Design Decisions for the St Margaret's School Spirit Magazine
Roles: Managing editor, creative direction, graphic design, writing, photography
Contributors: Recruited and supervised team of eight or more staff, and contracted writers and photographers
Specs: 28 pages / 100Lb Sterling Matte Text
Distribution: Biannual, 1200 copies to parents and school alumnae in Canada, USA and Mexico
Engage a diverse audience of school stakeholders to inform with school news and trends in education, celebrate student success stories, position the school as a thought leader in girls’ education by highlighting examples of teaching excellence, raise funds by embedding fundraising messages and reporting back to donors, and encourage a sense of community by sharing profiles of significant alumnae and encouraging participation/feedback.
Process and Team - Originally the magazine used an external graphic designer for layout and production management, and one feature writer. The magazine was facing consistent issues with timeline and visual design. The move made sense at the time — the previous mar/comm lead did not have graphic design skills — but with my skill set we were well-positioned to bring creative direction back in-house. By introducing new recurring features I also streamlined editorial decisions, and by changing visual design elements I gave the magazine a cleaner, more contemporary feel. With savings on design, I was able to recruit additional writers to spread workload and provide greater diversity in voices and perspectives in the magazine, and hired an external copyeditor - together these changes made for a more interesting and accurate read.
Format and Length vs. Message and Budget - With so few pages, it was an ongoing challenge to balance full-page glossy photos (which we knew parents responded to) vs. space for storytelling / brand journalism. The magazine was originally just 24 pages long, and only 8x10 inches in size. The ultimate challenge was that there was no extra money in the budget for printing or mailing. Leveraging a strong relationship with our printer of reference, we came up with a solution by optimizing our production specs. By changing our paper stock to more economical option with equally high quality look and feel, we were able to increase the size of the magazine to a full 8.5 x 11 at virtually no added cost. We were also able to add an extra signature, bringing our page count to 28, without increasing our mailing costs because we remained within the postage weight range. Certainly this didn’t instantly solve our issues of “too much copy, not enough pages”, but a 36% increase in available content space is significant. I also feel that increasing the size of the magazine was the important choice - albeit a subtle one - at a time when we were trying to convey strength and build confidence in the brand.
Diverse Audiences - This publication was designed for two main audiences - current parents (families already enrolled at the school) and prospective parents (families in the recruitment pipeline considering school admission options for their child) - but originally attempted to speak to an array of secondary audiences. Secondary audiences had included alumnae (former students, particularly donors), alumnae parents (families of former students, particularly donors), and other stakeholders (board, donors, staff). Trying to speak to all these audiences was generating unfocused editorial, and lukewarm response from the audience. Working with project stakeholders, I sought to build consensus and refine the mission of the magazine. Agreement that recruitment of new students and retention of existing students were the two most critical business goals at the time created a clearer editorial mission focussed on the needs and interests of parents. Following this and other changes (see above), radio silence was replaced by regular letters to the editor and coincided with a period of uplift in admissions (17% increase in new students). Interestingly, after we refined our focus to parents we started getting more reader response from alumnae. It seemed that by refining the voice of the magazine we inadvertently made it speak more powerfully to all audiences, not just the intended ones.
A particularly memorable moment was leading a project to honor the school’s most famous alumna, Dr. Frances Kelsey.
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