Best in Class: What it Takes to Be Magazine of the Year – Part One

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Quality editorial content, creating value for readers and design are just some of the attributes possessed by the 2020 Azbee Awards Magazine of the Year winners: EXHIBITOR Magazine and Security Management. Being a top-notch publication also requires the ability to navigate difficult decisions, such as the ones that have arisen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is part one of a two-part blog series that offers insights from this past year’s Magazine of the Year winners.


EXHIBITOR was awarded Magazine of the Year in the More Than $3 Million Revenue category. It has been producing content for face-to-face marketers for more than three decades. Its target audience is a mix of trade show exhibit managers and corporate event professionals. Its mission is to provide readers with the tools and education they need to produce high-performance programs with measurable results. The magazine is historically a monthly publication; however, it produced 10 print issues in 2020 due to decreased ad revenue resulting from the pandemic and the cancellation/postponement of most live trade shows and events. It is currently planning six bimonthly issues for 2021.

“The live-events industry was decimated by COVID-19, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off. We are hopeful the industry will rebound in the second or (more likely) third quarter of 2021. With many of our traditional advertisers struggling to stay in business, and the fact that we’ve postponed our own live event twice due to the pandemic, it means less revenue and more difficult decisions,” says EXHIBITOR Editor Travis Stanton. “As a result, we’re combining issues when and where it makes sense, being smart about our expenditures and creating new channels and revenue streams to serve readers and generate income.”

The majority of the magazine’s readers are still working from home, which means many of them aren’t receiving EXHIBITOR’s print issues. To adapt, the magazine launched a new digital edition earlier in the year. It’s also found other ways to provide value to its readership.

EXHIBITOR 02“We’ve launched our EXHIBITORInsight Series, which features biweekly, complimentary educational webinars that are attended by an average of roughly 250 people per session. Those webinars are then recorded and made available for subsequent on-demand viewing,” Stanton adds. “We’ve also greatly expanded our eTrak university-affiliated online-learning curriculum as well.”

To create quality content, the EXHIBITOR team spends three days holed up in a conference room pitching stories, evaluating web metrics and poring over reader surveys during its annual planning meeting.

“We work to craft each issue so there’s something for everyone and a mix of storytelling styles and techniques. Practically every issue includes a case study of an effective exhibit- or event-marketing program, as well as exclusive industry research, how-to articles, exhibit-design inspiration and logistical guides to help rookies and veterans alike do their jobs more efficiently and effectively,” Stanton says.

In order to stand out, the magazine is committed to editorial integrity, which Stanton explains is something that is lacking among trade magazines.

“Our editorial decisions are made independently and based exclusively on what we feel best serves our readers. While we do offer sponsored-content supplements and the like, the editorial content in each issue is protected by a clear separation of church and state (editorial and advertising),” he says. “That, combined with quality writing and eye-catching design, has helped us establish credibility and authoritativeness. Our readers trust us and look to us as the primary resource available on exhibit and event marketing. We never take that trust for granted.”

For those looking to create in-depth and relevant content for their readers, Stanton says it’s important for them to know their readers inside and out.

“We host monthly meetings with our editorial advisory board, conduct routine reader surveys, examine web metrics and, in the pre-COVID era, attend dozens of trade shows and events each year where we’re able to talk to those in the trade show trenches,” he says. “Additionally, we travel internationally to high-profile industry events, including world expos in China, South Korea, Italy, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates to establish global credibility that simply cannot be established any other way.”

Stanton’s advice for ASBPE members about how to submit strong Azbee Awards applications is to take it seriously.

“Unlike sales, which has objective measures of success, editorial and design departments work with subjective mediums. We use the Azbee Awards to gauge our success and track our shortcomings. Over the years, I’ve worked to foster an environment in which awards matter and third-party recognition is valued. It not only helps morale and incentivizes writers and designers to give 110%, even during these trying times, but also reminds those outside of our departments that the work we do is good—and some of it is great,” he says. “Before selecting our Azbee entries each year, I have my writers and editors all rank our best stories, columns, issues, etc. They all have an equal say in what we submit. That helps us to develop a shared ownership of what we choose to represent the magazine through the Azbee Awards each year. My design team takes a similar approach, allocating time to review the year’s work and collectively choose what best represents them and their hard work. I sincerely believe it’s a top-down kind of thing. If you, as an editor, take it seriously, over time your team will as well. I love when my writers finish stories and remark that they’d make good awards entries. It reinforces that they’re working to not just serve our readers, but to exceed their expectations and raise the bar on what’s expected of a B2B trade pub.”

The application window for ASBPE’s 2021 Azbee Awards of Excellence is now open. Click here for more information.

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