What the Pandemic Has Done to Your School Magazine

Your school magazine is your independent school’s marketing superhero. Yes, video is king, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for print went through the roof. During 2020, no surprise, book sales and direct mail increased. People were trapped at home and reading more.

Print’s power continues to increase as we emerge from the pandemic. It remains the most trusted source of information for all age groups. Your magazine engages your alumni, current and prospective families and friends at a level that social media and digital marketing can’t replicate. It’s tactile. It offers a way to relax, to escape the news and tune out the digital overload. School magazines have coffee-table staying power, too. 

Check out what the print advertising experts have to say about why people are reading printed materials more than ever before.

But a lot has changed with school magazine production and printing as we emerge from the pandemic. There are new considerations from content to production issues. 

Tackle production issues first.

Inflation, supply-chain issues and labor shortages have affected the printing industry. Don’t assume the paper stock you’ve always used is available or even affordable this year. Talk with your printer before you start brainstorming story ideas to discuss options, prices and any ordering or printing schedule issues that might arise.

A smart way to keep costs down is to take a hard look at your mailing list. Cull your mailing list as well early in the production process. You want to ensure that you get your magazine into the hands of your readers.

Run a hard copy of your mailing list by constituent and most recent gift (amount and date). Review it with your development and admissions colleagues to determine those you can cut from the hard copy list.

Consider removing:

  • Past parents who have not given in three years
  • Past corporate and foundation donors who no longer give and have no other affiliation with the school
  • Prospects who are now attending other schools or from several years ago
  • Corporate matching gift officers who probably don’t need a hard copy

Your youngest alumni require a special plan. Run a separate list of magazines mailed to all recent graduates (up to six years), showing the graduate, their mailing address and their parents’ mailing address(es) and giving record. Chances are, you are mailing two copies to the same household and only need to mail one.

Do a social media campaign with recent classes to obtain new addresses. While those in college most likely will want to keep their home address, recent college graduates probably haven’t shared their new address with you. Perhaps include a drawing for spirit wear for all who share new contact info through a link online.

Consider creating a landing page to gather their new information to track the effectiveness of your campaign. Include a very short message from your alumni director with a link to your career network services. 

Read our expert tips on landing pages here.

Rethink your school magazine’s content.

Spend some time thinking about what kind of articles you like reading (and are apt to finish) in the magazines that you subscribe to or buy on the newsstand. Readers today want a variety of articles from a longer feature on a timely issue to shorter Q&As or 300-word profiles.

Mix up the formats and try something new.

  • What features or departments can be reformatted? Does the list of colleges for your graduating class include snippets from their college essays? This is a chance to showcase your student writing, with the permission of the student and the College Counseling Office, of course. And it’s a way to share authentic student voices. Invite readers to go online to read the full essays and see a profile of the student author.
  • Try a “From the Desk/Classroom of” feature with a photo and long caption to profile a teacher who collects cool things, fills the classroom walls with interesting items, etc. It’s a fun way to give a reader an “insider’s look” at a beloved teacher in an engaging, visual layout that draws people in.
  • Go back to the future. Readers of school magazines love archival photos. Showcase a championship season this past year with profiles of the current team’s athletes and an alumni athlete from a championship team “back in the day.” Better yet, if the current coach is a graduate of your school, use pics when they played for your school.

Don’t assume that because you ran a web news story you can’t re-purpose it for print. Your school’s news can be on more than one platform. Try a different focus with the print version. If your graduate won a prestigious prize that you announced online earlier in the year, do a deeper dive with a magazine profile delving into how a favorite teacher or coach inspired the award-winner or what kind of inspiration your school’s motto gave them.  

And, shorter is always better. (That sentence deserved its own short paragraph.) 

Using infographics to share content.

Visual depictions of information are highly effective. People are six times more likely to remember information they see than heard or read (GoVisually.com).

What information can you pull out of the running copy to share visually? Organizations your students served through or hours of service in your outreach program? Number of students accepted by their first-choice college? Slices of your school’s iconic blueberry pie or number of homemade churros on Taco Tuesday during a school year? 

Work with your graphic designer to create a consistent look for these that embraces your brand. Ask the designer for the infographics in a file format that you can use on your website and in social media posts, too.

Showcase different voices in your magazine.

You show the depth of your program and vibrancy of your community when you use different voices in your magazine, especially when they are student or young alumni voices. Just tap proven commodities. Don’t ask someone to write if you haven’t seen their writing. Editing a poorly written essay by your top donor or board chair is akin to swimming in shark-infested water.

