Taking Your Member Magazine From Good to Great: Part 1

By Heather Carnes • March 21, 2016

A 3-part series to uncover your member magazine’s greatness and peak its potential.

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

Part 1: Introduction & Content Strategy

An association magazine should be the most highly valued tool in an association’s communications toolbox. When done well, it’s an invaluable member benefit, provides a solid source of non-dues revenue, and is the perfect vehicle to solidify your organization’s leading voice in the industry.

The sheer complexity of producing a member magazine, however, can prevent us from seeing its flaws and recognizing where it falls short in the long run. More often than not, we become satisfied with the ability to produce something – anything – and get it out the door. It can become all too easy to exist and operate in this state of autopilot.

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And like most things left on autopilot, a member magazine can end up falling short. Without it being scrutinized and questioned from time to time, we wake up one day realizing it’s not serving the organization as it once did in the past. Competitors are leaving us in the dust, and we’re missing opportunities to connect and serve members. What we’re producing seems like more of an obligatory burden vs. a can’t-live-without-it communications vehicle.

When approached with some thought and a solid plan for improvement, making your member magazine better doesn’t have to be such a daunting task.

To help you take your magazine from good to great, we’re presenting a three-part series that will cover your magazine’s content strategy, marketing and promotion, and business and best practices.

As you read through the series this week, it’s our hope that you’ll dig deep. Go ahead. Write down what you could be doing better, recognize the things you’re already doing really well, and come up with your personalized plan to go from good to great. By analyzing where you stand, then uncovering where you want to go, you’ll be able to create your game plan to get your magazine to the next level.


 Are you treating your magazine like a magazine?

  • Content longevity is key.

One of the biggest no-nos I come across is magazines being treated like they’re newsletters, newspapers, or worse yet, webpages. While it may be your first instinct to think of your magazine as a news delivery tool, you’ll have to resist temptation to put in news-type items, especially if your magazine’s frequency only rolls around every three months. When strategizing content, the most important thing to consider is longevity and shelf life.

Think about it: if you take a commercial magazine from six months ago and pick it up, you’d expect to find that at least 60 to 80 percent of the content is still relevant. If you’re too focused on delivering news, you’re cutting exposure short and undermining the printed nature of a magazine. You want it to feel special, and you want that special feeling to last as long as possible. If you’re focusing on news items, members will lose interest too quickly, and that means your advertisers will, too.

Remember: A magazine is not a hard-hitting news outlet, but rather a feature-rich publication that’s relevant in six months to a year from now.

So, moving forward, ask whether what you’re putting in the magazine is better suited for a webpage (ahem, board lists) or your more frequent newsletter.


Are we repurposing content and tapping into all the content sources available to us?

  • Reuse, repurpose, recycle. Repeat.

Developing content for a large member magazine can be a daunting task, especially if you start from ground zero every time. If you’re crafting original content for every issue – for every story – more power to you, but utilizing other outlets and sources for content makes your job easier and further connects your association’s communication objectives. Can a member with specialized expertise or experience contribute an article? Can a supplier or sponsor contribute content about a new or improved product or service?

Take note of the educational resources stored in your learning management system. Is there a way to repurpose some of that content for the magazine (while also promoting your learning platform)? And think about it in the other direction. Say you invest a lot of time and energy into a great feature article for the magazine, are you following through and repurposing this article on social media, in your newsletter, on your website, and within your learning management system?

Think about your content as multi-dimensional: Just because it originally existed as a feature article in your magazine doesn’t mean it can’t take on a second (or third or fourth) life as something different. To appeal to all members, you must deliver content (the same content) in more than one way.

When you ask for contributions from members, you’re increasing member engagement, diversifying content sources, and creating an avenue to source free relevant content.
When you ask for contributions from members, you’re increasing member engagement, diversifying content sources, and creating an avenue to source free relevant content.

Does the magazine embrace, encourage, and support member participation and contributions?

  • Make participation in your member magazine easy and rewarding.

To expand on my point above about involving members in content creation, when you ask for contributions from members, you’re increasing member engagement, diversifying content sources, and creating an avenue to source free relevant content. All members should know where to go to learn more about writing for your magazine. Encourage members to get involved by creating an easy outline that identifies the steps, guidelines, and criteria to get published. The more you can guide and direct them from the onset, the likelier you are to receive high-quality submissions that are exactly what you’re looking for.

Remember that for some, writing is intimidating and doesn’t come easy, so if you have the manpower to take external participation a step further, offer to work with members to guide them through the process – whether by approving their content outline in advance or offering to edit it for them before they submit the final version.

Your members are one of the most significantly untapped resources for great content. And, more and more, you’ll realize members are most interested in hearing from other members. That type of collaboration and sharing is what belonging to an association is all about.


Is the magazine’s content diverse and meeting the expectations/needs of the association as a whole?

  • Speak to everyone.

Think of your different membership segments. For the most part, they come to your organization for different reasons. Identify what they’ve come to you for – whether that’s education, networking, or industry resources – and deliver content that satisfies their appetite. When planning content for your magazine, keep every membership segment top of mind, and aim to deliver to them all. While they all might not have equal weight, it’s important to be mindful of the smaller segments of membership and aim to provide value to them as well.

In addition to speaking to everyone, keep in mind that people learn and absorb information in different ways. Your magazine doesn’t have to be filled from cover to cover with text-heavy articles. The content delivery itself should be diverse. Consider publishing listicles (articles written in the form of a list), how-to articles, infographics, interviews, quizzes, success stories, business sense, or professional development. Hit them all.

One of the most important things we can do to keep ourselves in check is to regularly ask for feedback. It gets easy to assume that we know exactly what members want. We really don’t know unless we ask. On an annual basis, ask members what they like, dislike, want to see more of, etc. Do this through simple polls, in-depth surveys, and through open discussion and dialogue.


Begin with a strong foundation

Your magazine’s content strategy is the biggest asset it has. Without strong content and a solid plan in place, nothing else matters. That’s why we wanted to tackle this aspect first.

Takeaways from Part 1:

  • Your magazine isn’t a news outlet or a website. Content longevity is key. Print with purpose! LilTweetablesSmall
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel every time. Your new mantra: “Reuse, repurpose, recycle. Repeat.” LilTweetablesSmall
  • Members are an amazing untapped resource, so make participation in your member magazine easy and rewarding. LilTweetablesSmall
  • Content is not a one-trick pony. Be adventurous in your strategy, and speak to everyone. LilTweetablesSmall

Part 2 in our series is aimed at your magazine’s marketing, branding, and promotion and how simple – but often neglected – strategies can take you to the next level.

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