Worth a read

Customer magazines – the ideal vehicle to keep the conversation flowing

Although magazines have been around for a long time, in recent years they’ve been making a comeback as a valuable participation communications tool. The investment in printed customer magazines has even been embraced by mainly online businesses such as high-end clothing retailer net-a-porter, whose magazine The Edit gives the company a mechanic with which to engage continuously with customers. And it does work – a recent industry study showed that ‘45 per cent of consumers take positive action as a result of reading content marketing’. But how do you go about creating a customer magazine from scratch and adding true value to the brand? …

1 The masthead
Firstly, work hard on the title and masthead. If Barry’s Screws sells screws, then Barry’s Screws Magazine (with logo in the centre of it) isn’t likely to engage a wide audience – always try to give the title some depth, and develop a masthead that will stand up on the news shelf.

2 Editorial planning meeting
Whatever the title, and however many pages, always have an ‘editorial meeting’ at the outset of each edition. Include all parties and include a creative presence in the conversation. Even if there are already pretty clear ideas on the structure of the issue, participation empowers everyone to feel like they are helping to shape it. Follow this swiftly with a flat plan.

3 Ad content
Acceptance of advertising can be a sound policy, depending on the brand in question. If in the high fashion sector for example, to include appropriately aspirational ad content can add value and style to the publication and you’re more likely to develop a true ‘magazine feel’. You can also use these ad pages as separating devices between features.

4 Setting the pace
Pace in a magazine is really important, and is one of the main things that people planning their first attempts fall short on. Magazines are designed to be flicked through, front-to-back and back-to-front, so create a content plan that has bite-sized shorts, high-impact areas through strong imagery, etc., and in-depth features. Then make sure you distribute evenly throughout the magazine so there’s always something to grab the reader the second/third/fourth time they pick it up. And try not to put the brand offering in the face of the reader at every turn – doing so is likely to lose credibility.

5 Editorial style(s)
When planning out the editorial content, remember that a magazine should have personality and variety. So don’t take the the easy route of trying to write every word yourself… the end product will be better for the use of different writers. And you’ll be able to step back and be a more objective editor.

6 Ferret ideas from all around you
There aren’t many ideas within magazines that haven’t been done before! That doesn’t mean you can’t ‘borrow’ the format… try pulling snippets of ideas from music or lifestyle magazines and re-construct them in features for sport, for example. And if the MD featured has a rock ‘n roll edge, then use it in your styling or photography.

Magazine content should be fresh, and thought-provoking. One thing that really doesn’t cut the mustard is regurgitated editorial and stock imagery. A magazine HAS to feel current and on-the-ball – whatever the perceived lifespan of each edition – and contemporary photography or illustration style help create the moment in time.

8 Production values
If planning a title that will go into print, look carefully at the print supplier you intend to use. Magazines have a very specific feel to them and the guys you work with on your annual report or sales pieces may be ace, but can’t necessarily deliver to the desired magazine spec. A magazine can often be better when considered a standalone project.

Sam Bowles