How to Relaunch a Flagship Publication in 8 Steps

As content marketing continues to dominate B2B marketing discussions, many firms are reviewing their preferred tactics and key messages in order to reinforce their content marketing effectiveness.

A few years ago I was tasked with formally reviewing a firm’s flagship print publication–a notable example of content marketing launched with the right intentions, objectives and support from top management. Here’s a series of eight steps to relaunch a flagship publication based on that experience.

Despite a 6-figure annual budget and dedicated headcount, the publication had languished since initial launch–unable to gain traction with its intended audience and increasingly recognized within the company as a required, if not painful, exercise.

Weighing in at more than 100 pages per issue, the print publication appeared erratically several times per year, in part due to production lead times of up to 5 months. It had few fans and plenty of critics–both inside and outside the firm. It was a classic white elephant, commanding prestige while incurring costs far in excess of the value it delivered for the company.

Here are the steps I took to assess, re-position and relaunch the publication.

1. Get a baseline reading on inputs and outputs

With a recurring publication, it’s fairly straightforward to measure the inputs–what it takes to bring the thing into existence. Total hours spent and budget are common metrics. The goal here is to mark a starting point so that you have a basis for comparison later on. This was helpful to me since I was new to the project, hence unfamiliar with some of the elements set out years ago.

If you want to be more sophisticated, you can breakdown the cost per hour along the various production stages in order to get an indication of where it may be most effective to outsource parts of the process.

2. Check the publication’s objective and target audience

Dust off the documented purpose/objective of the publication and its intended audience. Make sure that these still match the company’s strategy. In my case, these were not document. If these are not written down, talk with those at the genesis of the project and document that understanding. Then share these notes. I found that this can help clarify the aims of the project and garner support, especially when you can demonstrate how the project’s objectives coincide with a stakeholders’ aims.

3. Ask the audience

After establishing a baseline for production and confirming the goal and target audience, look at how the readership reacts to the content. Website statistics offer a good starting point. The crucial determinant of success is whether anyone wants to read your content. The easiest way to find out? Ask them. For the publication I conducted a readership survey that allowed respondents to answer online or by post (postage paid, of course). The challenge here is to make participation as frictionless as possible for the readers: if it’s in any way difficult or frustrating to provide feedback, response rates will suffer accordingly. Also, solicit feedback from your internal stakeholders. Having them complete the same questionnaire can be an eye-opening way to show that perceptions inside and outside the firm can vary significantly. In this case, I found it valuable to get the sales team’s input as well.

Results from the readership survey revealed that the audience was interested in more accessible, shorter pieces of RELEVANT content–e.g. that the content address their needs and interests. It also provided an indication of what kind of topics they expected the company (as a service provider) to cover.

4. Set an editorial policy

Your editorial policy will encapsulate information from the earlier steps including the objective, intended audience and writing/production guidelines. In a way it can be thought of as an agency brief that can be handed over to someone else for execution. The more clarity and detail a policy provides, the better. I prefer editorial policies that include quality standards or a checklist for contributors–though these may not be necessary if your organization already has writing guidelines or an editorial approval process.

In a medium or large sized organization, it’s wise to convene an editorial board that governs the editorial policy and meets regularly to review performance. The board can then assign daily implementation of the editorial function to an individual or a team.

The upfront work of setting an editorial policy will help improve the quality and relevance of your content over time.

5. Review the ‘look and feel’

Some people mistakenly focus all their attention on the content–what’s being said or written–or that design is merely an artistic consideration. All of these strawmen are wrong.

While content matters a great deal, it’s not the only thing that matters. Contrary to the old adage, many people do judge a book by its cover. So make that cover appealing. Use it to entice readers to turn the pages.

For the relaunch I conducted, the production work proved incredibly expensive, because the dimensions of the 100+ page documents were so costly to print and ship. Scaling down to a sleeker, more attractive, look and feel for the publication not only matched what the audience asked for in the readership survey–it also cut production time and shipping costs by 35 percent. To lock in these savings, guidelines on size and weight were set.

A few more design tips:

– Use image and color to set the tone

– Build out multiple levels of reading that allow readers to skim and then ‘dive in’ where they see an interest

– Avoid stock photos

– Consider how the work will appear in print and onscreen

6. Set a schedule

While technically your publication’s frequency (daily, weekly, monthly) should be contained in the editorial policy, publishing frequency is only the tip of the iceberg–the visible part of the production process. What’s hidden is the production time–which can range from a few hours for a blog post to several weeks or even months for an article or white paper. Your publication schedule will help you to sort this out. Update this often, share with stakeholders and build in some flexibility (i.e. swap publication dates of different pieces or have a backup piece prepared) in order to avoid excess anxiety over deadlines.

Adhering to a schedule–rather than publishing when a piece is completed–will help set your audiences expectations. Further down the road, if you are successful, your audience will anticipate and look forward to upcoming publications.

7. Deliver multiple formats

Your audience receives and consumes content in a variety of ways. In some countries, it’s preferable to hand-deliver print publications, which requires engagement from your sales teams. In other places, postal delivery is difficult or unreliable–so electronic delivery is preferred. A print publication can have a whole new life online. Here, it was necessary to revamp the website, update the email delivery process leveraging a state of the art emailing tool, initiate a social media campaign and create a smartphone app that offered readers their choice of ways to consume the content–all in addition to the print publication.

The key thing to bear in mind is that moving from long form (article-sized) to short form (social media) content requires additional effort and that the storytelling takes place in a more open (shareable) though confined (140 characters or less) space. Allocate the necessary resources to make this run smoothly, rather than treating it as an afterthought.

8. Measure effectiveness

A successful relaunch doesn’t end when the ‘new and improved’ version is unveiled. It’s a milestone that marks the time to step back review the ground that has been covered. The editorial board is a great forum for this discussion. Gauging your audience’s reaction requires conducting a second readership survey, along with analysis of web statistics, for comparison of the before and after results. In this particular case, audience engagement indicators–how much time was spent reading the material and how often the content became a part of discussions with clients–more than doubled. This can largely be attributed to the editorial policy and design work. In addition, the roll-out of multiple electronic formats allowed sales teams in some markets to increase their audience reach by 800 percent.

Give yourself time to succeed

Overall, this particular relaunch resulted in higher audience engagement, greater audience reach, quicker production times and lower costs. But not all of these benefits come immediately. It takes time for an audience to recognize improvement. (Incidentally, it presents the opportunity to run a relaunch marketing campaign if you want to play up transparency around the effort).

Relaunching a flagship publication can be a time-consuming effort. Given the potential benefits, along with the opportunity to forge a stronger connection between you and your audience, it’s an exercise worth considering. With these steps in hand, the effort should be that much easier.