Producing Customer Magazines

Last Updated Nov 27, 2007 6:47 PM EST

Customer magazines help companies build credibility and strengthen customer relationships by offering regular channels of communication that focus on issues relevant to customers. "Relationship publishing" should incorporate a powerful mix of opinion, product information, and attitude. This may require journalistic skills, as well as design and production resources.

What You Need to KnowCan we produce a customer magazine ourselves?

Producing a customer magazine requires good writing and design skills. Customers will compare your magazine with commercial publications, so you must be able to achieve high standards. It may be possible to use a professional editor or designer to work with your own contributors if they do not have the necessary skills.

Does a customer magazine need to have high production values?

Content is more important than style. A glossy magazine with little important information is unlikely to retain readers' attention for very long. However, badly-designed publications are unlikely to impress customers, regardless of content, so it is important to strike a balance. Increasingly, companies are using the Internet to distribute publications like customer magazines electronically, reducing production costs. The Internet can also be used to publish electronic newsletters as a substitute for magazines.

What to DoSet Clear Objectives

Do not just produce a customer magazine because it seems like a good idea. Set clear objectives. You may want to strengthen customer relationships, build greater credibility for your company, or keep customers up to date with news of your products or your company. A customer magazine can help you achieve all of those objectives. If the magazine forms an integrated part of a wider public relations or customer loyalty program, make sure that it meets the overall objectives.

Identify Your Readers

Like any magazine or newspaper publisher, you should have a clear idea of your target readership. If you market consumer products or services, research can help you identify the initial readership. You may decide to target all consumers with your magazine, or you may produce a version that is targeted at a key sector. For example, if you market financial services, you may decide to produce a magazine only for your wealthier clients. Or, if budgets allow, you could produce different versions for different groups of clients. If you market business-to-business products, which group of decision-makers will you target—business or technical?

Decide on a Realistic Frequency

How often should you publish your magazine? Many publishing projects set over-ambitious targets and fail because there is insufficient material available or because the timetables are unrealistic. When planning frequency, take a number of factors into account:

  • How often will you have important new information to publish – monthly, quarterly, every six months?
  • Does the content have a seasonal emphasis?
  • Will the magazine be required for an exhibition or conference?
  • How long will it take contributors to write their material? Lead times will be longer if any of your contributors have to fit their articles around a "day job."
  • How long will it take to produce the magazine?
Plan the Content Mix

A customer magazine can include many different types of content:

  • feature articles
  • news stories
  • case studies
  • interviews with experts or senior company executives
  • competitions
  • reader letters
  • handy tips
  • product information
  • discussion panels on important topics

The mix of content should reflect your readers' interests, as well as your own communication objectives.

Choose Your Viewpoint

You can use your customer magazine as a vehicle for communicating information about your company or you can use it to position your company as a leader in its field. In the company information version, the majority of the content would be focused on your products, services, activities, and other company news. The magazine would also be strongly branded with your company name and identity. However, you can also use company magazines to position yourself as the "thought leader" in the industry. In this version, the majority of the content would be contributed by independent writers on issues of general importance to the industry. There would be minimal reference to your own products or services, and any company branding would be very subtle.

Appoint an Editor

Your magazine may include contributions from many different sources, inside and outside your company. To ensure that the final content meets your objectives, it is important to appoint an editor. The editor may also be a contributor, but his or her main role is to act as project manager, coordinating the work of other people such as writers, designers, photographers, and printers. The editor has a number of key tasks:

  • Plan the content for each issue.
  • Identify contributors.
  • Set and control a schedule for contributions and production.
  • Edit contributions for style, accuracy, and content.
  • Liaise with designers and photographers.
  • Check and approve design, artwork, and print.
Identify Contributors

You may decide to use your editor to write all of the content for the magazine, asking specialists for information or details. This approach might work for a simple magazine or newsletter, but, if you are planning a regular multipage magazine, it may be better to use a range of contributors from inside and outside your company. This gives the magazine greater variety of style and can add more authority, particularly if the contributors are experts in their field. Getting the right contributors is often a "chicken-and-egg" situation. If your magazine builds a reputation for editorial excellence, you may find potential contributors contacting you to offer material. Consultants can prove a useful source of material. They are keen to promote their own work and giving them a platform to publish their views or their latest research can benefit both parties. If you are using contributors from within your company and they are not experienced writers, you should offer the services of an editor to help them produce content.

