POWER EDITING AT THE SUMMIT
by Debby Hartke, Contributing Editor
Two things to remember. First, the Alamo. Second, positioning your magazine is essential and a work in progress.
Many of the magazine folks attending the recent Agricultural Publications Summit in San Antonio, Texas, may have strolled past the Alamo. But if they attended magazine consultant John Brady's workshop called "Power Editing: How to Sharpen Your Magazine's Identity in the Competitive Marketplace," they gained useful weapons in the everyday battle for readers.
Brady presented 10 "rules of war," one being: "You live and die by the cover."
There's no difference between consumer and trade publications, according to Brady. Those in the ag publications business should imitate and learn from consumer publications and create cover images that attract and sell.
Communication design consultant Jan White, who presented a day-long session at the Summit titled "How to Catch and Hold the Reader," also stressed the importance of visual impact, saying that readers are viewers first and readers second.
"If they like what they see at first glance, and are caught, then they'll likely read," White says. "What a publication looks like immensely affects its perceived value."
The design of a successful publication, one that readers will commit time to, results from an intellectual partnership between editor and designer, White says.
"Good design is important to smoothly get editorial off the page into the reader's brain," he says. "The function of design is not just visual, but intellectual. It's for making things clear to the mind and to serve as a lubricant for ideas."
To achieve the design that makes readers see why they should care, the editor must decide and communicate to the designer the important point so the designer can accomplish it, White says.
Brady calls the editor the "soul of the editorial machine," responsible for the magazine's "editude." Editude is Brady's term to describe what a publication has when advertisers want to get in because of the audience and the audience wants to read because of the editorial.
Brady turns an old axiom around for another of his "rules of war" regarding positioning a magazine. "If it ain't broke, keep on fixing it," he says. "Stay off automatic pilot. Continually rethink your magazine, or in five years you could find yourself in trouble."
More of Brady's "rules" are:
* Strive to be No. 1. Be more like yourself and less like anyone else in the business.
* In the beginning was the word. Advertising came later. The editorial product must be strong before it can attract strong advertising.
* Publishers are often "editorially challenged." They invest in things that help them sell ads, such as reader profile research. What's needed is editorial research. In other words, are the covers working? Is a favorite columnist actually being read?
Democracy does not work in positioning the magazine, but keep the reader in the room with you.
* Positioning means having a perceived editorial attitude. A publication should have a mission statement of 25 words or less. Don't edit for the "inner circle" of long-time readers.
" Keep your friends close; your enemies even closer. Read, examine, dissect the competition's magazines. Learn from them and honor them.
* Maintain your publication as a service, not a product. The customer/reader buys satisfaction, not a product.
* The only constant in publishing is change. If everything you do succeeds, you're not trying hard enough.
Brady describes a great cover story as one that is planned in advance, relevant, timely and thorough. He recommends a 1-2-3 approach in editorially and graphically linking the cover, the table of contents and the cover story itself, with the cover story portrayed consistently in all three locations.
Use the table of contents as a marketing page for the magazine, Brady says. The cover draws the reader in, but the table of contents makes the reader commit.
Brady says cover lines for the articles inside should be more explanatory and tell what the stories are about.
"Cover lines should tell the reader what's going on," he says. "But they can be lyrical and inventive."
Before we leave the Alamo, here's one more of Brady's points to consider on the subject of remembering: "No magazine is remembered for its glorious advertising." AM
Editor's note: The Agricultural Publications Summit is a joint meeting of the American Agricultural Editors' Association, the Agricultural Publishers Association and the Livestock Publications Council. This was the second year the organizations have met together. See page 76 for a summary of the conference.
Debby Hartke is a writer and communications consultant based in St. Louis, Mo.