Vicki Glembocki II

Part II of my brief email exchange with Vicki Glembocki about her upcoming CASE Editors Forum presentation  “Are You ‘Just Another Alumni Magazine?’” If you missed the first part, scroll down and read that first.

Dale Keiger: I have noticed that a strange reluctance to assert the individual character of the school extends to the admissions office. I think your test of blocking out identifying magazine text and then trying to guess the identity of the school would yield the same results if applied to so much of what our admissions people send out. Every school wants to look like an idyllic sanctuary for the pursuit of knowledge set somewhere on 500 pastoral acres with well-tended ivy and a generic student body. Why do you think colleges and universities are so timid about establishing a distinct identity?

Vicki Glembocki: I don’t claim to know what’s going on in the minds of those admissions people. But I actually think the problem might be that the people who are “selling” the school just don’t spend enough time really thinking through what their identity actually is. They think about what they want to be. Or what will look appeal to the broadest audience. Or what will appeal to the audience of their biggest competitor. And, let’s face it—it’s so . . . much . . . easier to just do what the other guy does. And safer. And institutional-er. But admissions offices and alumni magazines have totally different customers, so to speak. We aren’t selling an unknown quantity like they are. We’re selling a known quantity. So we need to really know that quantity. In fact, I’d argue that we need to know it better, even, than the admissions people if we want our readers to open the magazine (and their check books . . . because let’s be real here . . . )

DK: Can you cite examples of alumni magazines that work counter to this blandness?That in your view do a better job of being distinctly reflective of their unique institutions? [I can hunt down some digital examples of what you cite and link to them.]

VG: I see what you’re doing here . . . trying to get some insider, pre-show deets on my presentation. Not happening, hot stuff. Get your red pens to San Antonio if you want to see if Johns Hopkins is on the nice list or the naughty list.

DK: Am I right that you are advocating something beyond the sort of standard appeals to nostalgia that are a staple of many university publications?

VG: Well, “standard appeals to nostalgia” work for a lot of schools. But “appealing to nostalgia” is not a “brand attribute” for an alumni mag. All mags, to some degree, can claim that. It’s just not specific enough. The million-dollar question is: what is unique about your school?

2 comments

  1. Michael Todd

    If there’s one thing in today’s marketplace that many universities seem to have in common it’s being risk-averse. They want desperately to be all things to all people with the end result being that we have ended up with much of a sameness—call it blandness if you want to—across the spectrum. No one wants to offend (by omission) or forgo revenue (by omission).

    I think what we need to find in our institutions is our sense of authenticity. We need to move away from the generic, which, as Glembocki says, is all too easy to emulate.

    Do we want to be a Walmart or offer some hope of a “boutique” experience perhaps? What is it about your particular institution that might resonate with readers and reinforce that sense of belonging? Not nostalgia, but reinforcing that sense of authenticity of experience through stories that illustrate that (subliminally please).

    Authenticity is the condition of being genuine. When a story comes out in your mag that gets it right and reinforces that sense of differentiation and authenticity it automatically has a feel of being the “real stuff,” of legitimacy. As readers we know it right away . . . the writer and the topic just have this innate sense of credibility.

    How to articulate authenticity? By articulating attitudes—or a mood—that reflects your school . . . not only in alum mags, but in viewbooks and marketing materials as well.

    It’s about institutional self-awareness and finding something that’s identifiably yours.

  2. Leslie Stainton

    I will forever be grateful to Vicki Glemocki who, during an Editors Forum session in Nashville several years ago, took me and my magazine to task for a poorly conceived, poorly edited feature article that still embarrasses me. Humbling though that (very public!) session was, I learned tons—especially about how to use sidebars to convey utilitarian information (Vicki’s term for this was way more colorful, BTW). Thanks in considerable part to that session, we’ve gone on to win a couple of CASE awards. Miss her at your peril!!

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