Say what you want about traditional school communications, but no matter how trends shift and change, there are some staples that will always hold a special place in school storytelling.
For example: the school magazine.
Whether an alumni magazine, an annual report/magazine hybrid, or an online version of a traditional publication, school magazines have the important job of both keeping legacy alive and documenting current happenings for posterity — all while driving diverse audiences to take action.
That’s quite a job description.
I’ve seen beautiful, impressive magazines in the school marketing space, and my clients dedicate both their hearts and their resources to perfecting these publications and maintaining their integrity year after year. So how can school marketers ensure these intense efforts create tangible results? How can schools better utilize this important communications tool to connect with their communities and grow school influence?
Here’s how to craft school magazine content that makes all the effort worthwhile.
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The key to ensuring people are reading the school magazine you put so much time, effort, and love into is simple:
Ok, I know that’s simpler to state than to practice, but the sentiment is something that is so easy to forget when we’re deep in deadlines and page counts and design changes.
If we want readers to open our school magazine and actually flip from front to back, engaging with the stories we’re telling, we need to give them stories they care about. We need to make the news, updates, changes, and reflections shared on those pages matter to their lives. And how do we do that?
Those who have been reading this blog for a while may have guessed where I was going with that, but it’s always where I begin when I’m writing feature school magazine articles. I look at the story or concept that my client wants to share and ask myself, “So what? Why will the reader care about this? What about this will they find most interesting, or appealing, or shocking? What will capture and keep their fickle interest?”
You may have a wonderful story to tell, important updates to deliver, or a heartwarming retrospective to share, but just because you want to tell it doesn’t mean your audience wants to read it. However, you can entice them to read it if you write with their cares and concerns in mind.
For alumni, perhaps that means tugging at their heartstrings and reminding them of a special moment in their lives, or it’s giving them the opportunity to see themselves in the school’s future. For donors, it could be demonstrating the tangible difference their generosity has made. For current families, it may be updating them on new opportunities that will have a direct impact on their child’s life.
Whatever the article topic, make sure you have your specific audience in mind before you put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). And once you begin writing…
Repeat after me: NO MORE BORING HEADLINES.
Too often, school feature articles are given a title such as, “A Look Back!” or “Celebrating the Graduating Class” or “Our Theatre Program!” While factually correct, these headlines don’t connect with the reader’s desire to learn more, or answer a question, or find out how or why.
Instead of using a headline as a label, try writing your school magazine article headlines with these tips in mind:
For example, I recently used the headline “A Call to Excellence for Generations of [School] Students” on an article that spoke about the history of the school’s motto (a much more compelling headline than “The History of Our Motto.”). By connecting the reader to the motto and what it meant to them as a student and now as an alum, the headline drew the reader into an article they might have otherwise overlooked.
However, a good headline can’t do all the work. An article’s intro is equally as important.
Consider this your permission to stop being so literal. Instead of jumping right into the main point of the article, paint a picture. Draw the reader in. Get them thinking, imagining, questioning.
This is how I approached one recent feature article for a client, which was supposed to be a simple “then/now” retrospective. Instead of diving in with an introduction that read, “So much has changed in the past 10 years…,” I decided to talk about nostalgia. How does it affect us? Why do we feel it so deeply? The article began:
Have you ever heard a forgotten song from childhood and felt instantly transported back to a specific moment in time? Caught the lingering scent of pine trees or felt the leaves crunch underfoot in just the right way, and you’re suddenly sixteen again, walking across your high school quadrangle on the way to AP Bio class?
By prompting the reader to mind-travel back to their high school years, the article instantly connects on both an emotional and rational level. It then goes on to briefly talk about the science behind nostalgia and links that to why the school’s heritage and legacy are meaningful today. The final article does everything a traditional retrospective would — it provides updates, reports statistics, and talks about the future — yet in a way that’s more engaging than a typical timeline.
William Faulkner said: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” And then Stephen King took it up a notch, saying: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
It’s the best writing advice I’ve ever heard.
If you want to write a fantastic school magazine, you need to be willing to cut, delete, and forget elements that you may love but that may not serve the reader. This means that not every point on the timeline, every update on the program, every key message from the strategic plan can and should make it into print.
Remember: Every article should pass the “So What?” test. Every story should be written for the reader. Keep the meaningful, and cut the rest.
Those are my top tips for writing a school magazine article that your audiences will want to read. Want more school marketing and storytelling tips? Get them FREE in our Resource Library — the ultimate collection of ebooks, worksheets, and on-demand tutorials created specifically for school marketers.