Presenters: Matt Jennings, Middlebury Magazine, Middlebury College; Jason Treat, Art Director, The Atlantic
Conversations about magazine covers. Great follow-up to the keynote from Wired creative director Scott Dadich.
Lesson #1: Every magazine editor thinks other editors get to do whatever they want! But really, every publication has limitations.
You can’t assume that just because you’re the magazine of someone’s alma mater, they’re going to give it even a second of attention. As Tina Hay says, readers are fundamentally disinclined to care about what’s in your magazine. You have to MAKE them care.
If you have an administrator who is nervous about provocative content, ask “Well what makes YOU open a magazine?”
Your readers were challenged and provoked and surprised in the classroom and during their time at your institution, so shouldn’t your magazine do the same thing?
Matt Jennings tip: Offer a truly ridiculous idea first (Hey, why don't we get this couple to reenact that John and Yoko cover!) and then your real idea won’t sound so scary.
A good cover should:
We remember and talk about provocative magazine covers decades later (Think Esquire cover with Mohammed Ali pierced by arrows)
University magazines are fortunate because we don’t have to load up on coverlines to sell an issue.
A cover can be provocative by making you laugh (Texas Monthly with photo illustration of gun-toting Dick Cheney: If you don’t buy this magazine, Dick Cheney will shoot you in the face; New Yorker cover with Elliot Spitzer and strategically placed arrow indicating where his “Brain” is)
If you have an amazing photo, you don’t even need a single cover line (Texas Monthly Willie Nelson issue. New Yorker blacked out post-9/11 issue.)
The power of a strong type treatment (Esquire: “Oh my God- we hit a little girl.” The true story of M Company. From Fort Dix to Vietnam.)
BUT make sure your story backs it up. Don’t cry wolf with tantalizing headline or quote, followed by luke warm story. Then your readers won’t trust you.
If you have a researcher who is going to revolutionize his field, don’t put him on the cover. Put his IDEA on the cover, in the form of a question (Time mag: Is God Dead? The Atlantic – cover full of questions)
-Strong characters, human interest, the well-known all make for good photography-based covers
-Dartmouth magazine “Law and Order” cover of Providence police chief who was Dartmouth alum; Occidental “Match Maker” cover with bald woman with leukemia
-Go in with ideas you want, but embrace the unexpected (Occidental mag photo was taken after the official shoot was over)
-Place your subject in a setting that makes reader ask what he or she is doing there (Middlebury magazine “Troubled Waters” cover of professor sitting in the middle of a stream – represents conflict of a scholar’s faith going up against his research)
(Side note: Every story does not have to be a mouthpiece for the university. Sometimes it’s just saying “We care about you and your lives.” Middlebury mag story about alum whose child had cancer. Just about her story – mentioned the college once. Received tons of comments)
-The well-known – how do you cover a subject who has already been on the cover of tons of magazines? Find a way to show them in a way they’ve never been shown before.
-Cover is supposed to differentiate yourself
-From Dale Keiger: We don’t have to compete on the newsstand, but we have to compete on the nightstand. Your reader might have degrees from multiple universities, their spouse went to a different university and their kid goes to a different university. Your reader might have 6 different alumni magazines coming to their mailbox, in addition to all the commercial magazines they subscribe to.
-When choosing cover story, pick good story with great art over a great story with so-so art
-Research, Science, Issues lend themselves to illustrations
-Middlebury “The War Within” cover on how stress of combat affects your brain
-Sometimes the art informs the headline, and vice versa
-Matt Jennings says Notre Dame, Kenyon do great illustrated covers
-Illustrations give you a chance to infuse some humor into the publication (Penn Stater “Wired for Sleep”)
-Don’t repeat the obvious with your coverline if the illustration/photo already clearly says it
-Sometimes the cover is not tied to any content in your magazine – it just says who you are (Middlebury summertime cartoon)
-Don’t assume it’s out of your budget!
Web resource: ucda.com has resource for working with illustrators
Matt is working on uploading the Powerpoint presentation, which was loaded with examples of great magazine covers. If anyone would like him to e-mail the file to them (rather than waiting for the PowerPoint), just drop him a line at mjenningATmiddlebury.edu. (No need to e-mail him if you already gave him your business card.)