A TOC alternative: Ad Age’s Programming Guide

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2006

The 2006 Programming Guide debut (click twice on all images for larger detail).

To view the evolution of this feature, keep reading …

EARLIER HERE I’ve shared my thinking that, for many publications, the notion of a Table of Contents is outdated. Why repeat every single headline on a TOC when A) several or even many of those may already have been teased on your cover; B) they may also have been teased on your website, Facebook or Twitter; C) publications are smaller, in some cases MUCH smaller, than they were in the past; and D) don’t your best readers pretty much skim through each page and land on the best headlines anyway? Not to mention, tighter staffs mean less time to devote to producing furniture like a traditional TOC.

This got me thinking about sharing some work by a client I worked with for several years, Advertising Age. I advised them on several major adjustments to their design, which included their first steps into an innovative approach to a table of contents. As early as 2006, Ad Age realized that it was much more than the print product that for years was its foundation. It had evolved into a multichannel platform of print and digital publications, events, and partnerships. At that time I recall being told by Publisher Scott Donaton (who moved on to publisher at Entertainment Weekly, now with Interpublic Group) that there were something like 52 different manifestations of the Ad Age brand – including a large family of related print publications and websites, blogs, podcasts, special sections, events, partnerships, etc. Why not flag all avenues of the brand for print readers, via a smartly edited menu, or “Programming Guide,” to take the place of the traditional TOC?

In the debut of the feature (above, click to enlarge), then-Editor Jonah Bloom tells readers, introducing several new features in 2006: “We’ve also added this, our Programming Guide to the entire Ad Age Group. Here you’ll find the most important news stories that broke online during the week, but we’ll also flag all our best content, whether it be video, podcast, blog entry or coming event.” Many papers have done some variations of this (teasing top stories viewed online, what’s coming up in the Sunday paper, etc.) but here Ad Age really started to push the concept. Why not use a little real estate in the paper to brag up all the good new ways you’re amplifying your brand elsewhere?

In this blog post we share the evolution of that feature, from 2006 onward, with eight different examples. In the weekly edition of the paper, it appears on Page 2 (and new this year, across Pages 2 and 3). Most interesting to me is how Ad Age has kept its basic look and feel for probably more than 10 years (deftly adapting the weights of Interstate font family to its needs of the moment), but, under the watch of Art Director Jesper Goransson, it evolves in a fresh and dynamic way. Design elements and information architecture are updated to project different kinds of information in a particular moment. Special thanks for rounding up these images to Ad Age goes to Jesper, with whom I worked on several updates of the design but who has gone gangbusters moving this feature (and many others) forward for the newspaper. I still receive the paper weekly, and even though I’m not really its target audience, I find its design and editing to be inviting and compelling. (I’ve long said they have the best headline writers in the business.)

OCT. 16, 2006: Above, in its first year, the Programming Guide shouts about content inside that week’s print issue, as well as a strong component of the paper’s event programming, the Idea Conference. Brand awareness and amplification is the root of this endeavor.

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2006

OCT. 23, 2006: Above, a mega-promo to the Magazine 300 Special Issue teases both print and online, and includes stats on the industry’s Top 5 moneymakers (oh, those were the days). This graphic presentation provides information, not just navigation. Several events are promoted and readers are told where to go directly online to register.

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2007

JAN. 22, 2007: Above, a more aggressive summary of web highlights makes its appearance, along with a promo for the paper’s popular annual Madison & Vine Conference in Beverly Hills.

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2009JAN. 19, 2009: Above, a detour into a more infographic-y approach features new promos to blog content.

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2010

MARCH 29, 2010: Above, earlier this year Jesper took the Programming Guide (now labeled This Week) across Pages 2 and 3, in an inverted “L” shape. It’s still a mix of print, online, and event promotions, but serves as an umbrella to a spread of editorial content that says “we’re on top of a lot of great stories.”

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2010JUN. 28, 2010.

Advertising Age Programming Guide 2010NOV. 8, 2010.

What does all this mean for other publications? Well, if you don’t do events, the notion of a “programming guide” is probably not the way to go. (And if you’re not doing events, partnerships, and sponsorships, you might want to think about it.) But if you’re doing anything other than the printed paper or magazine, and a website, you may want to broadcast to the world that you’re not just what they might have pegged you as in the past. And consider Ad Age as a model for keeping a design fresh and updating with the times, and not keeping the furniture in place year after year. Life doesn’t stand still and neither should your design.

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