Making Your School Magazine a Must-Read

Woman sitting in a chair reading a magazine while holding a cup of coffee

The most effective way to reach your school’s many audiences is a strategic mix of digital and print. And there’s no better print vehicle than your school magazine. 

With the huge shift to digital and social media marketing for schools, many wonder if the traditional print alumni or school magazine is a dinosaur of days past. It takes valuable, often scarce, staff resources and dollars to produce. Isn’t it just for your older alumni? Doesn’t a younger audience—alumni, current and prospective parents, and prospective students—prefer digital-only content?

News flash: Print is not dead. Your school magazine is still very much desired by all your audiences. It’s a high-touch, high-impact communication strategy and increasingly relevant in today’s digital overload. It’s also one of the best ways to share your school’s value proposition, mission and outcomes.

Your School Magazine is Relevant and Resonates

Medium’s recent conversation with college magazine editors shows just how vital print is to a school’s communications strategy, particularly to a younger audience. Rebekah Tilley, director of strategic communications at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, recently redesigned Tippie Magazine, the business school’s magazine. First, she asked focus groups if the publication was even needed anymore. What she heard from young alumni surprised her:  

“We love getting this! We get so few things in print anymore that this is really special to us, and we hang on to it, and it’s on our coffee table, and we flip immediately to alumni notes to see if our friends are there and see if their photos are in print, because they live in a digital world.”

Steven Henneberry, director of strategic and faculty communications at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, had a similar, unexpected take on the relevance of the Carlson School of Management magazine:

We’ve heard from younger alums, too, that the [alumni] magazine is a disruptor. We flood them with emails where they live in their digital world. So, when you give them a high-quality print product, it stops them.”

For the University of Minnesota’s 34,000 alumni, it ranks second outside of email as the primary source for school news and information–more than social media and the website.

Creating a Magazine that Disrupts and Connects to Digital Content

Your alumni or school magazine should both amplify your web, email and social content and drive traffic to your website. It also serves a role in reaching your audiences who don’t click through your emails. 

A great story budget is what you need if your magazine will have coffee-table staying power, create goodwill (think subsequent dollars, referrals and engagement), meet your marketing objectives and keep your audiences turning the pages. The story budget is a newspaper term for an outline of what you plan to write. 

Reporters create story budgets in their pitches to editors. It’s an essential tool for school communications officers to use with admissions, alumni and other school administrative offices to determine what content needs to be highlighted and prioritized in the magazine.

The story budget is the rough plan of each article, feature, and story you plan to publish in a specific issue–the what, why and how each piece of copy is important to your audiences. Usually, the story budget includes:

  • The title or “slug” 
  • Brief description of the story. Explain why it’s important to share with your audiences
  • Your intended audience(s). For school magazines, this includes internal (alumni, current families, students, faculty/staff, board members, donors) and external (prospects and community members at large) 
  • List of sources: these include your main source (list the name, their relationship with your school and to the story); secondary sources (again, list details) that can speak to the topic; and outside sources (a person or expert who presents another point of view).
  • Illustrations/artwork: briefly explain if this will be photos, a chart, infographic, illustration, etc. If you have video that supports your story, note it, as you can use it on social media to share the profile more broadly.

Put all this in a shareable spreadsheet and include a notes section for comments/ideas by others at your school. Since school magazine content needs to achieve several goals–admissions, enrollment, retention, fundraising, alumni and parent engagement–so it’s helpful to have input from your colleagues across the school.

Don’t be afraid to tackle some of the sacred cows in the school magazine. The traditional, one-page column from your head of school or president that has started many an issue for decades might not be getting read. It’s nothing against your school’s leader–it’s the format. How can you shake that up? Have the school head answer a few key questions. Have a QR link to a video interview by a student producer. For some fun, could the head provide a playlist inspired by your school?

Getting Ideas for Engaging Magazine Content

You will want your story budget to be filled with content that will interest your readers and create a “heartstrings” connection to your mission and culture. But where do you find ideas? 

  • Talk to your colleagues. What messaging does your audience need to hear? Are there new programs, new faculty and staff, or a new building? 
  • Use the data. Using Google and your social media platform’s analytics, what content was the most popular within the last year? That can help guide article ideas.
  • What doesn’t your audience know about your school that they should? This is more about messaging and mission than news updates. If your mission is about empowering students to serve others, for example, how can your school magazine dig deeper into that? 
  • What issues are timely across the educational arena? How schools are teaching students to use AI is certainly one, as is the need to create more inclusive communities. Your school’s take on a key issue in the headlines and showcasing your school’s thought leaders on that topic can make for thought-provoking content.
  • Read past class news entries. If you collect class news as part of your magazine’s content, review the past few issues for interesting and unusual careers and life adventures for your alumni. These could make great profiles.

Another tried-and-true way to find inspiration is to think like your readers with a little (fun) homework. Scour other magazines, particularly consumer magazines. What do you find interesting? What do you read first? What do (and don’t) you finish? What types of articles don’t even interest you enough to start reading them?

