How to start a magazine: find the right people

In terms of how to launch a magazine, it’s entirely possible to do it yourself, but as with any project, many hands make light work and – in the case of magazines particularly – you’re not likely to be the best person to do most of the jobs involved in launching a magazine.

One of the things I heard most in starting Bearded was “you’re the best person to do this”, this came as I struggled (unsuccessfully) for the best part of four years to find somebody to sell ads in my magazine. I was never a salesman, I certainly didn’t like selling ad space.

The problem – and the reason I kept getting told I was the best person for the job – was because it was an afterthought rather than being part of setting up the magazine. My main focus when I started Bearded was the concept, the design, the contributors – selling the ads and generating revenue from the magazine was something I was incredibly naive about. By the time it came to requiring someone to do it, I couldn’t bring someone in who could get passionate about the idea, to have bought into Bearded as something that was theirs. This meant I was left approaching ad agencies, the experience of which is a longer post for another time.

‘Ownership’ is a pretty horrible word to describe a psychological connection, but it’s vitally important to bringing in the right people – and you do need people. You need certain skills to successfully launch a sustainable product and no one person has them all. You need to give up a bit of your own ownership to allow the right people to get involved. From people to do the writing, to art direction, to the commercial roles most creative people pretend they don’t need to pay attention too, you need them all, and you need them at the beginning. Otherwise you’ll be paying through the nose for a professional to do it, and they won’t care half as much as you as to how that money you’re paying them comes back to you.

But how to get those people? It’s a question I haven’t yet answered entirely. Your social circle is the best place to start, you’ll find plenty of people who are enthusiastic about a new creative project, and them knowing you is the only way to get them fully on board. From there it’s a case of research. I found Bearded’s art director by spotting some work he’d done in long-gone Birmingham magazine Blowback, I had to pay him, but the rate was severely cut because he was free to put his own vision into it (I chose him because I liked his work, I’m not an art director, I could trust him to continue doing things I liked). Illustrators were then chosen by him, and I found photographers and the largest proportion of writers on the internet and the website was designed by my brother.

The most important thing though isn’t who I got and how I got them, it’s who I didn’t get. The people I did get weren’t the reason for the magazine’s ultimate demise (but they were the reason for its popularity), it was who I didn’t bring in that resulted in failure.

I didn’t get anyone to look at the commercial aspects. With my new magazine I haven’t got someone for this either, but we’re not going to launch (initially) as a commercial concern (I’ll talk more about this another time) but for a product that costs thousands of pounds to make needs to find some of that money from somewhere. I was incredibly naive about what was required for a magazine to generate revenue, and if I was launching a print magazine today, the first person I’d hire after an art director would be a commercial lead, somebody to identify opportunities for making revenue – whether that’s advertising, sales, or events.

Likewise, those three roles: ad sales, distribution and events were all handled by me – a man with experience in one of them (distribution). A commercial person would figure out exactly how those roles were fulfilled, but they definitely need fulfilling.

It seems mad now, but I didn’t recruit a single editor throughout the time Bearded was running in print. I handled features, live reviews, photoshoots, video production, record reviews – I have no idea why. The lesson is: get someone to handle your editorial. You can decide on editorial direction and what you want to write about, but you need people to help manage contributions, chase up contributors, talk to press people and other people you have to work with. To do it all yourself is a good way to drive yourself to having zero sleep.

Less relevant at the time but vital now: a social media / marketing person. The internet provides an incredible opportunity to promote your product for free, tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are free, and Facebook and Google PPC ad campaigns can be extremely effective if you do have a small budget. Having somebody to dedicate time to working on these should provide great results (I have a brilliant person for this, so I guess we’ll see if this is true in a few months time).

And that’s it. You could form a huge team, but when you start you need a few component parts. Here’s that list in an easier to digest format:

1. Someone to bring readers to you (social media/marketing)
2. Somebody to produce content in addition to you (commissioning editor/similar)
3. Somebody to pay for all of this (if it costs money) (commercial director)

As well as those you need:

- Someone to build, maintain and improve your website (if you want to produce content online) – I NEED ONE OF THESE, please get in touch if you/someone else would like to do this.
- Someone to create the artistic look and feel of your magazine (if this isn’t you).

The nature of getting these people is much harder. If you have ideas, please contribute in the comments or email me, and if I can do this successfully, I’ll write about it on this blog.