Meet ‘Grid,’ a Chicago business mag with a focus on careers, networks

Grid1Cover copyWhen asked by Chicago Sun-Times Media Group late last year to help with the creation of a new weekly business supplement, I was a bit skeptical. Nice to have the work, but hadn’t the paper been cutting back on business coverage (and staff)? And with the Crain’s flagship business weekly in town, the Trib down the street, and others on the scene, wasn’t the market saturated with business news?

But Brandon Copple, formerly of Crain’s and newly hired from Groupon to head up new product development for Sun-Times parent company Wrapports, immediately convinced me he had something new and interesting cooking with the magazine – actually a cross-media brand – that ultimately became Grid. In about a month, working with Sun-Times Art Director Bryan Barker, we had prototyped quite a number of possible covers and inside features, and sent a complete test edition to press. The new product hit the streets Sunday, Feb. 3. (Good riddance to the days when a new supplement or standalone product took eight months to bring to market!)

It’s always great to see anything new that tries to move journalism forward in fresh ways. But, what – in my view – makes Grid, and the process of creating it, stand out?

Format. In our first meeting, I lamented being asked to help design another thin newspaper supplement that would get lost in the Sunday paper shuffle, to be met with a yawn from readers and advertisers if they could find it at all. I urged that Grid be positioned as a true magazine, at that size and on that paper stock, stapled. Especially after learning that extra copies may be sent to premium advertisers (say, banks) to distribute in their workplaces, I thought: Newspaper sections don’t say ‘premium’ to the business world. The square shape of most newsprint tabloids (forced by the switch to print broadsheets on a narrower web) is bland and dull – nothing dynamic or interesting about it from a graphic  perspective – and face it, newsprint paper stock and printing says “cheap” to some people. Not really something most readers would care to set aside or keep.

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Name. A number of titles were prototyped, but never “Chicago Business Weekly” or anything routine like that. Some early options even struck our team as a bit outlandish. But what stuck was Grid, which worked perfectly with the mission of creating a cross media brand focused on the networking worlds of business. Short, catchy, unique, hopefully a bit hip to catch the attention of  (yes) a slightly younger demographic – workers on their way up.

Cross-media products and ventures. From the start, a weekly print product was envisioned as just one part of the Grid world. Not just a website, app, Twitter feed and the usual digital channels. Even before launch, Copple commissioned a video series featuring Chicago innovators sharing lessons of success. And lots of cool peripheral ventures take the brand into the real world – networking events, talks, mixers and partnerships to connect and inspire Chicago business (and advertising) crowds. “We intend it to be an interactive hub — a gathering place where the city’s professionals and business owners take names and swap ideas,” Copple wrote in the magazine’s debut. “We’ll give our readers access to the business leaders they’d most like to meet and introduce them to the people they’re most likely to learn from.”

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Graphic approach. Almost no story is presented in traditional narrative form. Everything says “magazine” from front to back. Numerous Q&A’s, an emphasis on bold names and people pictures, graphic features that share successes, and failures, of Chicago business notables. It all aims to be short, but smart. A quick scan shows you people you’d want to work with, offices you’d like to work in, and products you’d like to acquire or create. Kudos to Bryan Barker for introducing new energy from page to page in the launch issue. (A variety of his layouts from the launch issue are shown in this post; click to enlarge.)

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A fast track product launch under new vision. The short timetable to launch allowed little time for second-guessing or for ideas to get stale, and will demand a healthy amount of experimentation in print. (Not something that has always come easily to newspaper editors.) The hiring of 20-something editor Matt Present (also from Groupon) and other young staff – like their readers, firmly entrenched in “how do we get ahead?” mode – means a fresh eye for telling classic business stories in new ways.

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Congrats to Copple, Barker, Present and others involved. You can view the online version of Grid here.

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For a Flickr album of a sampling of prototype pages from this project, link here.

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