Alumni magazine publishers are always looking for ways to strengthen the brand impression of the institutions they represent. And they’re looking for ways to increase their effectiveness with encouraging alumni to give money to support the school.
One particular consultant believes these can both be achieved by focusing on one thing – alumni.
While it seems obvious that alumni magazines should focus on alumni, John L. Gann, a marketing consultant and author of The Third Lifetime Place: A New Economic Opportunity for College Towns, writes that many alumni magazines are more focused on marketing the school than they are about marketing alumni.
The value of alumni as both product and customer
In Gann’s view, alumni magazines have two marketing objectives:
- Sell the school to alumni – Work to maintain strong ties with alumni in order to raise money from them.
- Sell the school to prospective students – Share the stories that illustrate the institution’s end product. Consider focusing on graduates who are leveraging their degrees to achieve their goals.
Good products make marketing easy. And alumni are the ultimate product of every educational institution.
Every institution is eager to tell stories related to graduates who have gone on to become innovators or famous. But not every institution is telling the stories related to graduates who have used their education to achieve the simple life successes they had in mind when they enrolled in their first post-secondary classes.
The ability to leverage a degree to pay the bills, support a family or have the time to contribute to the community may not make for glamorous stories, but they are exactly the things that prospective students want to achieve.
Simply put, prospective students want to know they’ll get an education that will help them achieve success. And alumni are more likely to contribute money to their institutions when they see it effectively helping people achieve their goals.
Finding the balance between recruitment and fundraising
This isn’t to say that alumni magazines should abandon stories about new buildings or degree programs. But, as part of a more balanced approach, alumni publishers should work to weave graduate success stories into why a new building or program is being prioritized. This will help make fundraising appeals more compelling.
As an example, many alumni magazines have “back-of-the-book” listings for alumni accomplishments and life events. Buried in the listings, you’ll likely find a notice about a graduate who has taken a job as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a graduate who has won an award for their contributions to fighting poverty.
Rather than leaving these stories buried in the back listings, select some to develop into feature stories. And, of course, make certain these stories are included in both the print magazine and online, where prospective students can find them when they’re doing their digital search for the right place to go to college.
Using feature stories to highlight the alumni addresses a problem John Gann thinks is all too common with alumni magazines, specifically that typical feature stories focus too much on the “now” of an institution – its faculty, research, students, and building projects. Regrettably, Gann states, “Alums appear as historical footnotes.”
Other ways to bring alumni into the alumni magazine fold
At minsh.com, Barbara Main offers several ways to spice up an alumni magazine, including two that put alumni front and center: work advice columns and personal, heartfelt essays.
- Work advice columns. Solicit alumni to offer career insights that current students and other graduates can benefit from. It’s a great way to engage your audience while reinforcing the connection between the institution and career success.
- Heartfelt essays. Every graduate has a story or two related to impactful experiences they had during their time as a student at the institution. Whether serious or humorous, these essays should share something the alum is passionate about and that makes a connection between who they are as a person now and how their experiences as a student helped shape them.
“[I]t is amazing to see alumni actively take part and write in their own magazine,” Main shared. And these contributions can help alumni magazines increase their success promoting donations for the school and recruiting new students.
The associate editor of the Johns Hopkins Magazine, Dale Keiger, agrees that publishers have to focus on engaging and activating their audience and suggests that magazines build loyalty over time. While it may take years, he says, those young alumni turn into older alumni, who have the resources to support the school.
Keiger concludes, “When alumni begin to sneak up on that stage in life where they’re more willing and able to contribute money to our schools, they will be among our most avid readers – provided we produce the sort of engrossing, engaging reader experience that rewards their attention to our pages.”