Launching today: A new Crain’s Detroit Business for a new Detroit

a compo

[The relaunch issue cover, and a Special Report opener inside.]

IN CELEBRATION OF its 30th year, Crain’s Detroit Business today unveils a bold redesign of its weekly newspaper (following its dramatic relaunch of digital platforms several weeks ago). Here are a few things worth noting about the change process and results for this trusted news publisher:

1) In a city on the rebound, branding matters. Publisher Mary Kramer first contacted me last summer about working with her team on a redesign. It’s worth noting that the newspaper is one of the more profitable in the Crain’s stable of city business publications, thanks to an aggressive advertising sales strategy that works hard to safeguard print and shout about its value to business. (Print provides the lion’s share of ad revenue here, as with most of my newspaper and magazine redesign clients, and publishers want to safeguard that as long as they can. But a history of diversification and experimentation also serves Crain’s Detroit well: they excel at selling data, producing events, and innovating in areas such as webinars and custom publishing.)

Mary also briefed me on lots of great things happening with Detroit. The city was working hard to emerge from bankruptcy (happened a few months later) and there was lots of energy and revitalization in the business climate, downtown in particular. She previewed Crain’s plans for the first Detroit Homecoming gathering of expat business leaders, keynoted by Warren Buffett, which ended up being a wild success a few months later. The paper hadn’t updated its look in 15 years, and I agreed the time was overdue. In a city staking its future on bold ideas and reinvention, a brand refresh done right could have great impact for the paper. As I told Mary: “Lots of business people will be looking at Crain’s for how to do rebranding right: executing the change and communicating to readers and advertisers about why they should care. For a business newspaper in particular, the message that ‘we know branding’ is an important one.”

beforeAndAfter

[The old look of Crain’s Detroit, left, and a prototype of the new design,
right, tested with readers and advertisers.] 

Late Friday night, when the launch issue was released to the press, I received a text from Creative Director Pierrette Dagg, who served as internal project leader, helping manage the complex tasks and timetable required for a major redesign. She was excited about the finished results from front to back, and confirmed that the team had hit its mark: “It’s a complete change.”

a Sponsored new

[“Sponsored content” opportunities, such as the ad at the bottom of this page,
were carefully prototyped and tested. Some specific ideas were pursued, others were set aside.]

2) … but careful with that ‘complete change’ business. Yes, there’s a lot that looks and feels quite new in the redesign, but for a publication that ranks incredibly high with readers in the area of trust and reliability, change has to happen carefully. Many favorite features remain. Several new ones are introduced. Some stories will be told in more graphic form, where appropriate. From the start, our emphasis was on creating a clean, modern design rooted in smart content. “I think to the extent that design enhances storytelling, then our new look does so to a much greater degree,” Senior Editor/Design Bob Allen says in a note to readers published today.

And yes, new approaches to advertising are being offered, including more “sponsored content opportunities.” These in particular required careful conversations with readers and advertisers: they are important to our bottom line, but what do they say about our integrity, and your trust? Feedback helped us fine-tune the design and placement of sponsored content, as well as other new ad shapes and destinations now being offered.

3) Don’t just make it prettier. Make it easier to produce. In the weeks before launch, Bob Allen and his colleagues went into overdrive to produce dozens of mock pages in the new styles, working off my original templates. Right away Bob confirmed what I had hoped, when he reported that pages, including the new cover, are easier to produce than the old design, and that the building blocks, detailed in a new Design Style Guide, are more efficient.

4) … and make it easier to read. From a reader’s standpoint, details such as boldface names (critical to those who value Crain’s for business leads) are designed to be scanned more quickly. Color is used more prominently as a navigational device, something readers and advertisers (and students in my class at U of Montana earlier this month) picked up on right away, and found more inviting. Lots of touches were created to serve the busier reader as well as those (who are many) who spend as much as an hour with the paper each week. “We want to make sure that whatever time you spend with our weekly print issue — 30 seconds or 30 minutes — you’ll come away feeling more informed,” Dagg says in the note to readers.

a milleno2 copy

5) Where appropriate, get more graphic. We live in a data-driven world, and now more than ever, busy readers, younger readers, and in fact, all readers are responding positively to content told in graphic form. The launch issue features a special report, this week only, on the impact of millennial on Detroit business (several pages shown above), and on Page 3, a regularly occurring new feature, a news story told in infographic form (below). In focus groups, pages that were more graphical and colorful, of course showcasing smart content, were among the most popular new design ideas presented.

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As required of any innovative, successful news media staff, the Crain’s Detroit team is running on all cylinders to produce content and serve readers and advertisers across all platforms. Taking on a major revamp across all those platforms requires lots of extra energy and effort beyond what gets published daily and weekly. Kudos to all involved.

* * *

Earlier this month, Crain’s relaunched its digital platforms to introduce responsive design, and lots of other design and content enhancements. (Aside from some input on the digital adaptations of our new logo, I wasn’t involved with those projects.) You can read more about that here from Digital Content Strategy Manager Nancy Hanus. You can also read Publisher Mary Kramer’s letter to readers this week, detailing the changes to print and digital, and their importance to the overall Crain’s Detroit’s business strategy. To view this week’s launch issue of Crain’s Detroit Business, click here.

[Consultant Ron Reason is serving through May 2015 as the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor at the School of Journalism at the University of Montana, and taking on limited redesign consulting projects during this time. To inquire about availability from May 2015 onward, email ron (at) ronreason.com.]

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