glamour Women of the Year or the Vogue Festival.

In fact, some Christian magazines have been using events and educational strategies successfully for decades. Christian magazines have sponsored weekend writing conferences, correspondence courses, learning tourism, and camps and classes of all kinds. Events have been high on the list for magazines which have sponsored music festivals, conferences, retreats, and contests.

In this day when so many “experts” are talking about the need to go digital, mobile, and interactive, print magazines can trade on their names to extend their brand in other ways. Certainly it is important to see how technology is changing the way your readers prefer to consume your product. But technology is not the only way to get your message out there. Even super-wired magazines like Wired, with online, mobile, and tablet editions, are looking at other low-tech ways of extending their brand and increasing their reach.

The best Christian magazines in America

Christianity Today leads About.com’s list of the top 10 Christian magazines in America. The list includes both print and online publications with “inspiring stories, Christian world perspectives, helpful, biblical advice for shopping, parenting, cooking, and just about anything related to living your life as a Christian,” says About.com author Mary Fairchild.

Fairchild calls Christianity Today one of the leading Christian magazines in both online and print, with “practical advice on every aspect of Christian life from entertainment to shopping, parenting and marriage resources, help with college and seminary selection, community guides, and sermon aids.” The popular publication covers world, national, church, and ministry news.

Others making the top 10 include:

Relevant Magazine, a bimonthly lifestyle magazine targeting 20-somethings who are passionate about God, spirituality, and the world they live in.

Charisma, a leading magazine for Spirit-filled Christians, offering inspiring articles, columns by well-known pastors and teachers, community forums, and news from a charismatic perspective.

Bible Study Magazine, a new bimonthly print magazine by the publishers of Logos Bible Software, delivering tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professions, historians, and archaeologists.

Kyria.com, a monthly digital publication produced by Christianity Today, is designed to strengthen and equip Christian women to fulfill God’s calling on their lives.

World Magazine, a biweekly publication committed to reporting the news from a biblical worldview, with emphasis on stories that are often under-reported or even misreported by the national media.

CCM Magazine, formerly in print and now available only on-line, covers the contemporary Christian music world. There is a free weekly e-mail newsletter and a site with music, reviews, forums, tour and concert information, special artist features, and shopping.

Christian Living, an inspirational magazine featuring human interest stories, ministry spotlights, education, health, home, fashion, food, finance, and business. Founded in 2004 with a primary audience in Metro Atlanta, it has quickly grown to nationwide prominence.

Guideposts, a monthly magazine which has been delivering inspiration and guidance to Christian readers for more than 60 years. Their mission is to “help people from all walks of life achieve their maximum personal and spiritual potential.”

Christian History & Biography,  which offers in-depth, informative articles, graphics, illustrations, timelines and maps to help trace the roots of Christianity and to chronicle the people and events that have shaped the journey of Christianity through the ages.

Five checkpoints for a stronger magazine

Sure, most magazines fail within the first 10 years of operation. But there are things you can do to help make sure  your magazine won’t be one of the casualties. Here are five checkpoints to consider as you look at the future of your magazine.

1. Checkpoint One: Your magazine’s mission and editorial, marketing, and design philosophy. How long has it been since you’ve reviewed your magazine’s mission? Does everyone on the staff know why your magazine exists and what purpose it was designed to serve? A clearly and tightly focused mission will help you to stay on track as you make day to day decisions, selecting  articles, designing pages, and marketing your magazine.

2. Checkpoint Two: Know your audience. Do you know who your audience is and who you want it to be? One American magazine for college students was alarmed to find some 15 years after it was founded that the declining audience was composed mainly of people in their late 20s and early 30s. What happened? As the editorial and design staff aged, they failed to keep up with the tastes and issues faced by their supposed audience, and little by little the magazine grew older with the staff. Do you really know the audience you’re trying to reach? The more you know about your audience, the better equipped you will be to produce a magazine they will want to read.

