We lead a few secret lives here at Pivot. In mine, I’m the editor of a family lifestyle magazine based in Sydney. We published our first issue this year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how magazines function as brands, and how brands could thrive if they acted a little more like magazines.
Much has been made about the evolution of brands as publishers, or the thinking that a successful brand is one that recognizes how the internet and digital media (e.g., YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, email, blogs, etc.) have fueled consumers’ seemingly insatiable desire for more content. Exhibit A: What’s the first thing many of us do when we get up? Check our “feeds.” How do we fill our downtime? With content. What do we send, post, and “like”? Content.
Whether or not you believe in formally adopting the title and mindset of a publisher, there are some really practical conventions magazines have been using forever that can help brands hone their content.
The job of your content is to teach and entertain.
Think about your favorite publications. Why do you read them? Most likely, you open the cover or you click on the headline because you believe there’s something in there that will answer your question or make you feel something. New information and experiences are valuable, and the most prestigious publications are ones whose information and experiences are perceived to be the most definitive.
Too often, brands put out content with sales as the number one goal, web traffic as a close second, and enjoyment a distant third. But content isn’t about selling a product. It’s about buying an audience that will, if you treat them well, do more than just pay for your product. They’ll subscribe to your way of thinking and tell others to do the same.
It takes a team to create that content.
But let’s back it up a bit. First things first: If it has content, then a brand—and I cannot stress this enough—needs an editorial masthead. These are the people who, armed with a complete understanding of the brand’s message, are devoted to seeking out and polishing the content that supports that message. These are the people whose responsibility it is to keep an ear to the ground for any potential story-worthy content.
Think seriously for a minute: When you flip open the metaphorical magazine of your brand, whose name is at the top of the masthead? And who’s helping that person? One lone Editor-in-Chief, no matter how good, is not enough to orchestrate and produce valuable content at a steady rate.
Good content thinks months and months in advance.
True, digital media has sped up the publishing cycle considerably, and brands who can deliver good “real-time” content get much deserved attention for being responsive and relevant. Their teams (see: masthead) are really great at their jobs. But even such “now”-focused publications as The New York Times have extensive editorial calendars that lay out their content plan months in advance. This gives the editorial team the opportunity to develop content beyond surface-level, Content 101-style posts and to deliver useful, in-depth material.
Equally as important, a proper editorial calendar identifies key opportunities (seasonal trends, anticipated milestones, holidays, etc.) that will make the content relevant. After all, was the legendary Superbowl-Oreo content just a lucky accident? No, the Oreo team had that date on their calendars for months, and they were ready.
Good content goes beyond the cover story.
Special-interest publications are generally pretty clear about what you can expect. There won’t be a lot of surprises in an antique tractors magazine, for example. They occupy a specific niche, but their writers are skilled at thinking about this subject from every angle. It’s not just stories about this or that antique tractor—it’s historical investigations into the people who originally owned them, contemporary stories about the people who restore them, company profiles about the manufacturers who still make antique parts, the small farms who’ve built their business with the tractor they’ve had in their family for generations.
When brands ask themselves what kinds of stories would be in their “magazine,” it opens new and interesting doors for getting audiences interested in your subject.
The page is as important as the content that lives on it.
Traditional publications—and especially the new wave of independent publications—have long been hip to the important relationship between content and design. The content itself can be clear and engaging and Pulitzer Prize-winning, but if it isn’t delivered with the same visual clarity and thoughtfulness, it loses impact as well as credibility. Magazines recognize that producing good content is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and one story does not necessarily work in the same layout that another story would.
Moreover, a story shouldn’t look like it could fit into just any other brand’s content either; it needs its own identity. Magazines have entire teams devoted to this. The result is a cohesive, strategic collection of content that provides visual consistency as well as variety.
Small brands can produce big content, too.
Granted, running your brand’s content like a magazine is one thing when you have the resources to hire a team of dedicated writers, designers, and developers, but it’s another when you are already the marketing director, office manager, and janitor rolled into one—producing content on top of that is just not realistic. So take a cue from the many small magazines out there: turn production over to a select group of freelancers you know you can trust and create an editorial calendar everyone can reference. Work with a content agency, or invite experts you know to contribute guest posts in exchange for exposure.
The key, however, is to realize that content can’t run remotely—your position as an insider makes you the chief source of the stories your brand has to tell, so keep the lines of communication open and make sure you are actively giving your producers timely access to the unique content that makes your brand a worthwhile read.