More is More: 6 Ways to Serve Readers in a Down Economy

As the economy struggles to right itself after the 18-month Great Recession, readers need business-to-business publications more than ever. But the recession has affected practically every sector, publishing included.

So how, with smaller staffs and anemic page counts, can you continue to deliver relevant content to your audience? Conventional wisdom states that those who work smarter than ever to succeed during the bad times will find themselves far ahead of those who hunker down and wait for salad days to return. Here are a few tips for working smarter and delivering practical coverage for helping readers to do the same.

1. Acknowledge the bad times. Don’t hide behind Pollyanna optimism and spin, and don’t ignore what’s going on in the hopes that you’ll lift your readers’ spirits. This isn’t business as usual.

2. Offer hope and encouragement. As the editor of a publication geared toward insurance producers, the news isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. But with everything we do – illustration, photography, story tone – we attempt to imbue a sense of “you can do it.” It’s in nobody’s best interest to be so full of gloom that your readers decide to jump ship and switch to another career field.

3. Feature reader-generated stories and advice. My magazine features a two-person editorial staff and a less-than-amazing freelance budget. Yet our most popular story to date – one that has been in the top five most popular stories on our website every month since it first ran in December 2009 – was one called “52 Prospecting Tips for 52 Weeks.” We asked readers, regular contributors, and other experts for their best tips on finding new clients in a new economy. Often, five minutes spent putting a call out for such submissions – on Twitter, in LinkedIn groups, on your Facebook fan page, on the home page of your magazine and within its pages, via email – can net a feature package that serves your readers better than any 2,000-word staff-written story.

4. Run more content than ever. Your budgets and print magazines are shrinking, so this advice probably sounds crazy. But when you take advantage of the limitless space of your website, your social media presence, your blogs, you have plenty of space to bring readers the insight they need to survive. And when you turn to readers and industry contributors to supply you with this content, budgets shouldn’t be an issue.

5. Diversify your reach. Consider how different readers want to receive your content, and deliver it that way. Despite what you may think, this is actually a great time to experiment with new technologies and delivery media. Many companies and service providers are offering lower rates and free trials to try their technology. Can you experiment with ways to optimize your content for the iPad or mobile devices? Can you look into e-newsletters packaged around specific reader needs? What about digital publication of your online issues to expand your audience without cramping your postage and printing budget? Get creative now so your new strategy is firmly in place when the clouds begin to lift.

6. Talk to readers on their turf. The worst thing you can do is guess at your readers’ needs and blindly throw content at them. Instead, reach out to your readers on a regularly basis. Visit (and participate in) online discussion forums, amp up your social media presence and interact with readers where they already are, comment on blogs, attend professional events – even travel, if you can. Get personal. Find out what their pain points are. Then, you can figure out what they need before they need it – and deliver.

Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal, a business-to-business publication for life and health insurance agents. Follow her on Twitter at @cpellett.

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