3. Checkpoint Three: Your marketing plan. Are you continuing to look for new ways to get your magazine to your prospective readers? Have you explored new options as they’ve become available? Especially with a small staff, it’s easy to focus on producing the magazine and to forget to budget time to consider how you will get your wonderful product into the hands of readers.

4. Checkpoint Four: Your financial situation. Do you have a budget and are you keeping track of expenses? Do you have a fairly good idea of how much it will cost to produce your magazine next year and how many subscribers, advertisers, or donors you will need in order to continue to produce the kind of publication you now have or would like to have? A carefully-prepared budget and financial plan will make it possible to gauge your progress throughout the year and will alert you to potential problems or the need for an infusion of cash or a course correction.

5. Checkpoint Five: Are you continuing to learn your craft? Magazine publishing is changing rapidly. Are you keeping up with trends in magazine publishing and those that affect your audience? Design styles are changing and the expectations of consumers are changing, as well. It’s easy just to continue doing what you’ve always done and the way you’ve done it. However, those who continue to learn, whether through formal training or keen observation will be better equipped to produce a quality publication that continues to appeal to its market..

Six reasons why your new magazine may fail

Why would you want to think about reasons your new magazine might fail? Well, you’re making a significant investment of time and money in getting your magazine off the ground and you want it to succeed. In the United States 60 percent of magazines fail within the first year. I don’t know what the statistic are for other countries, but my observation is that the same is probably true in many other places. In the U.S., by the fourth year 80 percent of new magazines have failed and by the 10th year, only 10 percent are left.

So, how can you make sure that your magazine is one of the 10 percent that make it long term? Industry expert Samir A. Husni (www.mrmagazine.com) suggests there are 13 traps to avoid. I’ll list six of them here and briefly comment on each.

• Insufficient planning and research: You’re excited about your idea for a new magazine and you want to start right away. Why take the time to plan for the long term and to do research to find out whether your magazine is really wanted and needed and whether anyone will be willing to place advertisements in it? Many years ago, I was on the staff of a national Christian bi-weekly newspaper that started with great excitement and an investment of millions of dollars. The publishers were so sure their vision for the publication was on target that they didn’t bother to do research. Five years later, with diminishing renewals and skyrocketing debt, the publishers concluded a publication like theirs was not wanted.

• Insufficient budget and funds to cover magazine costs: It’s not surprising that a brand new publisher has no idea how much a magazine will cost. The assumption may be that you sell the copies and it will cover the cost of the issue. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. It may take years of careful planning before your magazine even gets into the black. That means you have to have investors or donors who share your vision and who are willing to cover the losses until the magazine is able to get on its feet.

• No clearly defined audience or target market: Who exactly is this magazine for and what are their interests? Publishers and editors know what they want to say, but if you don’t know what your potential readers want to read, your magazine will have an audience of one. The more you know about your potential reader, the more you can shape the content, design and language to appeal to the reader. Okay, this does mean research. Don’t take it for granted that you know who they really are.

• Unfocused mission and editorial philosophy: Can you say in one sentence what the purpose of your magazine is and how it should affect the reader? If not, go back to the drawing board. The more focused your mission and editorial philosophy, the more likely you are to appeal to the target audience.

• An ineffective [or nonexistent] marketing plan: Many magazines in the Developing World are started by editors. This is the person with the vision and the ability to communicate. However, often this is also a person who is NOT a marketer. I personally know of many magazines with enormous potential started by editors who knew the audience, were good writers and editors, but who were not able to get the magazine to the audience. A carefully thought out and researched marketing plan is crucial.

• Unable to acquire significant distribution: How will you distribute the magazine?  Distribution is a significant hurdle and new publishers have to have a plan to overcome the obstacles in the way of new, small, untested magazines. In many countries, subscribing to magazines is practically unknown. Everyone buys their magazines and newspapers at the local kiosk. But will the kiosk take your magazine? And if they do, will they display it or will it end up stuffed behind the more popular publications? If it’s not possible to get single subscriptions and if you can’t use the kiosks, how will you distribute your magazine? This is an important issue and should be seriously considered before you even think of printing the first issue.

In my next post I’ll list some reasons why your new magazine may succeed.