If you’re subscribed to a higher education marketing Listserv, you have undoubtedly seen this question pop up regularly: “Is your institution still doing a print magazine?” Answers vary, but many institutions abandoned the tried-and-true marketing vehicle for an online replacement -- and sometimes abandoned it completely!
In today’s digital-first world, print may feel old-fashioned or irrelevant. However, there’s still real value in delivering your institution’s story to alumni and friends’ mailboxes. Consider this: CASE launched an Alumni Magazine Readership Survey in 2015, and magazines tied with email as the channel where the participating institution’s readers said they get the most institutional information. More impressively, 38 percent of those surveyed said they were most likely to make a donation next after reading an issue.
About three years ago, we embarked on a comprehensive university magazine redesign. As we considered the future of our publication, we wanted to keep what was working but also become more strategic in our approach. Here are three ways we bridged the gap between our print magazine and digital channels.
1. Combine a targeted mailbox approach with a wide digital reach.
There are substantial costs to consider when printing and mailing a magazine. Partnering with your institutional advancement office to develop a scaled-back mailing list of your most engaged constituents is a quick win for the budget.
This smaller send doesn’t mean that other alumni and friends won’t be able to see it. A week after we mail our magazine, we debut it on ISSUU, the popular digital publication platform. This ensures that our insiders receive their print edition first, but that we can then share it with a much larger audience on our website homepage, social media and email. ISSUU offers expanded functionality over a static PDF, including a user-friendly mobile experience, easy social media sharing and analytics.
Some of our most engaged alumni and friends still prefer to “go green,” so when they update their profile, we also give them the option to only receive the magazine in their email inboxes.
2. Explore how you can offer web-exclusive content.
While certain audiences, like faculty and students, may visit your website regularly, many alumni and friends don’t have a reason to. And whatever the size of your institution’s magazine, you can only fit so much into it. Teasing a longer web article or video content is a great way to drive engagement to your website.
Using a website link in the magazine -- with UTM parameters behind the scenes -- lets you track how well this strategy works. A short magazine profile we wrote about an actor alumnus included a web-exclusive link, and it was the most-clicked story in our alumni email newsletter a month later. These integrations can give you a glimpse into what content is resonating with your readers the most.
Certain stories or concepts are much easier to tell through video than on the printed page. By developing video content alongside a print piece, you can also send your readers online to explore a story in greater detail.
3. Reach new audiences on social media.
If there’s one outlet that’s never short on content needs, it is social media. Magazine features can enjoy second lives on your various social media channels. Magazines are traditionally sent to alumni and friends, but seldom to current students, prospective students and parents. Featuring magazine content in your social channels can reach these three critical audiences and perhaps turn them into fans. Our admission office will often ask what topics we’re featuring in our next issue so they know how it will relate to their upcoming communications.
Long gone are the days of sending a magazine to print and the process being over. The magazine format gives an institution breathing room for true storytelling, and the print medium encourages the reader to flip through the entire piece and spend more time exploring. Pairing it with digital channels will elevate your readers’ experience and engagement with the magazine -- and your institution, which is the real goal, after all.
Jonathan Shearer is the executive director of marketing and communications at Elmhurst University in Illinois.