When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Creative
Washington, DC Chapter President
In my industry, construction, publishers are facing a double-downturn problem: the one that’s hitting all publications plus the housing market crash that’s taking an added toll.
But that hasn’t stopped some magazines and sponsors from keeping up on innovation and continuing to communicate with customers when seemingly few are doing so. One bright spot in particular comes from my sister publication, Tools of the Trade. The truck pictured below isn’t merely a work vehicle. It’s a gleaming, hulking mobile marketing program that, at least in my opinion, is an indicator that even in a down market our advertisers still understand the value of impactful marketing tools and our readers are still interested in hearing about new products and programs.
Outfitted with all kinds of tools, gear, and high-tech features, the Site Commander Ultimate Work Truck is pretty much designed to make Tools of the Trade’s core audience — professional contractors — dream big. Three versions of the truck are currently touring the country, stopping at home centers and job sites where those pros will get first-hand exposure to the products and services on board. Readers who can’t see it in person can read about the new technologies through extensive coverage in the magazine and on the trucks’ Web site. At the end of the tour, one of the trucks will be given away through a sweepstakes.
While this is not the first year this program has run, it is by far the most ambitious version to date and it is the only one to be launched in such a tumultuous time in the housing market.
What does all this have to do with editors? To me, it’s further proof that we should never stop innovating and that we play a vital role in creating great ideas that sell — even though we do so while still respecting the church-and-state line. The Ultimate Work Truck idea originated with Tools’ editor Rick Schwolsky and a former publisher. This year, that idea is a revenue-generating bright spot that is a win-win-win for the magazine, the sponsors, and the readers. And, as Schwolsky says, “not only do we get to create programs and products tailored exactly by our intimacy with our readers’ needs and interests, but we turn it all into original and exclusive print and Web content with home-field advantage.”
As editors, we’re not doing the selling. But we do know our audience best and that means we’re best suited to come up with those fresh ideas — whether they be work trucks, show homes, magazine supplements, or Webinars — that will make customers — both vendors and readers alike — want to take part. We have to find new ways to partner and create packages of print, Web, and special programs that suit individual needs while still satisfying our ever-ultimate goal: providing value to our audience.
Even during tough times, vendors still have a message to get out. In fact, some say it’s more important than ever since there are fewer customers to be had. Schwolsky compares this year’s Site Commander to the scene in the movie Forrest Gump when Forrest’s shrimp boat is the only one still left working in the aftermath of a hurricane. The bounty was plentiful because it was the only one going to market.
At the risk of being cliché, more than ever now really is the time to think outside that proverbial box.
Even before the birth of webinars, videos, podcasts and that other good electronic stuff, magazine editors had a choice of at least 30diverse format possibilities. But according to studies I've done (and continue to do)many editors choose (or are forced) to stick with a limited editorial menu.
Undoubtedly, one reason for this is that many creative magazine formats require more time to develop.
Typical editorial diversity studies find many magazines stick with a maximum of three or four projects beyond the usual. Novel back pages and Q&A interviews are the most visible.
But when you search for such stuff as roundtables, diaries, I.Q. tests, problem/solution department, a regular page of statistics, point/counterpoint, these are rare occasions.
As a result, many magazines have predictable editorial content. That works against them in any competitive analysis study.
Perhaps we need a target of at least six-eight creative format options used per issue. Then editors can decide how realistic that target is for their publications.