By Megan Stolz Rogers
In the mid-2000s, Chris Murphy and Elaina Loveland, then editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, redesigned International Educator. The quarterly magazine — written mostly by volunteer member writers — became a bimonthly publication using mostly professional freelance writers. In the process, they refocused on quality editorial, streamlined their production schedule, and increased advertising sales.
During the AM&P 360 breakout session “Time to Move Beyond Member By-Lined Content?” in June in Washington, D.C., Murphy and Loveland talked about some of the advantages to using freelance writers, not only for the flagship publication of NAFSA: Association of International Educators but for other publications still relying on free member content.
1. Better content and quality control
Many more members wanted to be in NAFSA’s magazine than were actually good writers. Switching to freelance writers meant more articles in International Educator were better written, which led to more credibility for the publication and improved reader satisfaction.
Loveland, previously a freelance writer herself, gave detailed assignment briefs, even providing some preliminary research on the topic. There were two benefits to doing extra legwork on the assignment brief:
NAFSA has since developed relationships with regular freelance writers, who provide better articles over the long term as they become increasingly familiar with International Educator’s voice, style, and focus.
2. More advertising
A higher quality and more frequent publication brought in more advertising revenue since advertisers were more interested in investing in the magazine. According to Associations Now, which covered the International Educator redesign in the November 2009 issue, the publication had a 106 percent increase in ad revenue the first year and a 40 percent increase in 2008 — and that growth didn’t slow down when the Great Recession hit.
3. More streamlined editorial process
Two points contributed to a more streamlined editorial process:
Members are busy people because their volunteer duties are in addition to the job that made them join the association in the first place. And writing an article can take a lot of work. It’s easier to answer a list of questions while someone else synthesizes everything together.
Murphy and Loveland said volunteer member writers tended to want to see multiple drafts of an article through the editorial process and sometimes would contest editorial style. A freelance writer, however, was used to aligning their writing to the client’s preferences. So not only were the articles that came in better written in the first place, NAFSA staff spent less time on editing and had fewer power struggles over style.
4. Smoother production schedule
While using volunteer writers, International Educator routinely missed production deadlines, being published late or not at all. Freelance writers, however, adhered better to editorial deadlines because it’s part of the job (and missing deadlines means not getting hired in the future). Getting editorial in on time meant the magazine was then published on time.
5. Increased editorial strategy
Rather than designing editorial around member ideas (and waiting for those ideas to come in), Murphy and Loveland found that assigning out to freelance writers allowed them to develop an editorial calendar and be more strategic overall. This strategic mindset increased revenue from advertising and led to opportunities to develop publication supplements focused on specific content areas that served oft-overlooked member subsets.
6. More member voices
One of the concerns members had about switching to freelance writers was that it would take away from members’ voices in the publication. However, the opposite proved to be true.
Many articles call for multiple viewpoints on a topic, which means multiple members could be interviewed for a single article to present a multifaceted perspective. As a result, there were more members included in each issue using professional freelance writers.
There were still volunteer engagement opportunities for members to contribute content, such as book reviews, columns, etc., so NAFSA staff could work with members who had a talent for writing to cover this material.
Megan Stolz Rogers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Megan Stolz Editorial, providing freelance editing and writing services. Association Media & Publishing thanks Megan for her stellar job covering this session from the AM&P Annual Meeting for our members who were unable to attend.