The Process: Revamping Boston University's Everett Magazine

The Process: Revamping Boston University's Everett Magazine
Matthew Guemple takes us step by step through the process of rebranding and redesigning the Boston University alumni magazine. 

Coming to Boston University from the commercial magazine world was an interesting challenge. Alumni magazines usually serve a fairly well defined purpose for the University's individual colleges and schools and are a key to keeping alumni engaged and informed. They are also used to raise a school's reputation among peer institutions, attract prospective students, and encourage potential donors to give funds, time, or resources. With so much riding on a magazine's success, there are a lot of stakeholders--an individual school's own marketing department, plus its dean and various other administrators--meaning you'll often get at least a couple of competing agendas. When you add other elements like the faculty or the University's department of alumni relations, you get a lot of different viewpoints and voices.

Builders & Leaders becomes Everett
Boston University's School of Management was just finishing off a year-long rebranding effort and was starting to turn its attention to the revamping of its alumni publication, Builders & Leaders. The Creative Director Amy Schottenfels had been working closely with the School and its rebranding agency, Interbrand, and we were given a clean slate to reinvent it the magazine. Starting with the name.

The editor, Andrew Thurston, and I attended a few of the branding workshops with our Account Executive Cj Lehr, the CD Amy, and our ACD Carla Baratta to see how all of it was shaping up. Interbrand had come up with a number of suggestions for overall voice and visual language. It was at this point that we began to realize that the client was really serious about wanting something inventive and unique. Now it was a matter of taking what Interbrand had roughed out to build a strong visual language and editorial voice.

These were our marching orders.
We took this statement pretty much literally.
While Andrew and I discussed content and format, we brought together the entire design and editorial team to brainstorm on names. We all knew what the School wanted to achieve, but were still wondering just how bold we could be.

So we came up with some names (click to view larger)
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We narrowed that down--and eliminated the ones that were already being used by Al Qaeada or National Geographic.

... and then finally an actionable list. It was at this point that we introduced the final name, "Everett". During our last Interbrand session, Amy mentioned that we had discussed being really "disruptive" by simply calling the magazine something completely unexpected like "Steve". People laughed, but we noticed that during a later conversation with the SMG staff and Interbrand, a few people started referring to the magazine as Steve. 

That led Andrew to do some research and he discovered that the founder of the school was Everett W. Lord. We thought "Lord" would be a bit much, but Everett had a nice ring to it. Further research revealed that Everett Lord was, in fact, quite the innovator himself, not only in the business world but in the management education business, too. In a fortunate bit of serendipity, the founder of the School espoused the same values it was (re)embracing in its repositioning. The bonus was that SMG was turning 100 years old and this first issue was going to focus primarily on its past; this seemed like a neatly wrapped up package. The centennial issue, which would introduce a completely reimagined, forward-looking identity, would be renamed after the School's founder. A virtual Oroboros of rebranding!

First up, mastheads
We dutifully presented the runners up.

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The theme/issue concept
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Drive, the somewhat predictable choice we probably deep down hoped they wouldn't choose, but hey, people have to have options! 
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The dark horse, Everett
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We then went into the whole pitch. We explained how we would take an entirely different approach to the usual alumni mag. We would approach this in much the same way one would approach a consumer magazine. The driving question for much of this was, "If you were not an alum, would you be the least bit interested in reading this?"

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We purposely chose very provocative headlines and cover images. (I used work from photographers I intended to commission; I love Vincent Besnault's "business" images for example.) We wanted to express to reader (in this case, the client) that this was not your usual alumni magazine or, for that matter, your usual business magazine

It seemed clear in the meeting that this (below) was the frontrunner. The Dean had an interesting comment about this one: While we were discussing the various conceptual synergies of Everett, he looked up, smiled and said, "The line should be going up, right?" Ever the insightful bottom line guy.

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We pushed the language as far as we could on the inside. We didn't want to alienate the more "traditional" reader, but we also wanted to refresh their engagement and attract new readers. 

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Many of the elements are the same as those usually covered by the former magazine, but reinvented in a way that transmits a message of energy, enthusiasm, excitement and vigor. From Andrew the editor, "The rule for deciding what makes it into 'Everett' is that every story must provide a new insight or solution, share a lesson learned, tackle a pressing question or issue, or highlight research and connect it to the real world. They should be the sort of article you'd expect to see in a newsstand magazine. A procession of lengthy profiles will be replaced by short, front-of-the-magazine, how-to-style pieces that leverage and celebrate the SMG community's expertise. The editorial voice will be different, too: honest, witty, light, sometimes daring. Overall, this will be a magazine that looks out, not in. It will consider what people want to learn from the School, not what the School wants to tell them: no more grip and grins, no big checks; just articles and snippets to encourage people to keep learning and to help them be better leaders."

After the pitch, we had a couple of tense weeks. They loved the overall direction but hadn't committed to a name and I needed a footer!

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Finally, we heard back. 
The School had decided to go with the "bold" choice and run with Everett. We were now confident that we could really experiment with the content, language, and form of the design. This is what we came up with. (click on image to view larger)












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