Two magazines from two nonprofits I belong to came in the mail last week. One fits the image the organization is trying to portray, and the other doesn’t.
The Sierra Club’s magazine is printed on recycled paper. This is actually a fairly big deal in the publishing world. Lots of magazines write about environmental issues and have terrible in-house practices themselves. (See Marc Gunther’s Fortune article on not-so-green magazines). The Sierra Club’s photography in Sierra is often breathtaking, but they use only a matte coated paper that gives the photos a little shine — no heavy gloss. The design and printing choices reinforce the message: conserve and save the planet.
On the other hand, the Public Relations Society of America’s magazine, The Public Relations Strategist, has a high-gloss cover. It is so slick and smooth that you can’t stack much on top of it because the pile will slide off. I suppose that this is meant to say, “We are high-class.” The problem is that several articles inside the magazine complain about how the public relations profession is derided as being — one guess, here — SLICK! If you don’t want people to call you slick, why is your magazine the slickest thing on my desk?
This same issue comes up with nonprofit newsletters and annual reports all the time. Nonprofits fear that if they make their print publications look too nice, donors will think they are wasting money. My advice is to find the middle ground. You can look sharp and professional without looking glitzy. And make sure the look and feel of your print materials matches your message.