There’s no question that alumni magazines are facing a lot of headwinds these days.
I won’t enumerate all of the paper and staffing challenges many teams are seeing right now, since you likely know them viscerally.
Often, these challenges lead to publications with fewer pages that are published less frequently.
These trends make what I see in some of today’s magazines so surprising.
Let me back up a bit first.
I’ve often talked about the idea of every story in your publication EARNING its way into print. One of the greatest strengths of print publications is the focus they inspire. Print demands hard limits to your storytelling. You’ve got to curate and share the very best and most vibrant stories from your school.
You might think this limitation would become even more clarifying as page counts dwindle and issue frequency diminishes.
But that’s not always what I see happening. Instead, I see magazines that trot out the same boring, unread sections issue after issue.
Let me give a few examples:
Yes, these ambitious and hardworking individuals deserve their due. Celebrate with an event or a cake or a raise or a letter they can save as a keepsake. Maybe all these things, I have no idea how faculty celebrate getting tenure!
But you definitely don’t need to be carving out a column in your campus news section just to announce that a handful of professors have been bumped up a rank. As a whole, your alumni probably don’t even understand why tenure is such a huge milestone, and it’s unlikely that the names will mean much to them.
Your readers either are sports fans of your school’s teams or they aren’t.
If they’re sports fans, the best way to keep tabs on their favorite teams is not a three-times-a-year publication that shares the results of a months-ago dual meet or regional matchup.
And if they’re not sports fans? Well, your four-sentence writeup of a middling finish to a sports season won’t change their minds. If you want to do a knockout profile of an athlete who’s tearing it up on the field, you definitely should! Paired with a unique portrait or other images, you can go beyond the scores and the standings to tell a meaningful story about a student.
But roundups of the recent(ish) results are a waste of space.
Letter from the desk of [fill in the blank]
Letters from the president or head of school are dicey at best. If that person is a gifted writer or you’ve got a brilliant strategy, you can maybe (and that’s a big maybe) make a case for including them in your magazine.
But a letter from the alum who heads up the alumni association? The chair of your board of trustees? No thank you!
Most of these folks don’t want to write these letters, absolutely nobody wants to read them, and they’re taking up valuable space in your publication.
This is page space that costs real money, and that could be used to do more interesting and strategic storytelling.
The three things I’ve listed above are just starters. I could go on: most new hires, grants, lists of alumni boards and boards of trustees. You can probably come up with a list twice as long as the one I’ve already created.
Most of these things never belonged in a print alumni magazine.
It’s true that decades ago, there were fewer ways to reach alumni with this sometimes-relevant-to-a-tiny-audience material, so these inclusions are occasionally the result of editorial inertia.
But it’s time to cut these sections.
Your magazine reaches your audience just a handful of times per year. It’s a big investment for your institution! And it should feel like a gift to your readers. Lists of alumni board members (even if the reader of your publication is an alumni board member!) do not feel like a gift to readers, I promise you.
Your magazine should be as strategic and irresistible as possible — not a kitchen sink where anything and everything shows up, needed or not.