Developing an Editorial Mix for Your Regional Magazine by Anicka Quin

By Anicka Quin, Editorial Director, Western Living and Vancouver magazines

So you’re running a regional magazine—that’s great! The good news is, publications that celebrate community and connect with their readership on a personal identity level are more important than ever—and more popular than ever, too. Some of the most successful magazine launches in recent years have been focused around celebrating those unique communities and connection that is built around them—often creating an identity where people may have not recognized their need for one (think Garden and Gun, Burnt Roti, Kinfolk). Great regional magazines spark the imaginations of their readers, who will identify with your message of community and celebration of home.

So how do you do that?

Understand Your Audience

You’ll want to understand just who the reader is, and be able to paint a clear picture for your editorial team. If you’re just launching, some of this is going to come from gut check—you and your circle of friends and prospective readers who will express what really gets them going. Even new launches need to spend a lot of time out in the community, getting a sense of who their ideal readers will be. If you’ve got an advertising model for your publication, you can informally poll your clients as potential readers. (You’ll want to separate what works for them as a client—write about me!—to what works for them as a resident of the community, of course.)

For established publications, Vividata stats are gold—dig deep into figuring out your reader’s habits. (Do they own pets? Are they likely to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine, or are they more interested in learning about the deals out there? Do they travel internationally, or do they explore the local haunts?) The closer you can get to what makes them tick, the better filters you will have for determining the ideal stories for your magazine.

If you’re not a member of Vividata, make your own readership survey, ideally with a great prize attached to generate more interest, and ask the psychographic questions you’re wrestling with yourself. Rather than just “How do you like our column by X?” find out what makes them tick as people: what are they passionate about in their communities and in life?

Your online readers and social media followers can also be a source of feedback. While they aren’t always the same people reading print and online—so do not assume the info you gather here is the final word—the stats you can garner from Google Analytics will give you a richer picture. And a story that goes viral online can also give you some instant feedback on what people want.

Who Are You Celebrating?

Magazines can be a powerful force in a community. When they get it right, they can both effect real change (see Toronto Life‘s story on police carding in Toronto, and its after effects) and strengthen a community. Western Living runs a Designers of the Year award program, for example, and the winners of those awards see their businesses change overnight—our readers support them by hiring them. What communities are underserved in your region and how can you reflect them in your pages?

People Want to See People

The success of regional magazines is often about reflecting the faces of those people in your community on the page. National magazines can struggle to truly represent all areas of the country, but you don’t have to. Whose story needs being told? In Western Living, “people seeing people” can be as simple as ensuring the homes we photograph have the real people living in them, and photographed within them. We highlight local designers, doing work here in our region. People connect with seeing their neighbours in print.

Develop Connections Across the Region

Your head office is just one part of your community, and it is important that you understand the issues and people of importance throughout your region. At Western Living, we have freelance city editors based in every city we write about. They file monthly updates with us about local events, new stores and new people we should be covering and paying attention to. Because we are a design-focused magazine, they will also scout homes for us, and they will attend events on our behalf. We also cultivate relationships with writers across the region who pitch local stories, but having this official, monthly check-in with our city editors keeps us better connected. Bring those writers into your editorial meetings when you can as well—they’ll make the brainstorming process even richer.

Ask, Why Now, Why Us?

One of the toughest decisions as an editor is to turn down a pitch not because it isn’t great, but because it isn’t a great fit with the magazine. This is where both your vision for the publication, and your knowledge of your ideal reader, is all too important. Every story should answer the question, why now—why is this subject or content important to talk about right now, as opposed to last year, or any other time? And it should also answer, why us? Why is this the right fit for your publication—could it better live in a more general interest publication? Does it celebrate or reflect a member of your community that your readers should really get to know? Does it have an angle that only you and your team can properly execute? If it is a no to any of the above, think about what would make it so.

Get Off the Page

Readers want to be feel a part of the brand. Take Garden and Gun for example. Jessica Derrick, their brand development manager, noted that “They just knew that if we were going to write about music, then our readers were going to want to listen to it.” They wrote about Alabama chef Frank Stitt, and then sold out a dinner for 50 people in Birmingham. The magazine starts the conversation, and we as human beings crave the community to discuss and experience it—to live in the world that this magazine has created. These events can be revenue generators for your brand, but they will also get you out in front of your readers and give you another opportunity to know who they are and what stories would connect with them.

Finally, Map out Your Yearly Calendar

Once you have narrowed in on topics that have local resonance, give your editorial team, your readers and your advertisers plenty of advance warning. Your readers (and when they will want to read about certain topics) are your priority, but do not forget to check in with your advertising team for times of year that certain content is helpful for them. If you’re planning to do an annual package celebrating the Top 40 Foodies in your region, check in with the sales team to see if there are healthier advertising budgets for restaurants, suppliers, markets, etc. at certain times of the year.

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