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Is Print the Code that Cracks the Safe to Reaching People? World Wildlife Fund Introduces World Wildlife Magazine in Print, on the Web, and of Course, on the Tablet. Mr. Magazine™ Talks About This Step Into Print Integrated With Editorial Director, Alex MacLennan.

December 2, 2013

When WWF started envisioning World Wildlife magazine, we knew that we wanted to find new ways to inspire you, connect you to nature, and bring you even closer to our shared world.

World Wildlife-9 “We knew that we wanted to find new ways to inspire you…,” and lo and behold, the new way is a MAGAZINE. The quote above is from Alex MacLennan’s introduction to the first issue of World Wildlife magazine. Alex is editorial director of the new magazine published by the World Wildlife Fund. WWF is the world’s leading conservation organization; WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally.

“We knew that we wanted to find new ways to inspire you…,” and lo and behold, the new way is a MAGAZINE.

The excitement of being able to bring the organization’s supporters a print magazine that they can actually feel and touch is palpable as Alex MacLennan, Editorial Director at World Wildlife Fund, talks to Mr. Magazine™ about showcasing long-form journalism and beautiful photography within the pages of their ink on paper platform.

Changing the way they connect and communicate to members and supporters is vital, MacLennan believes, to the success of the goals the organization is trying to achieve. And he’s hoping the print form will be the code that cracks the safe to reaching people about the importance of WWF’s vision.

So sit back and enjoy Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Alex MacLennan, Editorial Director at WWF.

But first the sound-bites:

On the reason behind a print platform now, in this day and age: Why now? The reason we expanded and changed our publication’s model and the reason we went to a full-based magazine now was because I think that the parallel we looked at would be of other non-profit organizations and universities and the real value of having something we can send into someone’s home and that we’re not doing just an email that can be easily ignored.

On using direct mail for their digest edition and if the hope is to propel the print version: Well, yes, sort of. When we decided that we wanted to change the way we talked to our members, we also knew that we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend and obviously printing and mailing a full-size magazine was much more expensive than printing and mailing a newsletter.

On why someone would contribute or become a member when everything is free on the digital platform: We’re not selling the print magazine, right? We offer it as a thank you to members at a certain level. So we’re not at this point choosing the print versions as rewards for higher donations in anyway. We are investing in the model that you see in a lot of digital thinking that free content is the best path to loyal supporters.

On whether the money they’re spending on the varied platforms is reaching a relevant audience: What we did is look at our entire supporter list of a couple of million people and we said who should get what and that’s how we decided what to send to people. So it’s really targeted, even though the tablet and the web could be discovered by anyone, we are emailing for the first time we’ve ever done this in a consistent planned way as a publication scheme is we are emailing our full list of two and a half million supporters, most of whom don’t give any money, an email that reads download the app or go online and read it right now.

On the gamble on print: We know that a personal connection to us and to our issues is what causes people to act. Whether that act is getting solar panels on their roof or giving money to the organization, speaking out about legislation that’s important or calling for a ban on ivory, calling for the Prime Minister of Thailand to ban ivory trade in her country; we know that a direct personal connection to us and to the cause is the best way to get people to do that.

On what keeps him up at night: What keeps me up at night is making me good enough to make people who don’t care, care. I think that my fear is I haven’t cracked the code on creating magazine stories, whether departments or features, that are specific and universal enough that anyone who stumbles upon it is going to feel that tug in their chest and say that I want to make a difference here.

World Wildlfe-8And now the lightly edited transcript of Mr. Magazine’s™ interview with Alex MacLennan, Editorial Director at World Wildlife Fund.

Samir Husni: When everybody is selling the public on the future of digital; why after all these years are you publishing a printed magazine right now, plus the tablet and the web; why now?

Alex MacLennan: Why now? The reason we expanded and changed our publication’s model and the reason we went to a full-based magazine now was because I think that the parallel we looked at would be of other non-profit organizations and universities and the real value of having something we can send into someone’s home and that we’re not doing just an email that can be easily ignored, that we are sort of offering our best right to someone’s doorstep, and hopefully to their coffee table and also to have photos clipped out and put up on their refrigerators, is important. And to really share the big complex, beautiful story of what we’re trying to do in the most direct, visceral, personal way.

