I’ve followed a rather interesting writing and editing path over the course of my career. My most recent six-and-a-half-year tenure as the associate editor at an association magazine has been some of the most enlightening work yet—it forced me to be more flexible, creative, and innovative in how I managed the magazine’s editorial process.
Associations are created to fulfill training, resource, networking, and event gaps for industry professionals who want to connect with like-minded experts and continue their education in that respective field. But behind the scenes, associations can face budgetary limitations that can negatively influence requests for staffing, resources, and innovative updates to work products, like paper-quality improvements or website redesigns. It isn’t uncommon for association staff to wear many hats and handle multiple responsibilities.
Our association magazine was an intimately small, but incredibly talented, in-house staff of editors and designers. My direct reporting line was our editor-in-chief, and I was his sole editor. Our brilliant art director handled the design of our magazine, but also managed all collateral for other association initiatives. I also worked on a plethora of non-magazine projects within our association’s marketing department.
Our tiny but mighty team was regularly forced to consider how we could effectively produce original and compelling content while thinking outside the box. Every year our customers consistently rated our 76-page bimonthly publication the number one benefit of membership. So, how did we do it with staffing, budget, and time constraints?
I learned that we could make up for limitations by tapping into the talent of the very members that comprised the industry. For the most part, subject-matter experts contributed the copy that became our articles. The substantive editing that followed was often laborious and tedious—these contributors aren’t necessarily professional writers, after all. However, association magazines by and large can’t exist without expert-driven content. Subject-matter experts share their expertise while editors work magic to help their concepts flourish on the page.
Where we couldn’t find the content, my editor and I threw on our writing caps and shifted into author mode. We wrote the Q&As, narrative profiles, news items, and even the occasional deep dive. And when we were spread too thin, we usually could make a compelling case to management to hire freelance writers and editors. Often, our freelance writers were association members who also had a knack for writing and a desire to be more widely seen—a win-win!
When we didn’t have the time to fact-check, we would ask the authors to provide their sources—and to source them properly. Though we could easily research these seemingly simple ideas ourselves, it became too time-intensive to do so when we were staring down the barrel of features, columns, departments, and deadlines.
Associations can face budgetary limitations that can negatively influence requests for staffing, resources, and innovative updates to work products. Our tiny but mighty team was regularly forced to consider how we could effectively produce original and compelling content while thinking outside the box.
Our art director used local photographers and aspiring illustrators when our budget got tight. Every five years we asked printers for bids to make sure the one we worked with was offering competitive pricing, and then we insisted that our printer front the cost of travel and lodging for press checks. We co-mailed our magazine with other publications to save on cost, and we highlighted association initiatives in print when we were short on technical copy.
It took constant creativity to stay ahead of the game, and when the issue finally went to print, we’d sigh with satisfaction and start again. It was never easy, but it was always rewarding when the advance copies would hit my desk or when we’d receive a member email congratulating us on another issue well done.
Editing for Association Magazines was originally published in Tracking Changes (Fall 2020 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.
Header photo by Asya Tes on Unsplash.