57 rules that will make your alumni magazine better

Today I’m going to sum up 25 years of of my best alumni magazine advice in one post.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably are familiar with a lot of these ideas. And if not, I hope this will be a quick introduction to the best insights I’ve gleaned from reading thousands of alumni and university publications over the course of a quarter century. (!!!)

Without further ado, here are 57 of my best alumni magazine ideas:

  1. You can almost always add more reader entry points: headlines, deks, subheads, captions, sidebars.
  2. Spend more time on your story leads.
  3. No more faculty promotion announcements.
  4. No more sports season recaps.
  5. But you can never have too many class notes. (Really, never.)
  6. Stories readers always love #1: campus myths
  7. Stories readers always love #2: elaborate college pranks
  8. For stories you do every single year (graduation, reunion, retiring faculty), try to shake it up with new formats or approaches so you don’t get bored.
  9. Perfect-bound magazines communicate a premium experience.
  10. Take at least one big swing with a story in every issue.
  11. Don’t be afraid to have an advisory board.
  12. If you have an advisory board, set clear expectations and boundaries.
  13. Alliterative headlines are almost always terrible.
  14. Good headline format: a sharp quote from the story.
  15. Sweat the details.
  16. Good profile headline format: full name + sentence
  17. Start more conversations with your readers. They’ll help you create a better magazine.
  18. The best number of “letters from the desk of…” columns per issue is zero. The maximum number is one.
  19. Conduct a short reader survey at least annually. Make sure to include a question about what they love about the magazine. Save the answers so you remember that your work matters.
  20. Photo color correction can make a drab photo pop — and transform a page entirely.
  21. great cover helps win the coffee table.
  22. Two spreads of campus news is probably plenty. One might be better.
  23. Be funny (at least every once in a while.)
  24. Top four most important pages: front coverback cover, inside front cover, inside back cover. Make the most of them.
  25. Try more story packaging techniques: quizzes, lists, round tables, as-told-tos.
  26. Remember to treat your profile subjects as humans, not highlight reels.
  27. You can probably cut that story’s word count by 10 percent. Your designer will love you. Your readers will, too.
  28. To get a good headline, write at least 20 and choose the best one. After 15 is when things start to get interesting.
  29. If you have to have a president on a cover, at least make it interesting. Like this. Or this.
  30. Prioritize excellence over meeting an arbitrary deadline.
  31. Headlines should almost always be more than three words.
  32. Can’t get out of the boring institutional story? Get into it. Make it GREAT.
  33. Subscribe to at least three consumer magazines and see what you can adapt from them. My current top three: New York, Cosmopolitan, Fast Company.
  34. Create a one-page instruction template for anyone who needs to submit a photo. It’ll minimize the “can you send a bigger file” back and forth. Here’s one.
  35. Stories readers always love #3: campus concerts throughout history
  36. Fill in the blank to get a killer headline and story concept: “The secret history of ________”
  37. Mystery photos can encourage audience participation and can help your archivist identify images for posterity.
  38. Your magazine does not need to “compete” with consumer magazines or make “everyone” want to pick it up. Focus on your exact audience first.
  39. Build feature well categories to strengthen your magazine’s structure and improve story generation possibilities.
  40. You don’t need theme issues.
  41. But if you want to do a theme issue, start planning a year in advance to make it amazing.
  42. Two issues annually? Publish in March and September to maximize reader impact.
  43. Three issues annually? Publish in March, July, and November.
  44. Four issues annually? Publish in March, June, September and December.
  45. Your alumni magazine should not make people feel bad.
  46. Want faculty to share their best research and stories? Ask them. Here’s how.
  47. Add more illustrations and infographics to your magazine to make it visually interesting.
  48. For profiles of high level/celebrity clients who can contribute art, ask for it all: headshots, environmental, action, supplemental photography.
  49. Department headers should feel specific to your institution.
  50. Offer prompts to engage your readers. Ask about campus jobs, life-changing professors, favorite hangouts.
  51. Remember that in your role, you are more than an editor, you are an ambassador for your school.
  52. For stories you might do just once a decade (new leaders, major campaigns, new strategic plans) get advice from others who have recently been in your shoes.
  53. Quote your sources saying things that sound human, not things that make them sound like institutional robots.
  54. If you want to know how to pair your magazine with social media, use this research as your guide.
  55. Awards can help you make the case for the overall excellence of your publication, but the audience that you actually need to win over is your readers, not a handful of judges.
  56. Remember, YOU know your audience best. Add your own “alumni magazine rules” that make sense within the context of your institution.
  57. Make sure there is something in every magazine that makes you proud.