What your chapter can learn from a resurgent magazine

By Nathaniel Clarkson

Print is dying, we’re always told, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Magazines and newspapers are losing readers–and revenue–to blogs and other forms of new media. There’s just no way print can compete when everything is stacked against them. Or can they?

The unfolding story of The Atlantic offers a refreshing counterexample to the idea that print is helplessly disappearing.

More generally, the magazine’s resurgence during a particularly hostile climate demonstrates for our chapters that achieving success against the odds is quite possible (and the perceived odds are often illusory).

The following story also provides a number of other lessons for student leadership organizations looking to reach the next level.

Reports Ad Week:

For eight years, [Bradley] been trying to staunch the flow of red ink at what was then called the The Atlantic Monthly, only to see the losses increase (one year, to more than $10 million).

On recruiting the right people (values-based recruitment):

When the story of The Atlantic’s turnaround is told, the credit tends to go to the 58-year-old Bradley. But Bradley himself believes his greatest talent is finding talent, and he gives the majority of the credit to Smith, who he calls “unmatchedly gifted.”

On the importance of innovation (i.e. not getting caught up in what “everyone else is doing”):

By rethinking everything about the company, however, Smith found a way to make that pay. Think Silicon Valley, but without the free food and massages. (Smith did away with perks like free bagels in the mornings.) “We don’t have foosball machines, but we filter for entrepreneurial talent,” Smith says.

On admitting mistakes:

Bradley, looking back, is candid about his own failings.

The Atlantic’s losses mounted quickly under Bradley’s hands-off ownership style, growing from $4.5 million to more than $10 million. […] Realizing he had to be more involved, he then tried every fix he could think of: He upgraded the paper stock, moved subscription prices up, then down, took advertisers on exotic retreats, to no avail.

==> People make mistakes and chapters err. Acknowledge the mistake, fix it and move on.

Again on the importance of innovation and reinvention:

“One of the great flaws in traditional media companies is they pay lip service to innovation,” Smith says. “They can’t restructure because they’re supertankers. They don’t reinvent themselves to their core.”

There will always be some reason to explain away poor chapter performance. “Numbers were down for everyone this year.” “Every other student organization hazes too.” “Our university president is anti-Greek.” (Have you ever asked her why?) “We’re waiting for the seniors to graduate to fix problem X.”

So what. The odds were against The Atlantic and they made it happen anyways. How will your chapter rise above the everything-is-against-us narrative and defy the trend to achieve excellence?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: