Tagged: vicki glembocki

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?

Vicki Glembocki on the blanding of university magazines

I have known Vicki Glembocki, writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine, for a long time, going back to her time on the staff of The Penn Stater. She is an acute and astute observer of our publishing niche and often has tart commentary about our shortcomings. Next month at the CASE Editors Forum, she will deliver a presentation titled “Are You ‘Just Another Alumni Magazine?'” and I’m telling you now that you should attend. If you’re already registered for the conference, go to this session. If you’re not already registered, go do that now, because it’s going to be a terrific conference. Here is the official summary of Glembocki’s presentation:

If you blacked out the name on the cover of your magazine, would we be able to tell what school it belonged to? Is your news section called something generic like Campus Currents? Can you actually see your institution in your pages? Does opening your mag transport alums back to that special, unique club that is your school? So often, alumni magazines decide that being “great” means becoming something else—uber-intellectual, or general interest-y, or newsstand-worthy, or writerly, or exactly like that last Sibley Award winner. But being like everyone else—or even being like anyone else—is the worst strategy for an alumni magazine. Your greatness comes from being distinct, from being exclusive, from capitalizing on your magazine’s unique personality-your brand.

Glembocki agreed to an email exchange with me about her session, and here’s the first part. Stay tuned for more in the days to come.

vgDale Keiger: So The Dale interviews the The Vic. Let’s not dawdle on how long we’ve known each other and just dive right in here. The first line of the description of your session reads: “If you blacked out the name on the cover of your magazine, would we be able to tell what school it belonged to?” Did this idea come out of how frequently you found that your answer to that question was “no”?

Vicki Glembocki: Yes and no. I mean yes, the answer was generally, “no, I could not tell which school it belonged to.” But, more so, the issue was that, when I blocked out the name of the school, the magazines all looked the same. There was no personality. None. At all. It was like that time right before my high school reunion, when I pulled out my yearbook as a refresher course. If I blocked out the names, I couldn’t really identify which guy belonged to which mullet, which girl belonged to which “claw of bangs.” We all thought we were super cool and individuals and unique but, in reality, we were just a sea of indistinguishable hair. That’s what it felt like looking at the alumni mags.

DK: What sort of homogeneity were you noticing?

VG: One big, vague cover line that could literally be on any magazine in the stack. An image that relates to it. Several smaller three to five–word vague subheads that also could be on any magazine. And cliches. Oh, Lord almighty, the cliches!

DK: What do you think accounts for it?

VG: I’m not sure, but I think that it’s possible that editors look too far outside of their schools for inspiration. We look at newsstand mags. We look at other alumni magazines. We look at the Sibley Award winners. And we decide, “I want us to be like that.” And then we work really hard at it. Sure, it’s smart to get ideas from people who do what we do well. But I think that we often skip a really important step that should come first: figuring out what makes us “us.” What defines us? What defines our school, its personality, its brand? How does our magazine embody that personality and recreate it so that every time a reader gets our magazine in their mailbox they’re immediately reminded of their feelings about their alma mater? Because that’s the money, right there.


2011 Editors Forum recap

Hello, bleary editors and writers. Those of us who had the good fortune to attend the 2011 CASE Editors Forum enjoyed a lively, stimulating conference.

No one can attend every presentation, of course, given the simultaneous breakout sessions, but among those I sat in on, here are a few that stood out:

— Brian Doyle’s impassioned opening session on storytelling. Emotional presentations are chancy—lots of people find them either an acquired taste or a bit hard to bear—but there’s no questioning Doyle’s commitment to fine writing and even if you don’t respond to his emoting, you must admit he tells a hilarious Dalai Lama story.

— Morven Knowles discussion of how CAM remade itself. There was Knowles’ plummy accent, of course, which every Yank in the room secretly coveted. But there was also interesting commentary on what it’s like to not just redesign your periodical, but rethink it as well.

— Tyler Stableford’s excellent photography session. Shutterbugs like me loved it for Stableford’s photos and his clear explanations of how he got the shots. But editors gleaned a lot about what makes one photo better than another, which sometimes is obvious but other times is more subtle and murky. Also interesting was him talking about how he prefers more rather than less instruction from the art director, and how helpful it is to have read a draft of the story.

— The captions-callouts-headlines presentation by Matt Jennings spoke to a lot of us. These are often the rushed, last-minute items that don’t get our full attention, and Jennings noted how that can be a real mistake.

— The Friday morning panel on sticky political situations as experienced by editors and communications professionals at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and North Carolina State, who did a fine job of sharing the stage and articulating the problems we all encounter while trying to negotiate the politics of our institutions.

— I did not attend Robert Richards’ presentation on copyright and other legal issues, but my boss, Catherine Pierre, did and reports that it was excellent. This has become an ever-bigger issue as we deal with questions of consent, copyright on the Internet, and fair use. (Arianna Huffington, lawyers from The New York Times are on line 3.)

Finally, there were a couple of comic highlights. One was Vicki Glembocki’s reenactment of how she was driving with two sleeping kids in the back seat when she desperately needed to void her bladder. Those of us who have known Glembocki for a long time were not surprised to hear that her solution was to somehow position a diaper so that she could relieve herself while continuing to roll down the highway. Never have I seen such a thing at an Editors Forum. Priceless.

Then there was that dorkboy who confused the cover photo of Michelle Obama for a cover photo of Condi Rice. I’d reveal his identity, but we try not to ridicule people on the blog, and besides, judging by the looks of delight on the faces of all his friends, he’s in for plenty of ridicule as it stands.

Thanks to Betsy Robertson, Maureen Harmon, and the CASE crew, especially Emily DeYoung, for all their work. See y’all in Atlanta, where we all will be invited to a barbecue at Paige Parvin’s house. She promised. Sometime after the fourth beer.