Jill Fishbaugh
7/10/18

How to Reinvent a University Magazine

Last fall, Mount Mercy University approached Creative Mellen to redesign their institution’s magazine. Because we had already worked with them on a number of projects, they knew we understood the school in a way few others could. It was an exciting project for us, but it came with a few challenges—we only had eight weeks to deliver a finished product. With limited time and resources, we had to make every minute count, enlisting each member of our team to exercise their expertise.

The Background

Mount Mercy University welcomes people of all beliefs to join its community in pursuit of higher education and compassionate service to those in need. Its flagship magazine is the school’s primary communication tool, intended mainly for alumni and friends but also for current and prospective students as well. Mount Mercy wanted their magazine to better reflect the school and its mission and asked us for design and editorial assistance to reinvent the publication.

The Process—Define a Philosophy/Set Goals

We began by instituting a guiding philosophy to produce a magazine that would reflect the school’s intellectual, cultural, and social life, as well as address the Sisters of Mercy’s local and global critical concerns. Main goals that led to the “Made by Mercy” message included building pride and loyalty, addressing timely and important issues—both on campus and off, demonstrating the school’s enduring value, connecting alumni and building relationships, and persuading readers to become active supporters of the school’s educational mission.

The Process—Use Data

Next, we focused our attention to the target audience and used data-driven evidence as our starting point. The CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) readership survey helped inform our decisions while providing administrators with the rationale behind our recommendations.

CASE key findings show:
  • Readers of all ages prefer print magazines, and, secondly, a combination of print and online.
  • Alumni magazines strengthen engagement and motivate desirable actions.
  • Editorial content encourages time spent with the magazine.
  • More time spent with the magazine means more support and perceived credibility.

And if you think print is dead, think again! Readers who donate overwhelmingly prefer print.

CASE readership survey bar graphs

The Process—Build Structure

We worked with writers to build the magazine’s structure to revolve around content, devoting more pages to telling the school’s most important stories—powerful brand stories that reinforce a larger narrative about the school. We changed the pace to call more attention to content that’s strategic, using images to provide breathing room between text-heavy content. We modified the way stories were framed, demonstrating the impact of people, projects, and programs to help readers understand why the news matters.

We created anchor pages to guide readers through the publication. Anchor pages, which are in the same place and look the same in each issue, revolve around topics that would be featured in each issue, allowing representation for every area. Down the road, anchor pages also help make editorial planning easier—editors can find stories and strategically place them when the timing is right. By developing a set of content categories to fill each issue, such as “In the Classroom” and “In the Community,” content decisions as to whether a story warrants its own feature or simply a brief become easier. They allow flexibility for a must-write story that could be a feature, a photo collage, an infographic brief, or a simply a column with a caption for a push to the web.

Flat Plan of pages and stories

To help with organization, we developed a flat plan of pages and stories that kept the team coordinated and working together toward the finished product.

The Process—Develop a Design Sensibility

The magazine was refocused and branded to communicate to the entire university community — not just alumni. Because of this, our cover masthead design focused on their iconic cupola and name while still incorporating location and issue date. The masthead cupola illustration is continued throughout the magazine, providing a unique look and feel while keeping the overall message consistent. It was important to think of the design in a modular layout, allowing for consistent elements from issue to issue while still permitting independent design elements for each feature and brief. We used a flexible, eight-column grid whereby we could breakdown the columns based on the content and imagery. A simple header and footer style not only brands the university but guides the reader through each section and topic. These combined elements created a flexible and dynamic approach to a recurring publication.

layout grid

The Process—Share

And finally, to reach wider audiences and extend the stories, we recommended an online version that could provide video, photo galleries, and extra content. We helped determine the template and structure for the online version connecting digital readers with the school. This material was then shared via social media channels to further increase visibility and readership.

Magazine facebook posts

View Project

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