Try interviewing the person or a group of people on a virtual platform that allows recording (so you can get a written transcript). You can get a conversational tone this way, maintain editorial control and showcase a variety of genuine voices.

Don’t be afraid of your magazine’s sacred cows.

You know that they are–those features, letters or profiles that you have included in your magazine year after year, decade after decade. It’s time for a fresh take. Your readers will thank you:

Don’t summarize what’s in the issue for your Head’s Letter, if you do an inside-cover letter from your head of school. And don’t be too broad. Meet with your head of school before they take pen to paper/fingers to keyboard to choose a topic relevant to your readers or the school year.

Make the head’s piece pointed, focused and short. And, please, no paragraphs about how difficult the past few years have been. Tackle that with one lesson that your head learned from the pandemic–or profile what they did to find balance and foster better mental health. If it’s listening to music, do a list of your head’s top five favorite songs and why. If they took long walks with their dog, include a fun profile of the dog (name, favorite toy, favorite walk, most memorable household item they ruined, etc.). Don’t be afraid to show humor!

Get creative. Do you ditch the head’s letter for one issue and instead do a “Head of School’s Take” sidebar in a few of the features and departments where your school leader gives insight and opinions about the feature article, an event wrap-up article, etc.?

For alumni profiles, stick with showcasing your younger graduates and celebrate the diversity of their backgrounds, college majors, etc. You could pick a topic and ask them to respond to that.

Source: Rochester Institute of Technology RIT University Magazine Spring 2022

Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) spring 2022 magazine included a great feature on its immersion courses that led to well-rounded students. What’s attention-grabbing are the photography, unexpected student lists and unique way of profiling three students.

Social media has changed class news. Younger readers keep up with each other on Instagram and Snap Chat. Your school parents and middle-aged-and-older alumni are on Facebook.

But as alumni magazine expert and editor Sue DePasquale tells us in our latest, free e-book on school magazines, “readers of a certain age want to read class news. Class News needs to continue for a while but add more photos and keep the entries short.” Link is below to the free download.

Move class news submissions online as an option. As you are copy editing class news, keep a log of story ideas for your next issue.

Temper how much fundraising to include. Too much can turn off a reader. Remember that focusing on everything that makes your school great is the best donor cultivation you can do.

  • Refocus a donor profile not on the gift amount but on why they give in the first place. Is it to honor a favorite teacher? Highlight the teacher, too.
  • Move donor lists online with a link in the magazine.
  • For campus construction for a capital project, give a link to a webcam and the landing page for the campaign for updates.
  • Showcase a student’s day to visually show the impact of annual giving dollars. You will be offering your reader a deep-dive into a student’s life at your school and showing them how their gift is used. 

Combine print and digital for your most effective magazine yet.

The time and effort you put into the printed magazine means great content you can repurpose and amplify digitally. Most schools host their magazine on Issuu.com and link the PDF that allows readers to digitally “flip” through its pages.

Go beyond the PDF and give your magazine its own vibrant presence on your website. This is the place to share the current issue (and past issues), share online-only content and more.

If your feature or Q&A had more content you didn’t have space for in print, share it on your magazine’s website and tell the reader to go online for more.

Check out what Lawrenceville School does for its Lawrentian magazine.

Brown University’s magazine has long been exceptional. Its website is no less impressive with links to articles, class news, obituaries, books by authors, change of address forms and a lot more.

Universities are pros are creating great magazine content, and the digital magazine moves they’ve made since spring 2020 are inspiring. Check out a few ideas on how they leverage the digital world to enhance the magazine reader’s experience.

The pandemic resurrected the QR code. Use it to bring your printed content to life. What content can you share that will entice people to scan the QR code? A video of the student artwork set to a soundtrack of your Chamber Choir singing? A great commencement speech? Spring field day fun? The Robotics team building their robot and crushing the competition with it?

Explore some truly innovative technology including Amplifier, a nonprofit that combines print and digital to astounding, impactful results. Check out their AR video here.

You also can mine your social media for magazine content. Most schools do a Commencement wrap-up in their summer magazine or feature a fall tradition. Check out what students are posting about these events on Instagram and create a spread of curated Instagram posts. Invite readers to follow you and to use your hashtags.

Cover image of Kalix e-book Just My Type

Need more magazine ideas? We’ve got them! Download the free e-book, Just My Type: Creating a Great School Magazine, here.

How can Kalix Marketing turn your school magazine into a page-turner? Contact us about our editorial and creative services.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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