Chosen because George School knows that learning who your magazine's readership is, how and why they consume it, and what content is relevant and interesting is critical to the magazine's success and the goals you establish for it. Here's how they did that and what they learned.
Your school's magazine is the probably one of the most expensive and time-consuming responsibilities of the MarCom office. Yet as more and more content moves online, many schools question the benefits of producing one, particularly a print version. Who reads the print version? Is it worth the high costs of design, printing, and mailing, both in terms of dollars and of time? What's the return on investment for the school?
First, Set Goals
Before any school can answer those questions, you need to back up a bit and ask yourselves, "What's the goal of producing our school magazine?" Choose from among the following.
- to keep alumni/ae connected with the school
- to keep alumni/ae connected to one another
- to build loyalty to the school
- to increase donors to the annual fund and campaign
- to facilitate enrollment
- to celebrate student and alumni/ae successes
- to provide proof points for outcomes
- to keep current and past parents informed
- to reinforce retention
- to spread positive word-of-mouth
- to promote and attract volunteers
- to promote and attract faculty and administration
- to promote and attract leadership and board members
- to create brand-awareness
- to report on and explore world events or topics related to the school
(Please add your own goals in the comments below.)
With goals established, now you can determine how effective the school magazine is in achieving those goals by how your constituents use the magazine and what actions they take as a result. Who's reading it? In what form? What content is read most? Least? What's missing? What does your audience want more of? Less? How would they rate the quality of the writing, photography, design? Do they donate or volunteer as a result of getting the magazine? If you're not sure (data-driven sure) of the answers to questions like these, it's time for a survey.
Second, Survey Your Readership
George School, a coed, 9-12, Quaker boarding and day school in Newtown, PA recently asked themselves these questions and more by participating the CASE's Member Magazine Readership Survey. While you can tell by the title, this survey is only open to CASE members and costs $500, but many of the questions are available for viewing online and you could create your own survey using Survey Monkey or another app to poll your constituents. What you don't get in so doing is a comparison to peer institutions which CASE provides to participants. The year George School implemented the survey, only three other independent schools participated and the rest were higher ed, so there may not be enough value there to make it worth it. Additionally, the results of the survey are only available for one year, making year-to-year comparisons difficult.
CASE describes its survey questions:
The survey asks 22 questions on a variety of topics: how your constituents gather information about your institution (print, on-line, etc.); how they read/use your flagship print publication (usually a magazine); and how interested they are in a range of subjects (what they read, what they don't). It also asks your readers to rate your magazine's quality, to consider whether they think it's a credible source of information about your institution, and explores what actions they may have taken as a result of reading your magazine. Other questions include: How much time do they spend with it? How long do they keep it? Have they sent an article to a friend? Have they attended an event or made a donation as a result of reading it?
Third, Share the Results and Next Steps
In the Spring 2017 issue, George School told the Georgian readers about the survey, shared the results and informed them of the school's next steps. The article appears below, courtesy of Georgian Editor Susan Quinn.
Fourth, Make Changes Based on Results and Don't Leave Out Your Brand
When making changes to your magazine after your survey, be sure to "base it on brand." In other words, for every decision you make; every feature, department, or image you create; every article's tone and voice; everything should be based on your brand. A reader who picks up your magazine should immediately know that this represents your school and not any other independent school. The Georgian has always been a shining example of this. It's not splashy, use of color is minimal if at all, design is simple, and its printed on uncoated stock. It's very "George School," as alumns like to say. Make your publication ooze your school's brand and powerfully, creatively, professionally do everything to boost it.