The shift towards digital platforms has led many universities to reconsider the role of traditional print alumni magazines.
Concerns over costs, changing audience preferences, and the effectiveness of digital media have raised questions about the viability of print publications.
However, when it comes to alumni communications, print isn’t dead yet.
Alumni magazines, in fact, offer unique marketing advantages in an era where fewer marketers rely on them. In fact, many alumni express great interest in receiving printed content.
When done the right way, print not only provides a great ROI but also helps higher ed material stand out in what is becoming an increasingly noisy digital landscape.
It’s crucial for communications teams to try to combine both a print and digital approach to improve the overall experience.
In this post, I want to share key insights that came out of our talk with Rebekah Tilley, Director of Strategic Communications at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, Steven Henneberry, Director of Strategic and Faculty Communications at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and Erin Peterson, Owner of Capstone Communications.
As we delve into this topic, we’ll explore why maintaining print publications can be a strategic asset, offering a distinctive touch in a predominantly digital world.
This approach not only acknowledges the current challenges but also highlights the enduring value and impact of printed alumni magazines in higher education marketing.
Printed Alumni Magazines Aren’t Just for the Old
Perhaps one of the most common views on print alumni magazines is that they are more for an older audience.
We tend to think younger audiences only want to receive communications via digital platforms.
But what Rebekah Tilley learned in her recent alumni magazine redesign surprised her.
I started [the redesign] with some focus groups because I [wanted to know], “Do we still need this anymore?” It’s a huge budget line, and if this does not resonate with our alumni, then let’s move on to something else.
One of the things that surprised me particularly was that our young alumni told me over and over again…
“Oh, we love getting this! We get so few things in print anymore that this is really special to us, and we hang on to it, and it’s on our coffee table, and we flip immediately to alumni notes to see if our friends are there and see if their photos are in print, because they live in a digital world.”
What I love about this story is that Rebekah didn’t act solely on her gut feeling.
She went out, got some data from their focus groups, and then she followed it.
Rebekah’s finding surprised me also—in a good way!
We often think printed alumni magazines will only bring a good ROI when mailing to older audiences, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Honestly, the whole question of ROI can be a little tricky.
On the one hand, it’s good to demand accountability and good metrics. Yet on the other hand, some marketing strategies simply cannot provide a clear path to the numbers we’re all looking for.
The danger of not asking for clear ROI data is that you can waste a lot of money on strategies that don’t work.
But if your only consideration is ROI, you may end up scrapping strategies that are, in fact, producing great results, albeit indirectly.
So how do you ensure the greatest ROI for your printed alumni magazine strategy?
Follow the Data
Rebekah explains how she approached the question of ROI in a balanced way for her alumni magazine.
One of the nice resources I have here at the University of Iowa is a huge team of data scientists. I was able to work with them on who we mail this to. We don’t mail to all our alumni, because we just don’t have the budget for that.
If we’re going to spend all this time and energy on this piece, who are the best people to mail this to? If we only have the budget to send to 15,000 people, who are those folks?
This is a strategic approach all education marketers should take when discussing print alumni magazines, which tends to be much more limited in scope due to resources.
But what criteria did Rebekah and her data scientists use to determine their mailing list?
[We] based it off of things like, “How many times have they given money to the business school? Have they come back to speak in classes? Are they engaging with us on social media?”
[Using these criteria, we] generated an engagement score. So, we started sending magazines to the people at the top of this engagement score.
Once they had assigned engagement scores to all of the alumni, Rebekah began printing and mailing out her alumni magazine.
After two issues, she went back to her data guys, and asked if they could give her an ROI on how it was going. They told her…
In the past year, the people [on the mailing list] have generated $6.4 million to your school based off of receiving this magazine.
In particular, folks that weren’t receiving a magazine previously, who did start receiving a magazine, and who had not given to the business school in the prior ten years, also gave to the tune of almost a million dollars.
That was the ROI for only two issues over the course of a year!
Print is not dead. In Rebekah’s case, the alumni magazine reignited alumni who had been previously inactive for ten years or more.
Print Alumni Magazines Are a Disruptor
Steven Henneberry jumped in at this point in the conversation to share the success they are also seeing at their school with the printed alumni magazine.
We’ve heard that from our younger alums, too, that the [alumni] magazine is a disruptor.
We flood them with emails where they live in their digital world. So, when you give them a high-quality print product, it stops them.
It has that power [to get them] to at least engage with the cover or flip to the class notes. Even if we get any alum to look at it from the mailbox to the recycling bin, that’s still a victory in my book.
I got a recent stat from our data folks based on a survey that we did of about 34,000 alumni.
In the [survey], the alumni magazine ranks as the main source of getting information about the school compared to the school website, social media, Internet search, friends, colleagues, family, and other sources.
Outside of email, the magazine is the top choice! This speaks to why it’s important to give people something in a different way than when they’re receiving other [communications] from you.
More and more, we’re seeing young students interested in artifacts from past generations, like cassette tapes, CD’s, and vinyl records.
Printed alumni magazines bring that nostalgia to them acting as a disruptor in their daily digital flow.
A Classic, High Value Marketing Tool
The discussion (or debate) around printed alumni magazines in higher education reveals their unique value as a marketing tool.
Not only do they resonate with a wide range of alumni, including younger generations, but they also serve as a tangible and engaging disruptor in a digital-heavy world.
The success stories from universities like Iowa and Minnesota demonstrate that when strategically executed, print can yield significant returns on investment and re-engage alumni.
As such, printed alumni magazines should remain a vital part of any comprehensive higher education marketing strategy, offering a nostalgic yet impactful connection in today’s fast-paced, digital age.
Listen to our full interview with Rebekah Tilley, Steven Henneberry, and Erin Peterson to get even more insights into:
- Print’s place within the alumni communications ecosystem (05:12)
- How to best integrate print, digital platforms, and other channels for alumni (15:34)
- How to utilize LinkedIn to find story angles and people to interview (31:09)
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