By Nenad Senic published August 2, 2011

Launching a Printed Custom Magazine: What You Need to Do Before the First Issue

Latest research in Europe found that 82% of readers spent up to 45 minutes reading a custom magazine, and 64% of readers returned to it more than once. Can you imagine your prospects, customers and business partners spending so much active time with your brand? Heaven, right?

For this reason, many companies include custom magazines within their content marketing strategy. If you are starting down this path, there are five steps you need to take before you start planning the first issue.

This post examines what goes into making a great and effective custom publication and what you need to do to ensure its success.

1. Define your objectives

Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Why have you decided to launch a printed custom magazine?
  • How does your magazine fit into your content marketing strategy?

This first step is crucial because everything else, no matter how important or detailed it may seem, depends on well-defined objectives. As they say it at the British Association of Publishing Agencies, “The tighter your objectives, the sharper the focus and the better the results.”

2. Define your target audience

In order for objectives to be achieved, you need to know exactly who your target audience is. Do research:

  • What are your buyer personas?
  • What are their pain points?
  • How do you already communicate with them?
  • What do they read?
  • Are they a homogenous group, or are there two or more very distinct groups within your target audience?

The answer to the last question will help you make a decision about segmentation.  Is there a need for two or more different editions of one issue? For instance, Chief Content Officer by the Content Marketing Institute is segmented into different editions, based on the locations of its readers: the US, Australia, Europe, and Spain.

3. Define the main concept

What content will be in your new printed custom magazine? What will be its main message? What underlying messages do you plan to communicate? In his book, Samir Husni (aka Mr. Magazine™ ) stresses that the concept is the only constant in your magazine: “Your magazine’s editorial concept is like a lighthouse on a foggy coastline . . .everything that ends up in your magazine must look to this lighthouse of a concept for direction.”

Every part of your magazine should be well-defined before you begin to think about the first issue. Moreover, if you can’t fathom what content you could put in the first four issues, you will find yourself in trouble very soon. Here are some of the things you need to define from the outset:

Covers: Readers see the cover first, and they decide within a few seconds if they are interested in opening the mag rather than throwing it away. Consider what the cover should include:

  • Do you want to use an original photo or illustration?
  • What will the theme be?
  • How many headlines do you want to include?
  • Do you want to include page numbers and your company’s logo?
  • What will be their overall concept?

Sections: The sections/departments of your magazine should be relevant, recognizable and easy-to find in every issue. Keep things simple and consistent from issue to issue.

Your editorial board: Do you plan to do it all internally? I would suggest that you (also) appoint a publishing/content marketing agency. Additionally, based on the concept, will you use internal authors, outside journalists or both?

4. Technical parameters

There are a number of parameters to consider for each issue:

Page count: Custom magazines should be at least 24 pages long, but many have at least 36 pages. The length of the magazine depends on the content, the use of photography and other visual representations (illustrations, infographics).

Page/spread size: What page size is consistent with the messages, content, genres and your brand? Also consider how you will be distributing the magazine (whether in-store or by mail). If your main distribution channel is by mail, make sure your magazine will fit into average mailboxes.

Type of paper: You need to decide between matte or gloss, coated and uncoated paper. There are also eco-friendly papers. However, the traditional non-written rules about which type of paper to use are getting blurred. Glossy paper has been traditionally used in magazines that want to showcase the visual elements in the mag (especially photos). But that is not necessarily always the case. For example,  Completely London,  one of the best custom magazines  by estate agency KFH.,  isn’t published on  glossy paper but  it still has a high-end look and feel.

When considering the paper type and weight ask yourself what your intended magazine’s life expectancy is as well as how important is its readability and image quality. Don’t forget to price out paper as some paper is more expensive than others, which can make your project drastically more expensive.

Issue’s circulation: Printing and mailing costs can be quite high, so consider these when you decide. It also means you really need to know who your target audience is and its size.

Magazine’s frequency: Research shows that to achieve its main objectives a custom magazine should be at least quarterly.

5. Design a magazine

Find a good designer. His/her job is to design a magazine with all the necessary elements. You need to work together.

Now, you are finally ready to plan the first issue, which I’ll discuss in detail in my next post.

Did I miss anything? What do you think? Let us know.

Author: Nenad Senic

Nenad Senic, from Slovenia, is a published researcher, award-winning teacher, and experienced journalist turned into a brand editor dedicated to helping companies and organizations build long-term relationships with their target audiences and grow profits by creating better content. He is a European editor of Chief Content Officer by CMI. Nenad has already created and edited numerous custom magazines. He collects custom and B2B magazines, special publications and annual reports from all over the world and reads them daily. On his blog (, he advises Slovene companies how to improve their custom and B2B publications. Follow Nenad on Twitter @NenadSenic.

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  • Mike Klassen

    When I’m working with clients on their custom magazines, we also spend a good amount of time talking about the back cover since it may actually be seen before the front cover.

    What can go there depends on the type of magazine, but some sort of tease or “big picture” idea about what’s inside doesn’t hurt when either the postal service, or the person bringing in the mail from the mailbox, tosses all the mail that day into a messy pile where the magazine may no longer be face-up.

    In some cases, that back cover may be an ad, but if it’s not, consider that some readers may see the back first and put something there that will have punch.

    • Nenad Senic

      Hi Mike, you’re so right. Thank you for reminding me.

      There are so many options with the back cover too. An ad is usually placed there. But it better be an eye-catching ad, worthy of the mag.

      Another option is that a photo/illustration or whatever you place on the cover page is not only one-page, rather it is a spread (front and back cover), so it continues onto the back cover. Yet another option is to have 2 cover pages: I’ve edited a magazine by 2 medical centers; the mag is divided into half, 180 degrees turned in the middle, so it has two cover pages. 

      • Mike Klassen

        I love the front/back spread idea. It hasn’t come up yet in any projects I’ve done, but I’d love to do one like that.

        When done right, it can definitely lead the reader to follow the picture from back to front if they see the back first.

        Thanks for mentioning that option.

  • research papers

    Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll make sure it’s included in the thinking.

  • research papers

    Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll make sure it’s included in the thinking.