Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Build a Magazine

English: Neuttro Page (not online) from the Ma...
English: Neuttro Page (not online) from the Magazine (not in circulatrion anymore) Frecuenciarock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In-class exercise/Build a Magazine

You have been divided into two teams by a group of deep-pockets entrepreneurs who wants to create an online product for college students, age 18-24. They believe in group competition, group intelligence and in brain storming, that is, in tossing ideas around in an uncritical environment before forcing a decision. Your aim is to come up with a concept for an online magazine that has both news and entertainment value.

 Near the end of this process, you will choose among the stories the class has written this semester to illustrate in a concrete way what the content of your publication will look like. It may also be useful in explaining the nature of your publication to point out why something written this semester – even though written by someone in your target demo – is not suitable for your publication.

One possible way to begin is by Thinking Big, coming up with what you think is a fresh concept, and only then looking about you to compare it to existing products. What you may discover, of course, is that you have reinvented the wheel, that such a publication already exists and that your ‘fresh’ idea adds no nuance, no value to an existing product already in the market. Happily, often our new ideas are not identical to old ones; there are, in fact, differences. The question is whether or not these differences are significant enough to provide the wedge that will enable us to compete.

 It is not meaningless to assert that we want to do the same thing but do it better. However, some supposed distinctions do not foretell competitive success, as in the case of “Seven-Minute Abs.”

A second way to come up with a product is at once to look at existing publications you find useful and appealing, but all of which fall short in some way. That is, you conclude that an existing concept can be tweaked or altered or reimagined in such a way that your variation on an existing product will steal eyes away from the existing product – though keep in mind the lesson of Seven-Minute Abs. Take the historical perspective. When does variation become failed imitation? Worst movie remakes are an amusing example.

Or you may choose to start small, with small questions rather than large assumptions. At some point in this process – whether you start large or small - you will ask these questions. (The advantage you have is that - more or less – you are your audience.)

1.    What does your potential audience care about?
2.    What are they reading/watching/listening/doing?
3.    What are their problems/issues/challenges?
4.    What are your potential audience’s/demographic/psychographic/geographic characteristics?
5.    How many people are in your target group or groups?
6.    How much do they spend on a news/entertainment product of the kind you have imagined?
7.    How much time do they spend online enjoying products of the kind you are proposing?

The answers to NONE of these questions are matters of opinion. All can be explored through consumer research. But for this brief exercise, we will proceed on the basis of ‘best guess.’

At some point in this process - possibly early on - you will identify your ‘key competitors,’ your rivals in the media marketplace. You will ask:

1)   What are they doing well?
2)   What are they missing?
3)   What elements of what others are doing can you use as a model or models? What elements can you learn from?

Later in the process, you will begin to build content,

1.    Preparing such basic elements as a mission statement, an ‘about’ page, a series of initial blog posts heralding your arrival on the scene.
2.    Developing key multimedia assets – a set of photos, a short video trailer, a slideshow.
3.    Developing pitch materials for potential partners/investors/advertisers. Such materials will be short, one pagers and ‘elevator’ pitches.
4.    Reaching out to your potential audience by building a social media presences on key networks relevant to your ‘community.’
5.    Listening to and learning from your community.
6.    Developing a rapport with key community members/influencers.

Now things get serious, as you begin the tough task of balancing costs with potential revenues,

1.    Considering six proven revenue approaches – ads, memberships/subscriptions, expertise/services, events, products, donations.
2.    Identifying revenue approaches that seem to be working for competitors, particularly those in related coverage areas.
3.    Testing the water with potential paying customers/audience members.
4.    Working with ‘first customers,’ perhaps on a trial or ‘alpha’ basis.
5.    Working up hard numbers for production and build a preliminary budget.

Creative is fun, but now you must begin to think like a manager,

1.    Assessing your own strengths and weaknesses with the help of friends, colleagues and mentors to determine what gaps you need to fill and what gaps you should focus your immediate energies on, while never forgetting your big picture and your long-term goals.
2.    Finding colleagues to work with, and developing community collaborators.

Finally, you are ready to begin, but from the beginning you will be measuring your progress,

1.    Having determined what your key indicators are, what metrics you need to track and how you will define success. (External metrics)
2.    Having put in place a system to measure progress regularly toward internal project goals. (Internal metrics)
3.    Already thinking about what you may need to change, what to do even more of and how best to pivot and what to fix at each stage of your progress.

We do not have the time to work through to the end of this process. However, we should be able to get far enough for each team will submit to me the answers to these questions:

·      Generally speaking, you are going after the 18-24 demo. Specifically, who inside that group is going to be your audience?
·      To the best of your knowledge, who is your competition? Where are the ‘eyes’ of your intended audience now directed?
·      What are you going to do that is not currently being done?
·      Express that intention as a 50-word mission statement.
·      Brainstorm some possible names for this new publication.
·      Choose, or reject, for publication stories the class has written this semester.

As you get into this, you can “play.” That is, you may assign tasks, one group member thinking about overall design, one about art, one about the big stories that anchor each issue, one about the smaller stories in continuing divisions of the magazine like People or Music or Dining – or far more inventive and focused divisions than that.

These comments are based in part on the ideas of Dr. Ed Lenert, USF adjunct professor, and on a presentation by Jeremy Caplan, professor of interactive and entrepreneurial journalism at the City University of New York, “7 Steps to Success: Entrepreneurial Journalism” (2011).

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