Tuesday, 29 March 2011

How to setup an off and online magazine

I’m not usually one for self promotion (says the freelance business owner), but setting up a magazine and community led to new-found skills which I now apply to every project.

It was over Google chat an old friend first discussed the idea of starting an off and online magazine. The concept was fairly simple, create a magazine which was free and targeted a specific demographic to encourage and promote local creative talent.

My role was established over many late nights consuming red wine and ready meals. It seemed what the business needed was creative direction and a force to establish a strong sense of brand identity. Our contributors and readers were the university student upwards to the middle aged aspiring creative. In general, I’ve found working with younger people a more creatively rewarding experience; ideas are almost always completely original and devoid of market trends. It seemed the opportunity was too good to miss.

Starting a business on only your own financial merits is a risk as few are willing to work for little, but the real challenge is getting those same people to stick to necessary deadlines. Historically, this kind of business is better suited to the university student as they’re already connected with potential contributors. Both I and Jason, my business partner, were working full time. Nevertheless, within a couple of weeks, we found between us a handful of writers and two photographers. Enough to start thinking of what content we could include and what events we needed covering in the near future.

In my head the design needed to be simple but equally shout the magazine’s message, namely “exploit, harness and support the best of local creative talent”. We had a name for the business; “Buzz Brighton” so the colour scheme seemed obvious. I don’t like surrendering to the first creative line of thought, but yellow and black seemed so striking and in-line with the brand, I decided to go with it.

We imposed a necessary launch date to cover the upcoming Great Escape Festival. This gave us an opportunity to create links with the festival promotion companies and other local businesses. It gave us credibility. It had the added benefit of giving our two very talented photographers access to big events covering even bigger artists. It was the content that new start-ups dream of.

Before our contributors (or “bees” as they were coming to be known) ventured out to an event, we’d always give a similar brief. Don’t create a factual document; create the atmosphere, inject the personality and get creative. The articles came back in droves and the results were inspiring. Before long we had enough content for the first magazine design.

I had produced wireframes, designs and front page concepts in Photoshop, but the world of print media is not Photoshop’s forte. I had to learn inDesign to a professional standard in two weeks before the print deadline. Luckily, I have a lot of experience working with Adobe products and to their credit, extending your adobe software knowledge is made easier by the fairly consistent UI and common function set.

Somehow, between coordinating "bees", learning inDesign, setting up business meetings, planning a launch event, liaising with printers, designing the magazine, attending interviews, holding introductory pub meetings and working full time; I had a website to build.

The site was to be built using Joomla which I knew would give me the flexibility and dynamism that the news site would require. By this point we’d also further developed the commercial model for the business. We wanted to attract advertisers online so we needed a hook for people to visit the site. We had the brain wave of introducing an online music chart. Local musicians and bands could upload their music for free, and in return - once a month the user’s favourite band (decided by a voting system) would win a prize ranging from a headline gig to cash.

I developed the chart with a bespoke Joomla component. It’s one of the great benefits of working with the world’s best supported CMS. Every widget, piece of functionality and site gadget can be created and bolted on to the backend. You can be safe in the knowledge that the CMS was developed in such a way that the integration is seamless, both from a developer’s perspective and the web administrator’s. This is of course if you know how to develop using the suggested MVC technique along with many of Joomla’s built in classes and functions.

The whole project was fraught with potential showstoppers throughout. Countless hurdles which needed to be overcome, in which one could have resigned to just not knowing what to do. The possibility of giving up due to being burnt-out was a real one at times. In reality though, our efforts were paid back in a rewarding experience which enriched the lives of everyone involved. We created a micro community, a magazine which captivated potential advertisers in an already saturated market. Inspiring university lecturers, artists, musicians, contributors and locales - we surpassed our own and others expectations.

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