The No-Fail Magazine Budget Diet

Posted on Jul 22, 2017 in Blog, Fundamentals

The school magazine is one of the premier ways to showcase your programs and people—here is where the best content marketing can really pay off. But if print is NOT dead, how do you keep it from killing your budget? Here’s how to maximize the ROI of your magazine. Giving it structure will preserve dollars, will aid in planning and meeting your deadlines and will delight your readers.

Establishing Good Nutrition Habits

Operating Statement

Draft an operating statement for your magazine. Spell out your audience, purpose for publishing, frequency of publication, content approach and tone and other basics. This document will provide general direction as well as a written rationale to consult in case conflicts or proposed changes occur. The magazine should be viewed in the context of your school’s other major communications tools—website, social media, fund appeals, etc.


Plan your magazine structure, which should include guidelines about:

  • number of pages
  • finished dimensions
  • binding—saddle-stitch or perfect-bound
  • editorial organization—features, departments and content order (repeat the same order from issue to issue)
  • general design—ratio of text, photographs/illustration/white space
  • content map (ladder diagram—odd number pages on right, even pages on left)


  • Stick to word-count ranges for feature stories and department pieces as dictated by magazine design and editorial policy
  • Features should contain—headline, deck (précis), narrative, photo captions, and in some cases, sidebars and call-outs
  • Department pieces are generally much shorter and clustered under topic headings; brevity is paramount
  • Sketch in content on the ladder diagram spread by spread (facing pages) as part of the editorial planning of each issue; this will help you advise your writers and fit your stories to the architecture

Class Notes

Class notes and accompanying alumni profiles are a special content breed. Standardize your process for collecting notes and profiles and institute changes you might make to assure this section of the book is as good as it gets. Focus attention on:

  • cut-off date for submission by alumni
  • cultivation and instruction of class representatives (if any)
  • suitability of editorial content
  • photo content and quality; captions
  • editing, organizing by class and proofing


Editorial design is not decoration; typography, graphic design and photo/illustration elements are chosen and constructed to assure readers “get” your story at different levels and find their way through the magazine. The sophistication and depth of your magazine are perceived as a reflection of the school.

  • Print is good at showing off photography and getting into stories deeply
  • Readers like variety and brevity; they do not read in linear fashion anymore
  • Readers like infographics, “chunked” writing and (tightly managed) typography
  • Photography is king—plan in advance and go beyond the iPhone for high-quality images


Using these planning tools will help your writers stay on schedule. It is important for you to leave adequate time after you receive stories and articles for:

  • editing
  • writing decks and captions
  • constructing sidebars, etc., that can illuminate or build on the main body of the various pieces
  • approvals (set up in advance—who, when)
  • layout (a month), printing (2 – 3 weeks), mailing (1 week)

Having ALL of the content elements in place and submitting them together to your designer will preserve the schedule and cost less in layout time. And don’t crowd your printer to make up for your own missed deadlines.

Eliminating Hidden Calories

What’s on your plate?

  • Seek print/mailing quotes from three vendors at the beginning of a new program—break out costs from base for:
    • color correction and retouching
    • author’s alterations
    • mailing fulfillment
    • postage
    • shipping (copies to school)
    • overruns
  • Trim your mailing lists—look at nondonor alumni, past parents and friends categories
  • Calculate in-house magazine staff time—outsourcing or using interns for some of the work may be less costly and better quality
  • Page count in multiples of 16 is most economical for printing (32, 48, 64)
  • Sticking to a fixed page count assists in editorial and budget planning
  • Changing paper stock may offer a savings without compromising quality

Weighing In for the Reveal

  • Before your diet, survey representatives from your various constituencies to hear from them directly what they like and what “fits” with your school (show them samples)
  • Your magazine is a gift to your school family—leave out the donation envelope (it is likely to cost more to print and insert than it brings in anyway)
  • Your magazine is from your school family—get support from all their voices in developing editorial and visual content
  • You can’t meet your weight loss goal overnight—get started on your goal a year to six months in advance
  • Survey representatives from your constituencies after your reveal to see how great they think you look
  • Stick to your diet