I was flattered to serve as a judge for the InspirED Brilliance Awards, which gave me the opportunity to review over 40 entries in this important category. Some observations to help you produce the next winner:
The quality of school magazines has increased exponentially in the last few years. This vehicle of communication is really coming into its own, with a transformation from what amounted to a “grown-ups yearbook” to a purposeful photojournalistic expression of the programs and values of the school.
The magazines that have a well thought-out architecture of departments and features and a predictable order of content provide the reader with a banquet of impressions that shows your school off to best advantage. Behind the finished product is an operating statement that guides content choices.
Possibly because many are published twice a year, magazines are getting bigger—some are 70+ pages. It’s tempting to put all of that content you have been accumulating into these biannual issues, but sometimes it’s too much. Think about your reader’s interests intersect with yours and calculate the expense of producing “too” many pages.
Three features are probably enough for most magazines. Some magazines I saw were cluttered with content that had not been carefully curated. Fonts get smaller and columns of type wider to compensate for chubby pieces. Cut, cut, cut.
Photography is what grabs people. The best magazines pay attention to this and really work to have wonderful pictures at least for features and especially for the cover.
Graphic design serves a function in magazine production. It should not be decoration. Some of the magazines I saw looked like promotional brochures and were just too busy. This is a distraction from reading.
Some magazines fail to view captions as important content. They either leave them out or use them as labels rather than an opportunity to print a micro-story. Also, the best magazine editors spend time writing arresting heads and decks, understanding that readers skip through the pages looking at those elements and photography and then, if tempted, come back to read the narrative.
Many magazines include appeals by inserting giving envelopes. I always advise doing the math to see if the money brought in actually covers the cost of printing and insertion. I like to think of a magazine as a gift to your audiences. It’s nice to reconnect readers with your school “for free” and save your appeals for elsewhere.