Once almost exclusively seen as fundraising vehicles with a little bit of "where are they now" tossed in, university and college alumni magazines have gone glossy and reader-friendly.
"These are the ultimate niche magazines with readerships of 100,000 to 200,000 - all focused on one subject," explains Rae Goldsmith, VP of marketing/ communications for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. "But they've gotten a lot more sophisticated because they found out their audience didn't want to read something where they're going to be asked for a gift at the end of it."
"Alumni magazines compete with every other publication that comes into the house," adds Ken Best, editor of the University of Connecticut's UConn Traditions. He says that means alumni magazines are being pushed by the same trends impacting other media.
Belmont Abbey College brought in Colleen Brannan, president of Charlotte, NC-based PR firm Brainstorm, to overhaul its magazine, Crossroads. She immediately changed the layout and included profiles on programs like the college's motorsports management course for those looking to break into NASCAR's business side.
"You're seeing a lot more professional photography [and] professional journalism because the colleges use [alumni magazines] to communicate with friends of the college, potential donors, and trustees, as well as potential students." Brannan says.
"Alumni magazines today are trying to do more than just promote the university," says Cathi Douglas, editor of Cal State-Fullerton's Titan magazine. "For example, the university has a center specializing in childhood obesity, so we'll use those professors to talk about that subject."
So have these makeovers made alumni magazines better PR targets? They have, but with a caveat.
Gerry Boyle, editor of Colby College's Colby magazine, says most alumni outlets have a better reach than you might think, despite their focus and tone. "Many of them are now online and are searchable, and while most of the [articles] are not puff pieces, they're not likely to be doing investigative reporting, either," he says.
But you still need a strong link to the school. "Most of the pitches we receive get disregarded because you have to have a Harvard link," says Catherine Chute, publisher of Harvard magazine and executive director of the Ivy League Magazine Network. "That means either you attended here or taught here or are speaking here or have some connection to the university."
PITCHING... Alumni Magazines
It's not likely to drive sales, but getting your client's executives placed in their respective alumni magazines will do wonders for their egos and could lead to some networking opportunities down the road
Most alumni magazines are now run by real journalists who appreciate a good professional PR pitch, so do make the effort
Keep in mind the different types of alumni magazines: Some the university puts out directly, others go out to dues-paying alumni only, and others aren't formally tied to the school at all