Great service packages are a staple in magazine publishing and finding ways to keep them fresh and relevant to your readers’ lives is key to an engaging package.
Stacey McLachlan is the executive editor of Western Living as well as Vancouver Magazine, and in the latest episode of AudioMag she shares her tips on what it takes to make service packages indispensable to readers.
A great service package lets readers dive deep into one topic that’s relevant to their lives and can cover everything from the staples like food and drink, to weightier subjects like personal finance and better-living strategies.
“It’s exciting for me to open a magazine and have a million different entry points. I love the variety and diversity of perspectives you can find within one story about one topic,” says McLachlan. “And I love stories that work as a playbook or a keepsake, and hold onto it and be a guide for some aspect of your life.”
Avoiding stale content and approaches is pivotal, especially when the content is something a publisher revisits year after year. Finding fresh editorial entry points for the reader can go a long way towards helping them stay current, while anchoring your publication’s reputation for relevance.
“You always need that ‘Why now?’ factor. And that’s relevant to any kind of media,” she explains. “Of course there are evergreen stories and there are things we can talk about forever but what is that topical hook that is going to make this worth not flipping past.”
A recent example is Vancouver Magazine‘s “How to Live Forever” package.
“We did a package on How to Live forever, which is something that everyone is constantly interested in, but we anchored the package around the current trend of cryogenics. So there was a feature written within that package about how there was a Vancouver chapter bubbling up,” explains McLachlan. “So that made it a topical, juicy hook to that package. Then around that we added in other topics around the theme of living forever, highlighting things happening in Vancouver right now that you can do to feel more youthful.”
A Mix of Snack-sized Content and Heftier Features
Finding the balance between punchy tips and longer features that readers can sink into is part of every package. And the collaborative work that editors and design teams roll into a great package starts at the very beginning of the process.
“I do think a service package is a little more collaborative than your average narrative or long form piece. Our art director sees it as a puzzle, so we like to chat as early as possible even if I don’t have the content ready to go, we have estimates on word counts and formats: there will be two infographics, a 50 word side-bar, an interview with this person, a pull quote, a head shot,” she explains.
“And the art director mulls over how you make a package with so many components cohesive. What are the colour components or illustrations running through? Or, will we get a photo shoot where we get a couple of different assets to plug into the story throughout? You want a flow to it and every single page to be beautiful and rich and engaging throughout. And having a clear layout plan from the get go.”
“I often think of magazine as a meal: front of book is appetizer, feature well is main course. When you have a service package that is too bitsy or has too many components you need something to anchor them and be the protein of the meal. I don’t think there’s any specific length around it but you need a richer, longer component to be the centre piece, the thing that is pulling people in and they can snack as they like,” says McLachlan. “Like interior design, you need one great statement piece in the room and build around that.”
Stacey will also be speaking at MagNet: Canada’s Magazine Conference on April 25 about 10 ways to build a service package that slays and using comedy to publish better. Register for this and other great sessions, and join us at MagNet from April 24–25 in downtown Toronto.
AudioMag is produced by Tina Pittaway, an award-winning independent writer and broadcaster. Tina has been a contributor to CBC Radio and Television for more than 20 years. Her radio documentaries have been recognized with honours from the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, the New York Festivals, Amnesty International and the Gabriel Awards. Visit Tina online at tinapittaway.com to learn more about her work.
AudioMag is made possible with the support of Ontario Creates.
Magazines Canada acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Periodical Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage, as well as the Canada Council, for this project.