Mission Statement - Illustration by Marina LindermanMission Critical

Would you ever drive your car with a bag over your head? If you did, it sure would be a challenging ride. You would get lost. You may veer off of the road or cross the yellow lines into someone else’s territory. We all know this would be a very bad idea. This dangerous driving scenario comes to mind as we deal with an ongoing problem seen and over again working in the publishing industry: Why are so many magazines being published “in the dark” without a mission statement? It’s just like driving with a bag over your head.

In our work we see many editorial teams struggle with this. They either don’t have a mission statement or don’t see the importance of having one. Some have a mission statement that communicates nothing about why they publish or how their magazine is different from all the others.

The mission statement for your magazine is critical to keeping the magazine’s editorial strategy and design on track, and properly focused on your target reader. Another very important goal of the mission statement is defining the magazine’s competition. By doing so, you can strategically differentiate your publication so it’s always at the top of the pile.

What’s the roadblock? Many teams have a very difficult time committing to this simple statement on paper. Leadership may not agree with the editorial team’s approach, or the magazine may be trying to be too many things for too many people.

If you are ready to write a new mission statement, it’s a great opportunity to take a staff retreat or half-day off site. It brings the team together and really focuses them on the core goals for your publishing initiatives. You may need to develop a second mission statement for your online magazine. If the readership is expanded and the online content strategy is different than the print edition (it should be), then it is appropriate to have two mission statements.

The process of developing your magazine’s mission statement will get your editorial and design teams on the same page by setting goals. In some cases, it’s a great tool to use to resolve disagreements. If something doesn’t fit the mission, it doesn’t belong in the magazine.

Redesign time is also a terrific opportunity to write or rewrite your mission statement. Setting a designer loose on a redesign project without an effective mission statement can almost guarantee that the project will go over budget, miss the mark, or just flat-out fail, wasting everyone’s time. You need to know who you are before anyone else can begin to understand you. Your mission statement can be a measurement tool to use to help evaluate design concepts or a new editorial strategy.

I you don’t have a mission statement or you have a very unfocused one, get to work and write a new one. Here is what you need to include:
•  Define the publication
•  Define how the publication is different from the competition
•  Define how the audience benefits from reading the publication

While this might already seem like a daunting task to some, let’s make it even more challenging. A good mission statement should be about 3 – 4 sentences. Not a book. So choose your words with a lot of critical thinking. Take out the fluff that means nothing or doesn’t add to the clarity of your message.

Once you get this mission accomplished, you will be ready to fine-tune your magazine to truly reflect its mission. Sharpen or deepen your editorial content to satisfy your target reader. Redesign to engage the reader with a unique look and feel that differentiates your magazine from the crowd.