Behind EXCEL: The Actuary Magazine, Retirement Issue

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In this series, we talk with the people who created some of this year’s most exciting EXCEL Award-winning work to find the story behind the project. For more stories behind this year’s EXCEL Awards, look for the August-September issue of Signature magazine.


Go here for a full list of this year’s EXCEL winners.


The Society of Actuaries won a bronze EXCEL in Magazines Single Topic Issue (20,0001 to 50,000) for The Actuary magazine, Retirement Issue, Aug-Sept 2017. We asked Jacque Kirkwood, senior associate member communications, staff editor for The Actuary to tell us a little bit more about this project.


Sidebar: What’s the story behind the issue?


Kirkwood: The Actuary is published six times a year by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The planning group — consisting of SOA editorial staff and SOA members who volunteer as contributing editors — works together to establish themes that are interesting to our actuarial readership and the public at large. We chose retirement as one of the main issue themes for 2017 and solicited authors who were subject-matter experts in this field. We were especially careful to select topics that did not overlap and that served as learning tools for all our readers. Providing education to our constituents is part of the SOA’s mission statement and is a vital part of all the publications we produce.


Sidebar: What makes this entry special?


Kirkwood: The teamwork aspect of magazine content-gathering makes every issue a special and worthwhile endeavor. No one is left at sea without a life raft. If a contributing editor is struggling a bit to attain authors, there is always another who is willing to bail him or her out of a potentially futile situation. We’re all just an email or a phone call away. Sometimes authors promise to write an article and situations arise that prevent them from doing so. We go back to the drawing board, discuss alternatives and select other avenues to pursue. After all, we’re in the publications business. Our specialty is collaboration. The retirement issue yielded some important content, including the human side of longevity; the societal impact of living longer; advice on finding the best-fitting longevity plan; ideas for future retirement income products; a close examination of the failures, successes and possibilities of the longevity bond; and other related topics. Anyone, from actuary to academic to actuarial student to citizen, had something to benefit from the content.


Sidebar: What notable hurdles did you overcome to create this?

Kirkwood: In general, the hurdles we encounter when producing an issue of The Actuary are like those in the publishing industry. Meeting deadlines, agreeing on edits, and getting everyone to give their seal of approval on all copy before it goes to layout are general hurdles that are always surmountable. Again, the collaboration and ease of working with the contributing editors and volunteer authors are in our favor. It’s give and take from both sides — mutual respect is key.

Sidebar: What was your greatest achievement during the process?

Kirkwood: The most notable achievement in my opinion is the final product. With this retirement issue — and whenever I first open the latest print issue — I think of all the people who played a role in seeing the content turn into a perfect-bound magazine: the volunteer contributing editors, our editing team, designers, SOA communications staff, and reviewers who ensure that our magazine contains important, understandable information that helps people do their jobs better or inform them of a new product or service that will help in their retirement planning. Providing educational content is our main goal, and that goal is front and center every time we garner content for The Actuary.

Sidebar: What special techniques or technologies did you use to create this?


Kirkwood: We are currently researching platforms for content-gathering and approval that may be more efficient up front as we review copy and select articles for publication. Until we find the platform that we feel will best fit our needs, we continue to use email as our main communications tool — it works well for us. Selecting accompanying art, as I see it, falls under the technical umbrella. The editorial team works in tandem with the designers so that copy and images together tell the story. The selected colors and images must complement and connect with the copy, so they represent each unit and are recognizable as standalone articles. We also focus on ensuring that all images blend with the overall aesthetic and fluidity of the whole issue. Selecting a cover is another team effort. Usually, three options are created. The cover image that speaks to the issue in the most professional and creative way gets the spotlight — in this case, the image of the young piano student and her teacher (or maybe her grandfather). The colors, the image and the sepia tones fit so perfectly with the title of the main article, “Striking the Right Note.”

Sidebar: What lessons did you learn from this project?

Kirkwood: After every issue of The Actuary is off the press and safely on its way to our membership, I remember the five points that I have used as my work mantra for many years. They still hold true today:

  • Manage your energy — it’s the key to productivity.

  • It takes a team; you can’t go it alone.

  • Solve potential problems with grace, thoughtfulness and dignity.

  • Communicate often and honestly.

  • Rely on your support team — they’ll get you through the challenging times.