We like to think that we know a thing or two about business magazines. (We read a lot!)
I recently entered a heated debate about magazine advertising – What to look for, what works, what doesn’t.
Of course, you’ve got to get the fundamentals right – target audience, frequency and reach – but effective print advertising is about more than that. It’s about engagement – connecting with passionate readers.
After chatting with the Anthill team, we’ve devised some of our own unscientific and highly biased tips for evaluating print advertising options.
Be advised, the comments below are highly biased.
But they do honestly reflect how we see the world and our industry.
Step One: Read the Editor’s Note.
This is the bit at the front of the magazine where the editor (at Anthill, that would be me) waxes lyrical about the goings on at the magazine. If the Editor’s Note puts you to sleep or, worse, simply outlines what to expect in the current issue, our advice is simple. Run! The editor’s opinions and outlook should reflect the personality of the magazine.
Firstly, if the Editor’s Note bores you, the rest of the magazine will bore you also. And unless the magazine is a highly specialised B2B title (ie. Hammers & Spanners Quarterly), this is bad news for advertisers. Why? Advertisers should be seeking engaged readers, dummy!
Secondly, if the Editor’s Note seems half-hearted (or doesn’t have a name attached to it), it’s a safe bet that he/she doesn’t love the magazine. Yes, you heard me correctly. Like any evolving organism, magazines need love to survive. I think that you’re probably already familiar with my attitude and approach, so I won’t go on. Instead, see my comments below about ‘community’ (Step Three).
Step Two: Check to see whether photos and illustrations have attributions.
This is a more general observation that we make time and time again when checking out other magazines – from business to ballet. In short, do the photos or illustrations in the magazine say who is responsible for the artwork? Is someone being credited for their creativity and talent? If not, then there are two possibilities (two assumptions) that we think are reasonable.
The first possibility is that the editor doesn’t love the magazine or he/she doesn’t respect the staff and contributors. (I don’t know which is worse.) Magazines are a team effort. Staff and contributors should share the credit (or the criticism when things don’t go quite as planned).
The second and more likely posibility is that the photos and illustrations are ‘stock’ (from a photo-library). Sometimes ‘stock’ artwork does offer the most creative solution (we use it occasionally). But, in most cases, it is used as a short-cut, at the expense of local talent.
Most publishers guilty of this crime will claim that the commission of new artwork is prohibitively expensive (we’ve never found that to be the case). But if the budget is still too tight, social networking sites like Flickr offer a great pool of untapped talent just looking for a ‘big break’.
In our view, a lack of attribution signals lazy publishing (like clip-art in a PowerPoint presentation). Again, this signals a lack of love, which is bad news all round.
Step Three: Check out the magazine’s website.
I’m about to expose possibly the greatest myth that surrounds the business of magazine publishing: Business magazines are purchased as an ‘information resource’.
This was certainly true twenty years ago, when the alternatives were few and far between. But today, unless the magazine is, once again, a highly specialised B2B title (ie. Underwater Welders Monthly), you’ll find that most successful over-the-counter business magazines are picked up as a ‘lifestyle product’.
This is because magazine readers, like all consumers, respond to products that reflect their own sense of identity (or an identity that they aspire to adopt). That’s why successful magazines can easily evolve into communities of like-minded people.
In short, a magazine without an effective online community, in our opinion, suggests one of two things – the creation of the online community is outside the financial reach of the publisher (which is hard to believe nowadays, since a wordpress blog can be built from a bedroom in minutes) or the publisher is concerned that if he he/she builds it, they might not come.
If a business magazine doesn’t have a suitably advanced online community, our sad assumption is that the print magazine is either purchased out of obligation or is not purchased at all (provided to its target audience free of charge). In which case, the publisher should justifiably fear the launch of a website, likely to be populated only by ‘tumbleweeds’ and drifters, like the proverbial ghost town.
Of course, if you want to check out the effectiveness of a business magazine’s website, or any website for that matter, there are a few online tools. The best free one that we are aware of is… http://siteanalytics.compete.com/
Successful advertising is about engagement. And it is impossible to engage with uninterested readers. In short, it’s not hard to determine whether a magazine’s readers are passionate or apathetic. And that’s our unscientific and highly biased guide to effective magazine advertising.
If you think that we’re kidding ourselves, don’t hold back.