The answers should inspire your story budget. It’s not just what you write about; it’s how you write about a topic. The most successful publications—the ones people can’t put down—have a variety of article types:

  • Think piece
  • Opinion piece
  • How-to article
  • First-person article
  • Information/service piece
  • Personality profile

Tear out or take pictures of content types and looks that you love to share with your colleagues and designer. Don’t worry about checking off every type of content in the list, but your magazine does need a mix of content.

If you give your readers a long stream of running copy punctuated by a few photos arranged like an old photo album, you’re not giving them a reason to keep reading. Take a hard look at your past issues and apply the same questions above. Your honest answers will inform your story budget.

What are your magazine’s departments? This is the content that appears regularly and is consistent in look and tone from issue to issue. Often, alumni or school magazines will group these by type and in a certain order in the magazine, like a development section in the back before class news. Or the same type of content on the last page. Departments are rarely long-form, dense copy but shorter and more visual. 

Consider sending a short survey to a handful of invested alumni and parents like development volunteers, major donors, class and admission volunteers. Include a link to your online magazine and ask what articles or departments they enjoy, what they’d like to see more or less of and article suggestions. You could also send it to a few young alumni classes, like those who have been out of college for the past few years. 

It’s important to know what magazine copy isn’t. It’s not a recap of the news items on your website for the past year. Your magazine might hit on a few of them–National Merit finalists, sports championships, a faculty member who just published a book–but don’t fill your story budget with re-hashing web news. If you shared the news in Instagram posts, you could create a page of those posts about some of the events you’ve had, such as the 4th-grade science fair, etc. It’s visually appealing and underscores how robust your social media is.

Gathering Your Magazine Team

Putting out a magazine regularly, on time and on budget, is an ongoing challenge for overworked, under resourced communications and marketing teams. Few independent schools have dedicated magazine staff. If you’ve always published your magazine in late August and your constituency is waiting for it, blowing well past your school’s traditional mail date can spark alumni ill-will.

A well-planned story budget can help, as can expanding your “stable” of writers, illustrators and photographers. Your school may have experts (or near experts) who can help, but tread carefully. Writers who are alumni, faculty and parents may be challenging to edit. Give clear expectations, and share your style guide, word counts, deadlines and the angle you’d like to see for a story. 

There is low-hanging fruit at your school that makes great copy and images, though.

  • Ask your college counselor for some of the best written essays for the graduating class that are centered on programs and activities at your school. Is there a theme that could tie the excerpts together, like “Leadership Lessons” or “Becoming a Man for Others” if that is your school’s motto? With permission from the students, you could write a piece that showcases student work/writing, the students themselves and how they’ve benefitted from your school’s culture.
  • If students present their research or capstone projects, take notes and record the presentations for audio. There may be a great story there.
  • What themes have emerged from your school’s thought-leader blog posts that can be repurposed as an article? 
  • If your counseling staff has parent programming on mental health, social media and other timely topics, attend it and take notes (and ask for the counselors’ presentation or notes). You may ask to tape the audio of the presentation only (not the questions). If you do, explain that up front to the audience.
  • For a fun, authentic “day in the life” spread, ask students to send you their favorite photo from afterschool activities (sports, clubs, hanging out). If your school allows phone use during the day, you can have it show a full school day. Include faculty, coaches and staff photos, too. 
  • Ask the yearbook staff to share some of their photos for a great spread that captures student life from the student’s p.o.v.–always great to showcase student work.
  • Talk to your visual arts faculty about their lesson plans. Maybe they have a middle school unit on food still life, which would be great illustrations for an article on alumni chefs or alumni-run nonprofits to address food insecurity. 
  • Are there any professional illustrators in your alumni or parent families with whom you could commission some artwork? Perhaps if it’s a young alumni looking to get work, you could ask for pro bono with a short profile and website links at the end of the story.

Use digital resources to help you work smarter, too. Record any Zoom interviews and upload the file to, a reliable, fast, inexpensive transcription service–it offers both human and AI transcriptions–that does the heavy lifting for you. 

Many school magazines hire outside writers, designers, photographers and editors or a marketing firm to handle all or a portion of the magazine content and design. Kalix Marketing Group is such a firm. The benefit of a firm is that they coordinate all of this for you.

If you farm this out yourself, add all the assignment details to your story budget and stay in close contact with your writers, designers and photographers. Add a professional editor to the list, even if you have others on your staff who proofread it. A professional copy editor is your best protection from typos, mistakes, consistency of titles and capitalization–all the 100s of little things that can easily go undetected. 

Working with a firm allows you to think at a high level about content and leave the writing, editing and designing to someone else. You are closely involved with the editing to ensure that the tone, topic, and design are what you envision. Most schools continue to handle class news submissions and writing, but the firm designs the layout.

Looking for more ideas to make the most of this marketing marvel, your magazine? Check out our free e-book: Just My Type: Creating a Great School Magazine or contact us to see how Kalix can help your school transform its magazine.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

  • We promise not to spam you or give your email to any third party. You may unsubscribe at any time.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.