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large stack of magazines piled high. (Valeriya/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
large stack of magazines piled high. (Valeriya/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Top Tens

Ten ways to keep your print product relevant Add to ...

Word that Newsweek is resuming print publication may strike some as a visit from Christmas past. Savvy publishers, however, will part the cobwebs to applaud a print inclusive media package.

Just as you wouldn’t ditch your mom for a pretty new girlfriend, making a happy media strategy means meeting your readers with the right medium and the right message, and taking advantage of points of convergence along the way.

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1. Know your market. Who reads your publication? How old are they? Where do they live and work? What motivates them to spend their time and money? If you’re a member of your target market, be careful not to make assumptions. Groundwork and research is key at the beginning of a venture but also as an ongoing exercise. Ten years ago, most moms were horrified at the sight of another mother talking on her phone in the playground. Today, their strollers have smartphone caddies.

2. Location, location, location. The Internet is globally and instantly accessible. Your print publication is not. This means that savvy distribution can make or break circulation. You need to put your magazine where your readers will find it. Are they transit-users? Do they have a daily routine? Where and how do they shop? A stack of 50 papers might fly out the door at a west end veterinary clinic and gather dust in a midtown pet shop. A postal route may be a great investment if you’re looking for affluent readers with a large garden for your landscaping journal, but could well be a waste of time and trees if three quarters of your dog-lovers tabloid goes to pet-free homes.

3. Pay attention. Look for ways in which social trends create opportunities. The roll out of the one-year parental leave program in 2000, for example, created a seismic shift in the family media market. Similarly, rising retirement numbers, urban housing trends and even inbox fatigue are all social markers that can create lucrative markets. This doesn’t just apply to startups – paying attention always pays off. Take our app-addicted moms in tip number one, combine it with tip number seven and you’ll have a great opportunity to use tip number eight.

4. Write the thing you want to read. Look for a gap in the information market and fill it. What do you want to read about? If it isn’t already online or at the newsstand or if it’s hard to access or poorly presented, chances are there are a bunch of folks who would like you to make it available, accessible and a joy to read. Do take care, however, not to confuse personal bias for a social trend – your passion for geo-caching in period mufti is charming and likely a ton of fun, but perhaps best left to the weekend.

5. Care about your advertisers. Take the time to get to know your advertisers’ businesses before you take their money. Think about ways to help them succeed and gently educate them about ways in which different media speak to their market. Selling three small ads to a retailer instead of making the big bucks on a one-time buy might net a little less cash in the short-term, but will build momentum and create a measurable return on investment for your advertisers. And for goodness sake, follow up. Stop by with a copy of their ad, bring them a latté and take the time to build a relationship. When a full page, four-colour promo for the end of season sale is the right choice, it’s your number they’ll call.

6. Put your readers first. This is basic, but often overlooked. Your readers are your most important customers. If they stop coming to the show, your advertisers will be singing to an empty hall. You’ll want to stand your ground and remember this when an endorsement or advertorial request comes walking in the door with its pockets full of money. If your readers don’t trust you – they will go away.

7. Build a house around the sofa. Print is your primary product, but it isn’t your only means of communicating with your readers and serving your advertisers. You don’t want to dump your whole table of contents online and call it a day, but you can’t ignore the many ways your readers access information. Decide how you want to use the tools at your disposal, do your homework and make a plan to take on only what you can reasonably support. There’s no point in getting a half zillion Facebook likes if you decamp to Tumbler. Start small, stay solid and grow with your readers and your revenue. If you have 10,000 loyal subscribers and half of them act on an ad, that number is a lot more meaningful to an advertisers than 5 per cent of a fickle 50,000.

8. Plant once, reap twice. Take a good look at all your lovely content – you and your team worked hard to pull it together and now it’s on the street, cheerfully informing and entertaining your readers and driving customers to your advertisers. Now, take that same content and look at the different ways in which it can be re-purposed to drive readership and ultimately revenue. Get time sensitive information out quickly and build community with social media. Archive and recycle evergreen content like columns and opinion pieces. In this way, the DIY furnace maintenance article on page five returns as a top tip in the e-newsletter which in itself drives readers to your website for a step-by-step in the Homeowner’s Library.

9. Don’t waste money. Paper is expensive – that’s a given. So is distribution. You need to question some long-standing business assumptions. Do you need office space, company vehicles, glossy marketing collateral, on-site full-time staff? There are all costs that may well be superfluous and even a bit silly. Don’t skimp on solid supporting technologies but do question the need for a second-floor social media department with a pool table and a wet bar. Your employees may be just as happy (and twice as efficient) working from home if the systems that link them are efficient and reliable.

10. Be good. Hire nice people and be nice to them. Tell the truth. Keep your commitments. Treat your readers with respect and your advertisers with care. It’s basic good business.

Vicki Bell is the founder and publisher of The Little Paper, a guide for parents for young children in Toronto, which is celebrating its tenth year this December.

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