When you think of the words “hospital” and “magazine” in the same sentence, your mind might conjure up an image of patients and families passing the time in a waiting area, flipping through the pages of periodicals to keep their minds busy in anticipation of a scheduled appointment or while awaiting news of a loved one. But magazines can serve a number of broader and more valuable purposes for hospital organizations looking to get their many public outreach messages out to the population of a local or regional service area.
As with any large, complex service organization, hospitals engage in constant communication with the patients, families and communities they serve. At the same time, much like any business, a hospital must compete with other area hospitals to earn the trust of the community by informing its customer base on the various technological advances, public outreach initiatives, human interest stories and even philanthropic objectives taking place within the organization. Now more than ever, in fact — with the many changes under way in the healthcare industry — maintaining and enhancing credibility as a healthcare provider and public service organization is vital to expanding a hospital’s market share and ensuring long-term survival. And while publishing a magazine can’t be the sole method of keeping community members informed on hospital happenings, regularly producing just such a high-quality publication can serve as a key part of a hospital’s outreach and marketing strategies.
Properly planned, a hospital magazine can serve a number of different organizational purposes. The first step when developing this kind of publication is determining just what those objectives should be. For instance, will the magazine serve as a fundraising vehicle (particularly in the case of not-for-profit hospitals and institutions with significant foundations and research programs)? Will new technology acquisitions be highlighted? Would patient stories be useful for marketing new or underutilized services? Are there relevant health topics that can be featured to increase public awareness and prevention? Should community outreach programs, events, classes, etc., be advertised to maximize benefit to the public?
The possibilities are nearly limitless when it comes to developing editorial content for a hospital magazine, and one of the many benefits of publishing a regular (monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, etc.) magazine is that priorities can be adjusted frequently to align with evolving organizational goals. In addition, magazine issues with higher page counts provide more space for more articles, thereby addressing multiple objectives at once.
Putting Together the Editorial Content
Every bit as important as the design of the magazine is the quality and substance of the editorial copy, and managing content development can be a significant project in itself — so assigning a capable managing editor is a crucial first step. The managing editor will essentially be the project leader for each issue, so ideally this person should be qualified as a professional writer and able to work with a creative team to manage copywriting deadlines, set up photo shoots, coordinate interviews, oversee the issue budget, communicate with the magazine designer, etc. Hospitals are busy places, so identifying an editor early on who can stay on top of all the moving parts of an issue’s production schedule is essential to success.
The managing editor should also spend some time requesting story ideas from various personnel around the hospital. Almost anyone working at the hospital could be a potential source for poignant, meaningful articles, so be sure to cast a wide net and include a diverse range of staff while developing the editorial calendar. Of course, in compliance with regulations, appropriate permissions must be obtained for certain stories — particularly when involving details from specific patients. That being said, patients can often be willing subjects, eager to share their stories for the benefit of community members who may be in similar health circumstances. In fact, patient-related articles can often provide some of the most interesting and relatable human-interest storylines.
If fundraising and philanthropic objectives are part of the overall strategy for your hospital’s magazine, recognizing donors — both in list format and in meaningful articles — can be a good way to thank those who support your hospital, as well as to encourage other potential donors to consider making a gift. Stimulating community philanthropy can, in fact, be an effective way to help the magazine “pay its own way” and become a self-supporting, ongoing venture that supports long-term hospital fundraising goals.
As the content for an issue is submitted for review by the managing editor, a professional copyeditor should be brought into the process to lend a consistent style to each story, as well as to ensure that all copy is in line with preferred organizational style sheets. While you don’t necessarily want all articles to sound like they were written by the same person (writing style and voice will vary somewhat, depending on the subject matter), you do want to aim for a relatively even feel throughout the publication and ensure that all articles are up to professional and stylistic standards. For more experienced authors, a light proofread may be all that is needed; for authors less accustomed to writing for a wider audience, sometimes a heavy copyedit or rewrite might be advisable. Here at Picante we do a fair amount of proofreading and copyediting for our magazine design clients, typically following Associated Press (AP) Style, as well as individual exceptions or usages preferred by a given organization.
Finding the Right Design
Like any publication that comes in the mail, a hospital magazine will be competing for reader attention from the moment consumers pull it out of their mailboxes — attention that will be divided among any number of catalogs, direct mail pieces and other magazines that happen to arrive on the same day. So the design of the magazine needs to be world-class. The right magazine design conveys credibility and even prestige to readers almost immediately. You don’t want something over-the-top and flashy, as that’s not really an appropriate fit for a community-oriented hospital publication. But on the other hand, going too cold and clinical with the design isn’t necessarily the right message, either.
For a magazine targeted to the general adult population within a given area, establishing a sense of warmth, caring and openness can quickly create rapport with readers. The sad truth is that the whole idea of hospitals make some people a bit uneasy, so the magazine’s design most likely should strive to create an appealing visual connection that helps to put readers at ease. Making use of a bright and positive (but not garish) color palette will help to lend the magazine an inviting persona. Fonts can vary a bit, particularly in feature articles, but again, making using of softer, warmer-feeling typefaces can help keep the magazine from coming across like a dry, drab informative piece. You want your potential readers to open the magazine and explore its content thoroughly, so an enthusiastic, dynamic first impression is key. Your magazine designer should have good understanding of the nature of your subject matter and the organization’s objectives for the magazine, as the design is a central part of communicating the hospital’s messages effectively and connecting with readers.
Using high-quality, professional photos and illustrations (potentially a mix of on-site and stock imagery) is essential throughout the magazine. Remember: to win the attention and mindshare of a consumer audience, the magazine needs to be captivating from start to finish, enticing readers to flip through and focus on stories of interest — and big, beautiful photos often serve as the attention-grabbers that pull readers from one story to the next. Poorly lit or low-resolution photos just won’t cut it in print, so be sure to make use of a professional photographer to help enhance the design as much as possible.
Printing and Delivering the Finished Product
For new hospital magazines, finding the right printer is an important early step. Not all printers specialize in large runs or the kind of exacting quality standards that come with releasing an organizational magazine for public consumption, and print costs can vary widely, due to economies of scale — so talking to multiple printers and requesting multiple print bids is an essential part of the magazine publishing process. You don’t want to put a lot of hard work into a publication that falls flat on press due to, for instance, ink coverage problems, and you certainly don’t want to overpay. Here at Picante we deal with magazine printers all the time, and we’ve worked with some excellent ones over the years, so we can help point you in the right direction.
A good printer can (and probably should) even help you manage the magazine’s mailing. Again, identifying the right printer in the early stages can help to ensure the success of the project when it lands in mailboxes.
You should probably also plan to distribute your magazine issues digitally via your organization’s website. In some cases, that just means offering the magazine in PDF format for online viewing or download. Other clients prefer to create online flipbooks via services like nxtbook and issuu, which provide another convenient format for online viewing that is consistent across different device types. And finally, some may wish to create a dedicated, tablet- and mobile-friendly website version of the magazine, which is a bit more labor-intensive, but certainly a nice alternative for online readers.