1-Hour Upgrades To Measurably Improve Your Print Magazine

Many marketing and communications teams tell me that their magazine is “fine.”

Maybe they acknowledge that it’s starting to feel a little stale, and suggest that at some point in the coming months or years, they’ll start looking at an overhaul or a redesign.

But really, they admit, they’d love for their magazine to have a little shot in the arm right now. An improvement that they could make that didn’t require months and months of work.

The good news: Yes, it’s possible!

Here are two changes you can make RIGHT NOW to improve your publication. They’re research-backed, proven out by successful publications, and ready for your finishing touches.

Here’s how.

1-hour upgrade #1: Organize a headline happy hour

Research has shown that a good headline is at least three times more engaging than a mediocre one.

So why are most of us spending such a tiny amount of time coming up with headlines for our stories?

If I see any more “Success story” “Leaving a legacy” or “Overcoming obstacles” headlines, I’m going to throw your magazine into the sea.

They’re vague. They’re boring. And they don’t give your designer anything to work with, either.

My recommendation to jettison those yawn-worthy headlines: collaborate with others to create arresting, irresistible headlines.

Start by organizing a “headline happy hour.”

Bring together your smartest, funniest colleagues. Make sure your designer is one of them, because they can often see visual potential in headline ideas. Maybe you even have some clever cross-campus pals who might like a chance to put their stamp on your print publication. Send them your feature drafts or story briefs, and get their ideas!

Have everyone bring a headline or two, pitch a few of your own, and see where it takes you.

Remember, your headlines don’t need to fit SEO formulas — and they can be designed for impact. Be witty, be smart, be surprising.

Make those headlines all but leap off the page to grab your reader’s attention.

Here’s one of my own all-time favorites, a story about a student croquet club.

1-hour upgrade #2: Add a “Where’s [your mascot]?” contest to your pages.

One of the most frustrating experiences of creating a magazine is working months and months to make it great — only to hear crickets when it hits readers’ mailboxes.

Did they receive your magazine? Are they actually reading it?

One simple way to find out: include a contest in your pages.

Tuck a tiny mascot, logo, or iconic image on a page. Let readers know they can win a little bit of swag, like a sweatshirt or bumper sticker, if they find it, submit their entry, and are selected at random.

Two publications I know — Nebraska Quarterly and UND Alumni Magazine do this and routinely see 100+ entries to their contests.

Those entries are valuable data points on their own.

But they’re also larger opportunities. Every message from a reader is an opportunity for you to respond, ask questions, and learn more about what they enjoy about (or would like to see in) your magazine.