At the 2022 Azbee Awards of Excellence Banquet hosted at the annual conference this May in Cleveland, Ohio, McKinsey Quarterly walked away with top honors for the Magazine of the Year in the 11 or Fewer Issues per Year publication frequency group. The judges noted the flawless reporting, editing, and design, as well as how “the overall package came together to leave a lasting impression…setting the bar for what a B2B print magazine can be for its audience.”
“Our mandates for the print magazine from Raju Narisetti (director of global publishing) were clear: Make the magazine more visually dynamic, make it timelier and draw from a wider array of sources than in the past. We have a small team that produces the Quarterly, and that group discussed how we could make it happen,” says editorial director Rick Tetzeli. “We also discussed this with the broad group of editors and designers in McKinsey’s Global Publishing group, which was critical. In the past, the Quarterly had been siloed away from the rest of the publishing group. Now we wanted to integrate with them and get their thoughts, input and stories. We wanted this to be a magazine that reflected the work of the entire publishing group.”
For 60 years, the McKinsey Quarterly has been the leading source of management information for top business executives. Along with addressing the top priorities of business people, such as hitting financial goals, wooing and retaining top talent and running an efficient, innovative organization, there is now also more focus on stakeholders outside their walls, from NGOs and local governments to the people and environments of the communities where they are located.
“In every issue, we challenged ourselves to break out of past molds. We proceeded incrementally,” says Tetzelli. “We tried new storytelling formats; new approaches to typography; new cover artists and different, less abstract covers than in the past. We launched a new front-of-book section and then a new back-of-book section. We introduced a new Quarterly newsletter. Gradually the changes added up to a significant shift.”
It has indeed been a year of change, designed to serve all readers’ needs. The Quarterly added two new sections: Outlook and Dive In. Outlook uses the power of data visualization to bring readers the best McKinsey research. Dive In sends readers beyond the cover stories, connecting them to more great stories on mckinsey.com. The Quarterly also dialed up on design and visual storytelling, with bolder covers, features built around data-driven exhibits and layouts that are clean and inviting.
“The visual change is pronounced now, and readers notice that. Readers also seem to like the broader range of stories in the magazine,” says Tetzeli. “And they seem to be receptive to the new, chart-driven front-of-book. We weren’t sure that would be the case because the heart-and-soul of the Q is long, thoughtful analysis. But readers seem to appreciate a mix of formats for learning about new ideas.”
In 2021, the Quarterly served both the traditional and the more modern needs of executives. In Issue 2, the race package pinpointed ways for companies to develop more diverse workforces. Another package focused on managing stress. In Issue 3, they tackled the oddness of the potential return from remote from several angles, including the hybrid workplace, the need for resilience and employees’ mental health. In Issue 4, they addressed the trend that most confounded leaders in 2021: Why are employees quitting?
“These are big topics. There are two ways we tried to differentiate ourselves,” says Tetzeli. “First, we urged authors to cover just a slice of these big topics at a time. Stories that try to cover every aspect of big subjects like that often wind up diffused and vague — it’s hard to say anything when you’re trying to cover everything. Instead, the pieces have tried to offer clear, unique points, often backed by research. Second, we emphasized the emotional side of these issues. Every reader has felt something deep about the topics you mention. Rather than shy away and go theoretical, our authors embraced that.”
The judges noticed that and more as evidenced by their comments on the entries submitted by McKinsey Quarterly for the awards. “The design raises the bar through its classy and powerful look and feel. The content is highly engaging, deeply researched and reported, and incredibly useful for executives who need to make strategic decisions for their businesses. Features are engaging, and original research is impressive. Infographics are modern and minimal, making the information more digestible.”
But the team isn’t just yet resting on those laurels. Tetzeli shares, “There’s tons we must improve, and we will address those areas in future issues. I don’t think you’re ever done with a publication. Most importantly, we want to make our online presence even stronger than it is now.”
The team did celebrate the well-deserved win though, as is possible with COVID restrictions still posing concern. Tetzeli shared that they celebrated the win on an all-publishing Zoom, “which was great because it took all of the publishing group to make this change. And at some point in the future, when people actually get together in person, the smaller group that puts the Q out will get together for a drink or a nosh.”
The McKinsey Quarterly may be 60 years old, but it’s fresher now than it’s ever been, with the new approach to editorial and design.
ASBPE’s Azbee Awards of Excellence program is one of the most competitive there is for business-to-business, trade, association, and professional publications. The Azbees recognize outstanding work by magazines and digital media — websites, e-newsletters, digital magazines, social media and blogs. The Azbee Awards open for entry in November each year, so stay tuned to ASBPE.org for more information.