The University of Central Florida has not been around for long. It began in 1963 as Florida Technological University, graduated its first class in 1970, renamed itself UCF in 1978, and in 2010 listed its enrollment as an astonishing 56,000 students, most of them attending class in Orlando. The school defines itself as “a partnership university.” Its main campus is adjacent to the Central Florida Research Park, where companies that want what the park calls “a university relationship” can buy land. UCF aggressively pursues technology transfers, corporate consulting contracts, renting of lab facilities and computer resources, and other ways of partnering with the companies that form the Florida High Tech Corridor. (Yes, they forgot the hyphen, unless they meant to suggest that people in the corridor get high. This is Florida, after all.)
UCF has a magazine, Pegasus, that first came out in July 1994. Unlike most of our titles, it did not begin life as a subsidized publication. As editor Judy Creel tells it, the alumni office turned to a pair of alumni, one a business graduate and the other a designer, and asked them to create an advertising-supported magazine for members of the alumni association. The pair founded a company, Knight Images (which still publishes the magazine), sold enough ads to pay for a 36-page first issue, and began bimonthly publication. Eventually, the UCF Foundation began paying for some pages to focus on donor profiles, and a few years ago the university began funding eight pages per issue for campus news. The magazine grew to 60 pages.
Then came the recession, and state cutbacks for higher education. UCF withdrew its financial support for the magazine, and most of the essential full-page advertising dried up. What to do?
The answer, says Creel, was to cut back to four issues per year, and follow the university’s example by seeking partnerships with companies and other institutions that pay for sections of the magazine. The arrangement stops short of outright selling pages of Pegasus to sponsors, since the magazine doesn’t cede full control over content, but it does cross the long-standing publishing barrier between advertising and editorial. Creel says the partnership idea came from Knight Images when the magazine needed to find a new way to sustain itself. Knight lines up the partners and proposes story ideas to them; they have a say on which ideas become pieces in the magazine. In the Fall 2010 Pegasus, for example, Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and other partners funded a two-page advertorial spread for the nearby Lake Nona “medical city” complex, which numbers among its facilities the UCF College of Medicine. The partnership is noted, but nothing designates the spread as advertorial versus editorial.
Creel believes that some of the partnerships have worked better than others. Pegasus has a section of research news called “Innovations,” which is produced in cooperation with UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization, its Business Incubation Program, the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, and the Florida High Tech Corridor. “They pay, and I meet with their communications person and we come up with story ideas,” Creel says. “It helps fund the magazine and we get great research stuff out there. That one has been really successful.” Less successful, she thinks, is “Alumni Life” (at left; click on the thumbnail to enlarge). “We had lost a lot of advertisers and [Knight] was looking for a way to bring people in and pay something. The idea is to provide interesting information that’s not about the sponsoring companies and that our alumni might find useful.” The Fall ’10 alumni life spread was sponsored by six organizations, including the YMCA, the NBA’s Orlando Magic, Audi, and the Fairwinds Credit Union. The Magic sponsored a story on its arena, Audi a story on road trips. Each story got a single type column, with the sponsors’ logos appearing at the bottom.
This is, to say the least, an unusual funding mechanism. Creel says that Knight Images calls it “a better way to blend revenue generation with good content.” She adds, “[The partners] do not determine the content whatsoever. Final approval comes from me. It’s almost like product placement on TV. The just get their logos at the bottom.”
Says Creel of the partnerships, “I’m curious to see how they’re taken [by readers]. We had to come up with a way to survive. We’re going to be very, very careful with those. I don’t want this to come across as the magazine selling out. As an editor, I don’t want to do that. But I also have to look at reality.”