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“We were a members-only magazine for more than 10 years,” she says. “We’ve grown and changed its focus over the years from a very internal, manufacturing educational type of magazine, to become more focused on our members marketing their businesses—it’s become more clear that outreach to retailers, i.e. our members’ customers, was the most important thing we could do. It’s not cheap to create and print a magazine. The magazine was doing ok, but it was very low circulation, about 5,000.”
The Board of Directors of the Association for Retail Environments approved the relaunch of the magazine in March 2011 as a retail customer focused publication, which put Schaffner on the path of circulation extension. Schaffner says with a circulation of just 5,000, it was hard to secure crucial advertising support needed for production, something that would help advance the mission of the publication for the association's members.
“As soon as we got the board approval, we rapidly got to work on executing our plan,” she says. “We’re the sponsoring association for our industry tradeshow and as part of that sponsorship we get the list of attendees at the event every year. We also do our own retail events, so we had a database of retailer names, but we had a lot of work to do to get it in shape for the magazine launch.”
With the assistance from Hallmark Data Systems, the group was able to streamline the circulation process and get the help it needed to properly execute its goal of increasing its reach from 5,000 to 15,000 by the November/December issue, which it was able to achieve. The group pulled together the top 100 retail lists from various groups, including the National Retail Federation and Fast Company, among others. There was an emphasis on a retailer’s title when wading through this data; to ensure the most influential decision makers were included.
“It’s a huge chore to pull together a good, clean list,” says Schaffner. “Our circulation manager, who had never done magazine circulation before, we put her in the job because she had worked on our database, but she’s been thrilled with the outside help. We also brought in a part-time, temporary person to help with our circulation marketing—although I’ve been a publisher, and worked on the editorial and sales sides, I had never worked directly in circulation either.”
Return rates, Schaffner says, are very low because the group was able to carefully examine the database to merge and eliminate various list sources. Since the magazine has a controlled circulation, the publisher is not looking to grow the magazine's reach, but rather to become an audited publication. Within next year or so, Retail Environments hope to apply for a BPA Worldwide audit.
“We’re in a niche market, so controlled circulation for us is the solution for a market like this,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure our lists are as clean as can be—it will be a continual refinement of that list and our next goal is to get to [request levels of] 50 percent plus 1. For publications that have been around for a long time, that seems rather elementary. In an age of non-response, that’s an uphill battle—we’ll keep trudging along, coming up with as many different ways as we can to reach out to our audience.”
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