Gone are the days when a publication could skate by with a redesign or a relaunch that was purely cosmetic – new fonts, narrower page width, new logo, maybe new colors for a press upgrade. Maybe it once made sense to “freshen up” just for the sake of doing so, but in the current age, there are many urgent reasons to move quickly abandon that concept.
I have long advised each of my redesign clients to seize the opportunity to “rethink” their products, whether print or web, and introduce at least SIX substantial content improvements to the newspaper, magazine or web site – destinations, if you will – that have substantial power to bring in new readers and/or to slow the departure of existing ones. Think of this as a new section, a page, or a column that would instantly be seen as something fresh and new in the marketplace, valuable and vital to someone in your audience. An outdoors section? A kids page? An education spread each week in the metro section? A front page column written by a local gadfly? A shopping blog? Why not?
The idea is that it’s got to be something NEW to compel someone to part with their 50 cents (or whatever you charge per day). Another way to look at it: if you were speaking over the back fence with a new neighbor who has recently moved to town, what specific features could you entice them with to become a subscriber? Or for a lost reader, what would bring him back?
Relaunch is the time to rethink your content and make these features part of the new landscape.Â I won’t even begin to produce prototypes without a game plan for these new destinations. Quite often I will lead the staff in the brainstorming sessions that lead to these new ideas, moderate the debate over which ones should go into the mix, and of course, prototype what they will look like. If the staff comes up short, I’ll brainstorm my own concepts and put them into the design models for a surprise on “unveiling day.”
In some cases, the innovation may just be repackaging – in a bold new way – something that you currently do but in a haphazard way. For example, one client published education briefs throughout the week, and the occasional school story here and there, and school lunch menus when space allowed. In the prototyping, I cooked up a 2-page “Education Special” spread, which would appear mid-week, with the goal of driving single-copy sales that day. It required no additional staff, and looked like the paper had added a bold new feature, when in fact, it was repackaging at work (using bolder typography and navigation, of course). I even proposed an advertising sponsorship for the page.
Which leads to my next point. In addition to a content rethink, you should create at least SIX significant new advertising opportunities as well. These can be destinations, shapes, partnerships, sponsorships, inserts, however you want to look at it – but consider that a month before relaunch, your ad sales team can take prototypes and new rate cards into the field, and tell potential clientsÂ (or DEPARTED clients): “look at the great new tools we’ve created for you to reach your customers.”
Create some excitement and buzz. Prototype the content and advertising innovations together, and use them to educate the newsroom and sales team, as well as readers. Particularly when trimming your page width, or downsizing the paper’s news hole, you need to be bold and innovative in delivering something MORE. Otherwise, you’re only selling new fonts, colors, maybe a different page size – pleasant changes perhaps, but in this market, no reader or advertiser will think that’s a better value for their money.