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Magazines – Speaking to the Tribe

I used to sell advertising for a local magazine. Every Thursday, on my day off from Toy House, I would hit the streets talking local businesses into buying ads for a monthly magazine my ex-wife and I published called Kids in Common.

Kids in Common Magazine Vol. 1 March 2003

We launched Kids in Common in 2000 as a weekly radio show designed to link families to the resources out there for them. On our radio show we interviewed a variety of guests including medical professionals, pet behaviorists, daycare workers, educators, and other professionals. We also highlighted family-friendly websites, upcoming family-friendly events, and parenting tips we received from our listeners.

Three years later we launched the monthly magazine. The highlight of the magazine was the centerfold, a full monthly calendar of all the events happening including recreation department sports sign-ups, vacation bible schools, special family events, educational programming, and other fun activities parents and children might enjoy. Many of our readers told us when each issue came out they would get a highlighter and circle all the events they wanted to attend. One parent even mentioned how it helped her son learn budgeting as he would have to add up how much money he needed to do all the things he wanted to do on the calendar.

The ads I sold paid for the printing and distribution costs of this free publication.

By the time we started publishing Kids in Common, I was well into my learning about how different ads work. I knew about the pitfalls of passive media like newsprint. I knew about the power of frequency and impact. Those are the two biggest arguments against magazine ads.

Not only is a magazine ad a passive one that only attracts those actively in the market, it has an incredibly low frequency. Two no-nos in the world of effective advertising.

We tried to overcome that by creating a publication people picked up several times in a month, a magazine they read more than once. The calendar in the centerfold was the kicker. On one side was the calendar, on one half of the other side was the “KIC Clipboard”—a handy reference guide of some kind. One issue it was all the local parks and their amenities. Another issue was Phil’s Top Ten Toys. The first issue, our “birthday” issue, had a list of all the birthday hot-spots where you could host your child’s birthday party. Even after the calendar ended people loved to save those clipboards. Therefore the premium advertising space was on the other half of the backside of the calendar. Page 14. I got a premium rate for that page and the back cover because they were the two pages most likely to be seen multiple times in one month.

So what are the upsides to magazine advertising? Almost everyone reading a niche magazine is actively in that niche market. You don’t read a magazine about model railroading if you aren’t already into trains. You don’t read a magazine about rock climbing if you don’t already own a harness. You don’t read a magazine about parenting if you aren’t a parent or grandparent.

The magazine is the easiest way to speak to your tribe because only your tribe are reading it. Sometimes, if your niche is narrowly defined, it is the only way to speak to your tribe all at once.

When is it a good time to use magazine ads?

  • When you have a narrowly defined niche (or tribe) and the magazine is the best vehicle for reaching that niche all at once.
  • When the magazine has built-in features that make it get picked up several times before the next issue or saved even after the next issue is released.

A lot of hobby magazines fit those two definitions.

As with other passive media like newspapers, your ad still needs an eye-grabbing picture and headline. It needs to make an emotional connection. And it needs to make people remember you. If you can do that, you can milk a lot of customers out of your magazine advertising.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For other best practices on other forms of media check out Television, Radio, Billboards, and Newspapers. Upcoming posts will include Direct Mail, Email, and Social Media. Look for them over the next couple weeks.

PPS The first issue of Kids in Common was only going to be 12 pages long. By the time I finished the first round of ad sales we had enough advertising to create a 16-page magazine. By the second issue we had enough to fill 24 pages with top-level content and enough ads to pay the bills. A few of my advertisers lamented the day we ceased publication as they found it the best bang for their buck.