Source Illustrations and Photographs

A customer magazine should have the same look and feel as a commercial magazine—that means using good quality photographs and illustrations appropriate to the content. If your budget allows, you may decide to commission a photographer or illustrator to provide new material. Unless you have an existing source of good quality subjects, the alternative is to use the services of a photo library. Searching Google images (www.images.google.com) can help you identify suitable subjects and their sources.

Involve Readers

Building and strengthening customer relationships is a key objective for customer magazines, so wherever possible, use techniques to involve your readers. At a simple level, you should include a feedback coupon inviting readers to give their views on the content. This could take the form of a "scorecard." For example, how did you rate article B on a scale of 1–5? You could also publish a readers' letters page or invite readers to express their views on an article published in the current issue. Alternatively, you could direct readers to a forum on your Web Site where they can post comments on articles or discuss issues with other readers. Asking readers to submit their own articles can also help to increase involvement and loyalty.

Offer Valuable Information

A customer magazine competes for readers' attention with commercial magazines and other published sources. It must therefore offer the reader value, as well as useful information. Just publishing an editorial version of a product guide is not sufficient. The best company magazines in the business sector, for example, become essential reading. BT's Talking Business, for example provides decision-makers with valuable information on telecommunications developments.

Provide Contact Details

If your information really is valuable, your readers may want to follow up and obtain more detail. Make sure you provide contributors' contact details as well as Web Site addresses where readers can obtain product or service information.

Set a Schedule

Your publishing schedule must take into account the availability of contributors. This can be the critical path in the project, particularly if the contributors are not professional writers. The schedule should work back from planned publication date and will include the following stages:

  • planning and approving content list
  • commissioning contributors, photographers, and illustrators
  • drafting copy
  • copy editing and revision
  • approval of copy
  • design and layout
  • approval of designs
  • final artwork
  • printing
  • distribution
Consider Outsourcing Production

If you have limited resources or your editor finds it difficult to identify potential contributors, you could contract a company specializing in customer magazines. They can handle the entire project on your behalf, commissioning contributors, editing content, and managing the design, production, and distribution. You can find details of suitable companies on the Internet by using a search term such as "customer magazines."

Measure the Project

Like any marketing project, it is important to measure the effect of a customer magazine. A recent study conducted for the Custom Publishing Council by

Roper Public Affairs found that recipients of customer magazines rated the companies that provide them more positively across a number of key measures—from satisfaction with products, to likelihood of recommending the company to others, to feeling that the company cares about its customers.

What to AvoidYou Fail to Maintain Sufficient Content

Many customer magazines set out with unrealistic publishing targets. If you intend to publish regularly, make sure you plan content in advance so that you are not struggling to find for material for future issues.

You Fail to Set High Editorial Standards

The quality of writing is essential to the success of your magazine. If your contributors cannot produce good copy, consider working with a freelance editor.

You Try to Disguise Publicity as Editorial Content

A customer magazine should not be a thinly-disguised promotional brochure. It should provide readers with useful information. Good customer magazines have the feel—and authority—of an independent publication.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Katz, Michael J., E-Newsletters That Work, The Small Business Owner's Guide To Creating, Writing and Managing An Effective Electronic Newsletter. Xlibris Corporation, 2003.

Harris, Carol, Producing Successful Magazines, Newsletters and E-Zines. How to Books, 2005.

Web Sites:

Custom Publishing Council: http://www.custompublishingcouncil.com/why-custom-publishing.asp

Hammock Publishing: http://www.hammock.com/aboutus/ocp/puborperish.php