Taking Your Member Magazine From Good to Great: Part 3

By Heather Carnes • March 28, 2016

Heather Williams, Naylor Association Solutions
Heather Williams, Naylor Association Solutions

A three-part series to uncover your member magazine’s greatness and peak its potential.

Part 3: Business and best practices

This week we’ve published a detailed three-part series about uncovering your member magazine’s potential and considerations to take it to the next level. You can find Part 1 here, where we talked about the strong foundation of solid content strategy. In Part 2, we covered the basics and unique nature of marketing, branding and promotion of an association magazine. And now, to bring it all together, we’re going to talk about the business of your magazine.

Although magazines are creative by nature, they’re ultimately a business. To get the most out of your member magazine – including non-dues revenue! – you have run it like a business and align its strategy with the goals you’re hoping to achieve.


Is it serving and supporting membership and business objectives?

  • A strong member magazine is all about alignment.

What are your association’s goals for the year? Maybe you’ve set out to recruit more young members, or you’re aiming to promote ongoing education and professional certifications. Whatever your business goals are should be reflected in your member magazine.

If you don’t align business objectives with your association magazine’s content strategy, you risk leaving potential influence and membership value on the table, and most associations can’t afford to take this route. By creating content that is goal-focused, you’re helping your organization get to where it needs to be by utilizing current tools and resources. Bottom line: a strong member magazine is all about alignment.


Do you finalize your content plan at the optimal time each year?

  • Don’t plan your magazine like an amateur.

Each summer, aim to finalize your complete editorial planner for the following year. It’s usually during Q3 and Q4 that media buyers are making advertising decisions, so, realistically, editorial planning and media brochures/media kits should be completed way before they’re ready to make final decisions.

To gain advertiser support, you have to convey that you know what you’re doing. And nothing says ‘amateur’ more than not having a plan. You have to know well in advance what you plan to be talking about for the coming year. Besides serving advertisers, you’re also creating a blueprint for yourself moving forward. You’ve laid the groundwork for the coming year, so the content question isn’t, “What are we going to write about?” but “Who’s the best person to talk about these things that we’ve deemed important?”


Does your magazine show love to advertisers and associate members?

  • Embrace your advertising partnerships.

Think about it: a magazine is typically half advertising, half editorial (or somewhere around there). Without all those advertising pages, there’d be no editorial pages. Traditional magazine business models rely on the participation of advertisers to support the ongoing costs of publishing a high-quality product.

On the other side of great content are the great advertisers (and associate members) who invest in the magazine, thus investing in your association and members. Show them some love by publicly thanking them for their support within the pages of the magazine. At the very least, include an advertiser/sponsor list within every issue. Acknowledge their support. It will go a long way toward future advertiser investment in, and expansion of, your member magazine brand.

Give advertisers the opportunity to contribute informational, neutral articles that meet your editorial guidelines. Aside from members, advertisers are an underestimated, untapped resource for content that’s relevant to your industry. Advertisers are often experts about content that members want and need. Make it easy for them to contribute to the magazine. If you can sell them on the idea of getting in front of members with original unbiased content, then you’ve created a scenario where everyone wins. You’ve gained a content powerhouse, and they’ve gained exposure in front of your selective audience.


  1. Is your magazine relevant, helpful, one of a kind, well-written and error-free and industry-leading?
  • Make sure reading your member magazine is worthwhile.

Your magazine content should always provide a good answer to the question: “As a member, what’s in it for me to spend my valuable time reading this article?” Members are busy and already oversaturated with information. Your association’s content should be industry-leading, informative and valuableto the reader. Articles should help solve common problems and offer readers concrete, actionable ways to improve the way they work and do business.

To ensure that content is on point with what members want and need, create an editorial board composed of members, industry leaders and influencers to review your magazine articles prior to publication. At the very least, all articles should be reviewed by key association staff who can spot errors and ensure messaging and claims align with industry standards.

Member magazine strategy

Ready to take it to the next level?

As an association, it’s your job – and purpose – to lead the industry, shine the light on trends and actively promote the people who make your industry great. Don’t be afraid to be on the cutting-edge of trending topics and ideas, and use your magazine as the powerful tool it is.

Takeaways from Part 3:

  • A strong member magazine is all about alignment. Your association goals = your magazine’s goals. Simple as that. LilTweetablesSmall
  • Don’t plan your magazine like an amateur. Know your editorial objectives and set the bar high. That’s how people will take your member magazine seriously. LilTweetablesSmall
  • Embrace your magazine’s advertiser partnerships. Show love and you’ll see it in return. LilTweetablesSmall
  • Make sure reading your member magazine is worthwhile. Produce a publication that members can’t get anywhere else, and they’ll come back for more content. LilTweetablesSmall

Build a strong foundation with a solid content strategy plan, market your product like you mean it and treat your magazine as the business and source of revenue that it is.

Beyond a communications vehicle for your organization, your magazine is a tangible member benefit, potential source of significant non-dues revenue, and can be a game-changer in terms of attracting and retaining members. The more you pour into it and the more strategic you are, the more your magazine will give back to you and, most importantly, to your members.


Heather Williams is a content strategist with Naylor Association Solutions. She also runs The Inspired Strategist blog.