So that’s why print. That’s why we said that we need a magazine that gives us different ways of telling stories, short, quick accessible stuff, plus long-form journalism, plus amazing photographs. We just really looked at who are members are and what they’re looking for and how they want to feel connected to us. So it’s like offering them something of quality that comes to their home and hopefully they will keep and be proud of and have a stack on their coffee table and in their bookshelf and see the importance of how we’re trying to stay connected with them.

Samir Husni: I see you also have a digest edition that’s going with the direct mail and then you have the full-length edition; can you tell me a little bit about the thinking behind that? Is that a direct mail, sort of like let’s bombard everybody with the digest and hopefully it will be the bait and they will get the magazine?

Alex MacLennan: Well, yes, sort of. We had a direct mail newsletter which went to almost all the active membership for many, many years; it’s 35 years old and we just started the 36th edition. That was part of a membership, sort of an education and also a revenue stream.

When we decided that we wanted to change the way we talked to our members, we also knew that we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend and obviously printing and mailing a full-size magazine was much more expensive than printing and mailing a newsletter.

What we did was we looked at our budget for the project and said: how could we shift the most money to story gathering, to actually sending writers out into the field to talk to the people and find out what’s happening, to actually sending photographers out to the places where things are going on, and how do we shift our financial model to allow for that, rather than putting all the money into printing and mailing.

So, what we came up with was a full-sized magazine to a small print run, the digest version to a larger group and the tablet app and web content intentionally free and behind no firewalls so that as many people as possible can get it. We really tried to build a kind of a multi-tiered approach that fit our budget and allowed us to do the things that we wanted to do and really change our model.

In the past the newsletter was only for members who had made a donation. Now, while the print versions are only for members who have made a donation, the digital versions are free to everyone. Really what we wanted to do was find a way to give this content to anyone who might be interested in it and then might come closer to us as an organization.

Samir Husni: So the logical question one has to ask is why would I contribute or become a member if I can get everything for free on the digital side?

Alex MacLennan: We’re not selling the print magazine, right? We offer it as a thank you to members at a certain level. So we’re not at this point choosing the print versions as rewards for higher donations in anyway. We are investing in the model that you see in a lot of digital thinking that free content is the best path to loyal supporters.

So yes, we don’t expect that anyone would give a certain dollar amount to get the print version at home. We’ve gotten some calls about that since we launched and we tell people the beginning level to get the print version of the full-sized magazine is $20 a month or $250 a year and some people are very interested in that and don’t bat an eye, but really that’s not the message and that’s not our goal. The goal is to get as many people to look at our stuff as possible and then, very intentionally, we want to make sure that the people who are closest to us get this kind of bonus product, and you’re right, there’s more content on the app and online than there is even in the full-sized magazine, because of the videos and the links.

For example, on the use-your-noodle piece, under the object of conservation, there’s actually more fact on the app and the digital version, than there are in the print version. So really the most expansive product is the free one.

We just believe if people have the opportunity to connect with what we’re doing and to feel it in a more personal or visceral way, that we will benefit from that. Maybe it’s not as quantified, but that will be good for us too and our cause.

Samir Husni: So you’re really more in the mission field than the merchant field?

Alex MacLennan: Oh, absolutely! We are a non-profit and our goal is to get people to care about this and hopefully to do something about it.

Samir Husni: From what I’ve seen, the magazine looks great.

Alex MacLennan: It feels really good. The cover has the nicest feel to the touch. It makes me really happy.

Samir Husni: In this day and age, where organizations, including non-profits, feel they have to be everywhere; how can you ensure that the money you’re spending, whether on print or the web, is reaching a relevant audience? With print, you have the donation list, but how do you reach the relevant audience for the WWF via casting this wide net? Are you hoping that people will hear about it and go to the web, or are you also using direct mail to send people to the web?

Alex MacLennan: Yes, we are very much. If you look at the numbers, we looked very closely at our members and supporters who don’t give money; we looked at our entire list and that’s how we decided who gets what.

It’s not just the giving levels, but it’s the people who give at a certain level or the people who are supporters. We have a certain thing called a conservation action network where people can write their senators and say I care about this particular issue, so people like that can get the print magazine. Or people who haven’t given more than $5 a year, but they’ve given every year for 10 years.

So there’s all these ways that we’ve identified groups that we really believe are close to us. We have a VIP list and we’re sending it to political people, corporations and foundations, governmental groups that we think should know about what we’re doing.

