“A huge win for us.”
Alumni Today is a print publication that goes to alumni and friends at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
When the marketing and communications team came to Capstone, they knew their publication could be improved — but they weren’t quite sure where to start.
They expressed frustrations that are common across many alumni magazines:
- The design felt dated and the photos — often submitted by the sources — weren’t eye-catching or impactful. Writers frequently felt stuck in their storytelling as well.
- The magazine didn’t always feel cohesive
- They had a limited online presence for their magazine — and worried they might be making a mistake by not focusing more on the online version of the magazine.
The team opted for our Magazine Action Plan, and we made recommendations based on our decades of experience with 100+ clients, including proprietary research that we never share publicly.
The Magazine Action Plan is designed as a step-by-step, do-it-yourself option, complete with lots of tactical tips and actionable, customized advice. It is designed to stand on its own.
In some cases, though, our Action Plan clients ask Capstone to help execute on the plan. In this case, we were happy to do so, and we then partnered with them on two issues to complete a comprehensive redesign, from this:
We’ve since moved to an ongoing partnership, and we’re thrilled to be able to work with them for years to come.
Below are just a few of the key changes we’ve made to the magazine through the redesign.
1. Under the hood: stronger content strategy
Alumni Today lacked an overall content strategy, which meant there was little consistency from issue to issue.
Even the regular departments seemed to show up somewhat haphazardly throughout the pages of the magazine. And those regular departments often felt uninspiring. “We were stuck in a rut,” says Alison Parkins, associate director of communications.
Capstone helped the team develop a feature well strategy and overarching magazine structure. This framework made it easy to develop strong concepts and stories that readers would love for years to come. Plus, it was flexible enough not to feel stale after just a few issues.
We worked together to redevelop a handful of consistent but adaptable departments, which included renaming them (“Orange & Blue Updates” “Unearthed” and “Platteville Portrait”) in ways that helped the magazine feel more personal to its readers. This is a relatively small change, but it’s one way to help an alumni magazine feel specific to an institution and to its community — not simply a generic magazine with generic department names like “campus updates,” “profile,” and “history.”
“It was really valuable to have an expert tell us what alumni value reading about and what increases engagement, and then to form an outline that we can be consistent with from issue to issue. The new names for our standard departments that help keep everything consistent for the reader and makes developing the content a much easier process.”
Adds associate director of marketing Ashley McFadden:
“It’s been so helpful to have Capstone Communications’ alumni-specific expertise guiding us through the entire process. I found the concept and writing guidance to be particularly helpful, but having weekly updates and regular meetings to ensure we are hitting all of your concepts and schedule targets helped us keep the magazine at the top of our minds.”
2. A guiding philosophy: better, not more.
Communications teams know that there is relentless pressure to do more. (Or worse: “more with less.”)
Podcasts, websites, apps, new social media platforms — you name it! Communications teams are constantly asked to add to their portfolio of tasks. An idle question by leadership (“Do we need to be on XYZ platform”?) can lead to months of work with little audience interest to show for it.
When the team at UW-Platteville asked whether they should build a more robust online presence for their magazine, they were surprised — and relieved — to hear that we didn’t recommend that their small team spend more energy there. We even showed them the data to explain why we didn’t recommend it.
Instead, Capstone encouraged them to focus on improving their print magazine.
Yes, there will always be pressure to add more, to grab those handful of readers who might only read on an app or on the website or on a social media site.
But at Capstone, we counterintuitively believe that a push for more often leads to less. When small communications teams are spread too thin, it typically leads to mediocrity across the board.
We believe you should pick your spots — then pursue excellence relentlessly in those areas before adding a new channel to your magazine.
“Advising against an online magazine, and being able to provide your expertise as to why it was not a good use of resources was truly helpful for us,” says Alison. “We took that expert information to upper management to make the case.”
Yes, there are some circumstances in which it makes sense to transport the magazine to additional platforms! This was not one of them.
3. Impact through design and photography
A magazine has just a split second to attract attention when people pull it from the mailbox, making the cover images particularly important. But Alumni Today relied exclusively on on-campus photographers and it had no additional art budget. The institution also relied heavily on submitted photos that didn’t pop. They didn’t expect any of that to change much in the future, so they needed to make the most of what they had.
A Capstone designer, Kat Braz, worked closely with one of the school’s on-campus photographers to amp up his editorial eye and to help him develop striking portraits worthy of a magazine cover. She also zeroed in on color correction to help even so-so images stand out. (You can see the differences in the covers above.)
Capstone also amped up the inside cover and table of contents, another “top four” focus of a print publication.
See what you notice between the two inside cover spreads.
Here’s the before:
Here’s the after:
The gorgeous, full-spread table of contents is an eye-catcher. From the jump, readers could see that this was a magazine with ambition.
4. Attention to the details
While this case study focuses on a few key overarching changes, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the course of the redesign, Capstone and the UW-Platteville team made changes to everything from page templates to class notes.
The result was a significantly improved magazine that evokes pride in the institution. “The magazine changes were a huge win for us,” says chief marketing officer Benjamin Jedd. “People love it. They’re so happy with it.”
It can be easy to assume that if you don’t have an enormous budget or a huge editorial team, your publication can’t pack a punch.
But by targeting the right changes, you can absolutely have a publication that feels like a million-dollar magazine to your audience.
If you’re ready to make changes to your magazine — whether you just want a road map, or you want a true partnership with Capstone, which has had a two-decade focus on print alumni magazines — get in touch about the Magazine Action Plan.