Why Your Association Magazine Needs a Professional Editor

Your association magazine is one of the most visible and valuable benefits you can offer your members. It’s where you tell their stories and celebrate their successes; it’s also where you share industry news, insights and association information. When done properly, your magazine will keep members engaged and excited. In fact, a good magazine is directly tied to attracting and retaining members.  

A skilled and knowledgeable editor is key to putting out a successful magazine issue after issue. But what exactly does an association magazine editor do? In this post, we’ll look at the role of association magazine editors through the eyes and experiences of our very own m3Magazines editorial team. 

What Is a Magazine Editor? 

According to the job listings site Indeed, magazine editors are professionals who “plan, manage and produce magazines for publication.” 

When dealing specifically with association magazines, there’s another layer of nuance in the role of editor, as explained by m3Magazine’s Paula Felps, who manages the award-winning publication WomenPolice for the International Association of Women Police. 

“The challenge with associations is you really have to understand the individual mindset of each association because they’re all different. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Being able to understand the individual intentions and needs of an association is everything.”

What Do Association Magazine Editors Do? 

Associations that produce magazines may have an internal staff member who serves as editor, usually in addition to other association roles. Or they may outsource the magazine and its editorial duties to an individual contractor or a publishing company

In each scenario, the magazine editor is responsible for the tasks required to produce a publication that informs, engages and entertains association members. This can include: 

  • Content planning and management. Each issue needs to be mapped out and planned well in advance to ensure the content aligns with the association’s mission, goals and values. This can include gathering story ideas, creating a story lineup and building an editorial calendar. 
  • Editorial leadership. Editors lead a team of professional writers and/or member contributors, designers and photographers to manage the flow of content and ensure deadlines are met. 
  • Copyediting and proofreading. Editors review content for clarity, accuracy and consistency. For association editors, this can also include working with subject matter experts to ensure accuracy around nuanced or technical industry content. 
  • Budget management. Editors are often responsible for managing the magazine’s budget, ensuring that all the costs — from freelance contributions to printing — fit within the association’s spending targets
  • Tracking industry trends. Members turn to your magazine for thought leadership in the industry. Magazine editors need to stay on top of trends and latest developments within the industry to provide accurate and thoughtful content to members. 

One of the most significant roles of an association magazine editor is ensuring that the association’s vision, mission and values come through in each issue without being obvious or cliche. 

“There’s an overarching message that needs to be threaded through,” says Lisa Horn, an m3Magazines editor who heads up Mended Hearts Inc.’s award-winning publication Heartbeat. “You have to understand what the mission is and how you can integrate that throughout the publication without it belaboring a point.” 

Think you can’t afford to hire a pro? Learn how partnering with an experienced publishing company can actually save you money. 

Why Your Magazine Needs a Professional Editor 

Working with a professional editor can benefit your magazine in many ways. Chief among them: they’re professionals who have the experience, knowledge and capacity to take a magazine from concept to completion. Here are a few other benefits of hiring a professional editor: 

They have a single focus. In many associations, every staff member wears multiple hats. That means an internal communications person is likely responsible for all member outreach, including digital marketing, internal newsletters, events and many things that pop up daily. The magazine can easily take a back seat to more urgent matters. An outside editor is singularly focused on keeping the magazine on track. 

“Oftentimes association staff is stretched pretty thin,” says m3Magazines’ Wendy Angel, editor of Safe & Vault for the Safe & Vault Technicians Association and Keynotes for ALOA SPAI. “Having someone on the outside to manage the process helps keep them on schedule.”

m3Magazines Editor Pull Quote

They are magazine experts. No one cares more about your association and members than you do. Professional editors care about you — their client — and their craft, including the accuracy and quality of what goes into your publication. They stay current on trends in magazine publishing and can make recommendations based on research and years of experience in the industry. 

“Association staff members are experts in whatever association they’re in or that industry, but they’re not experts in publishing or writing or editing,” Horn says. “Finding someone who is the expert in that [allows you] to present the association in the best light.”

They can act as a buffer. Many associations publish content produced by members or written by association leadership. These contributors aren’t necessarily writers, and oftentimes their submissions need additional editing work. For internal editors who answer to leadership and members, this can be a tricky line to walk. 

Felps recalls the time a high-ranking member submitted an article for publication that was not up to the magazine’s editorial standards. Association leadership felt uncomfortable approaching the writer about the needed edits, but Felps was happy to step in and have that conversation. “It can be helpful to be able to have the editor come in and be the heavy,” she says. 

They have a particular set of skills. Many professional editors have a journalism background. They have fine-tuned research skills along with an insatiable curiosity. This makes them idea-generating machines who are always looking for ways to make your content more engaging and appealing to members. 

For example, Felps has active Google alerts set for topics around female policing. “I keep up with any kind of newsy types of things that are happening in the industry,” she says. “That helps me be able to come up with story ideas as we start to put together each issue.”

They make you look and sound good. Just because your CEO isn’t a writer doesn’t mean readers need to know that. A professional editor can work with columnists, leadership and members who aren’t skilled writers to convey a clear message without losing the author’s voice and style.  

“Sometimes the content that comes in is really choppy and lacks flow. We get a lot of that from people who aren’t writers, and that’s OK. I mean, they’re not writers; it’s not what they do by profession,” Horn says. “They don’t know how to weave a narrative through to tell a story. That’s one of the ways we can help. We can polish and streamline what they’re trying to say so that it can be understood by the reader.”

They can expand coverage and reach. An editor who is part of a larger publishing company has the resources to build out your content to include digital channels. Having a digital arm of your magazine, a functioning website and other social touchpoints expands your reach and draws members in even more. 

During the pandemic, Angel was able to help one of the publications save money and stay connected to members by creating a limited-run digital edition backed by an email campaign. While the magazine’s print version has returned, the new digital product continues thriving. 

“We’ve continued and expanded on digital offerings,” she says. “We’ve incorporated more video online and promote digital content in the magazine.” 

Finding the Right Editor for Your Association

Finding the right combination of editorial expertise and association know-how can take time and effort. When you work with a magazine publisher that has a solid background in association magazines, you also get peace of mind knowing that your editor will understand how to put out a great magazine. They’ll know precisely how to produce your magazine for your unique industry and membership. 

“We almost take on the role of an interpreter for them,” Angel says. “Our job is to bring clarity, color and purpose to what they’re trying to do with the magazine to make it beneficial for their members and the industry overall.”

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