What we did is look at our entire supporter list of a couple of million people and we said who should get what and that’s how we decided what to send to people. So it’s really targeted, even though the tablet and the web could be discovered by anyone, we are emailing for the first time we’ve ever done this in a consistent planned way as a publication scheme, is we are emailing our full list of two and a half million supporters, most of whom don’t give any money, an email that reads download the app or go online and read it right now. We want you to have this.

So the idea was sort of two-fold, targeted, but hoping that we can push it out, and push it out into the social world. We’re working with Facebook and Twitter to push out particular stories at particular times and it makes sense to try and lure people in. I would call it a targeted scattershot. It’s this targeted approach to making sure everybody that we have access to gets the right version for them and then additional work to push awareness farther out and hopefully people will find us.

Samir Husni: If you are a betting man; are you putting your money on the print edition to have the most impact on the people, the actual movers and shakers of the areas of concern to you? Why gamble on print in this day and age?

Alex MacLennan: We know that a personal connection to us and to our issues is what causes people to act. Whether that act is getting solar panels on their roof or giving money to the organization, speaking out about legislation that’s important or calling for a ban on ivory, calling for the Prime Minister of Thailand to ban ivory trade in her country; we know that a direct personal connection to us and to the cause is the best way to get people to do that.

While we have social media action, while we have all the contents of the magazine on the website, while we have these different ways of getting it out; we really believe that being able to put the print product in someone’s home where they can peruse it at their leisure, where they can read long-form, print magazines are still a more likely place to read long-form journalism, we believe we can give it to people. We can put a copy in the mail with a personal note; it’s very old school, I guess. We can tell them that we want them to be aware of this. Our president and CEO goes to a lot of big meetings with influential people who could affect our goals and he takes a handful of magazines with him now and he offers them to people and people take them. And that’s a much more direct and personal way to build a relationship and to engender support than, I think, a digital platform.

We’re in no way against digital; I do want to emphasize that. We’re doing it all. But there’s something in the delivery of this print product that’s more personal and makes it more direct and a more genuine connection.

Samir Husni: What keeps you up at night?

Alex MacLennan: What keeps me up at night is making me good enough to make people who don’t care, care. I think that my fear is I haven’t cracked the code on creating magazine stories, whether departments or features, that are specific and universal enough that anyone who stumbles upon it is going to feel that tug in their chest and say that I want to make a difference here.

I read magazines, of course, and I watch them and see magazines that can make me read 3,000 words about something I never thought I would care about. And I think that we have to do that with this magazine and we have a lot of internal pressures to tell stories about specific work we’re doing, specific goals we have, like getting a ban on ivory trade or help fisheries understand how to do their work more sustainably.

But how do I, as the editor, create stories that are going to make any person on the street feel that as a deep personal thing. And I wake up, more like 3 o’clock in the morning than during the night, and I don’t think anyone has really cracked that code.

The thing that really keeps me up at night, I would say, are these insanely in depth, impressive digital storytelling packages that are really pushing the boundaries of what websites and responsive design, video and integration, animation and all these things can do and I feel like I can’t tell if we should be putting more energy there or if the investments we have made in the platforms that we’re committed to is the right place. It all changes so fast, it’s hard to know if you’re keeping up.

Samir Husni: Having said that; if money were no object what would you do different with the magazine and the approach that you’ve done?

Alex MacLennan: If money was no object we would send a reporter and a photographer for every story. We would, and this is not money, this is time, be able to go deeper and never accept the first answer we get on what’s the way to tell the story and we would really dig to find the best way. We would also give it to a lot more people. If money were no object, I would have the print magazine in every doctor’s office in the country. I would have the print magazine in every auto shop waiting room in the country and in every hotel room in the country. That would be my dream.

It would be to make it the best that we can and give it to as many people as possible.

Samir Husni: Anything you’d like to add?

Alex MacLennan: I do love print magazines. I mean, I have my iPad and all my subscriptions are both…I read both ways. And I think it’s important that we do that.

Our first issue was iPad only, but we are retroactively optimizing it for the Droid platforms and with the second issue both Apple and Droid platforms will be represented for tablets. The website is totally optimized and will look beautiful on your cell, so we’re kind of hitting the mobile thing.

But I think it’s important to meet people where they are, but I still think something that someone can hold in their hand, I mean, you just see people reading magazines that way and I just want more people to read this one.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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  1. […] the whole article Is Print the Code that Cracks the Safe to Reaching People? World Wildlife Fund Introduces World Wild… on the website Mr. […]



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