Mission Statements Light the Way; They Focus the Editorial Staff and Communicate and Highlight the Magazine's Position within the Organization

By Graham, Anne | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, March 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Mission Statements Light the Way; They Focus the Editorial Staff and Communicate and Highlight the Magazine's Position within the Organization


Graham, Anne, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


"Research tells us that 14 out of any 10 individuals like chocolate," author Sandra Boynton observed recently. And if you talk to 10 magazine gurus, 14 of them will tell you that a mission statement is absolutely critical to the success of an association magazine.

"Without a mission statement, a magazine is doomed--an association publication or any other magazine," asserts Samir A. Husni of the University of Mississippi Department of Journalism. "The mission statement is like a lighthouse: It shows the way to everyone involved with the publication."

Despite the glowing recommendation, many association magazine staffs don't have a mission statement; or if they do, they don't really rely on it as a vital directive. Others simply claim the association's general mission statement as their own, or maintain that they operate by an unwritten statement that is nonetheless known to everyone.

To this last group, Douglas Damerst, editor in chief and publisher at the American Automobile Association, issues a challenge: "Without any advance notice, invite eight or 10 people connected with the periodical to meet. Once they're together, ask each to write his or her version of the magazine's mission statement, and see how closely they match up. I think I could rest my case at that point. "

Damerst, the founder of AAA's new Car & Travel, says that a magazine's mission statement drives all of a magazine's decision-making. "Developing a mission statement compels us to think clearly about every aspect of the publication," he points out. "It's simply good business practice, and is probably the most reliable determinant of publishing success."

Effective mission statements provide fundamental guidance, ensure that staffs apply the same clearly defined concept of the publication's mission, and enhance decision-making-on everything from accepting or rejecting a manuscript to hiring European ad reps. For association titles, however, they do even more. A cogent statement, especially one stamped with approval by the association leadership, heightens awareness of the magazine's role, contributes to organizational success, and inspires support for magazine initiatives.

No one suggests, however, that the process of developing a mission statement is either quick or easy. And there is no precise formula that works for every magazine. The first draft may be conceived and written by a single "visionary," such as the editor, or it may be a group effort. For an association title, however, buy-in from constituents will be essential at some point.

For Colleen Katz, editor of Journal of Accountancy, published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, developing a mission statement was almost a year-long project. "My first initiative was to speak with our president about my conviction that we needed a mission statement. He agreed, and I began writing," Katz recounts. "We pulled together a group of respected members to serve as a sounding board, and I sent my draft to them, asking for their comments.

"This turned out to be a fortuitous course of action," Katz continues. "These individuals gave me feedback that was invaluable. I incorporated their comments and sent them a revision that I also submitted to our president. He, in turn, circulated it to our vice presidents, and eventually we had a done deal. We subsequently published the mission statement in the Journal, along with a letter from the president supporting it.

"The whole process was an eye-opener for everyone concerned, not just staff. …

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