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Unhitch Your Niche: Populous Magazine

April 14, 2013

Dog Ear Consultants

Populous_Issue8Today, a quick case study. Let’s take a look at how a niche magazine can push the limits of its niche and be a more effective, engaging publication for doing so.

Populous magazine is the publication of Populous, an architectural firm that designs some of the world’s most iconic sporting event venues—Yankee Stadium, Wimbledon, even the facilities for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The magazine is distributed exclusively to the firm’s clients and some industry folks, and it’s produced by Alma Media, a London-based company that produces a variety of publications and branding tools for clients ranging from architectural firms to luxury goods companies.

We’ll skip right over the debate on why an architectural firm would choose to publish its own magazine (our quick view: why the hell not, especially if it’s done well?), and examine what kind of content we find within it.

So what would you expect to encounter in the pages of Populous? Fluffy shorts touting the firm’s latest accomplishments and accolades? Vanilla feature stories about sleekly designed ballparks? Photo essays tricked out with enough striking photography to let crappy writing pass?

Populous_Issue7Nope. Well, sort of. A few articles each issue cover Populous’ recent work and some industry trends. And yes, the photography is striking—very striking—as is the magazine’s overall design. But where Populous succeeds is in the unexpected. Those articles on sports venues lie among stories on sports topics that dust the fringes of Sports Illustrated‘s and ESPN The Magazine‘s coverage. Topics like the world’s deepest free diver, the duality of male cheerleaders, the dangerous allure of bull riding, and how safety regulations are killing the world’s oldest horse race—and that’s all within the pages of one issue.

Populous_Issue 4

Why is it effective?  On a conceptual level, Populous takes the work of Populous (sports venue design) and presents it among topics with broader appeal, topics that people will actually sit down and read about (i.e. sports, culture, and human interest). Nobody—not owners of sports facilities, not architects of sports facilities, not construction workers who build sports facilities—wants to read 64 pages exclusively about sports facilities. But who wouldn’t at least be intrigued enough to open up a magazine that features an article about blind downhill skiers or attempting the hardest snowboarding trick ever invented?

Populous_Issue2

So what does that mean to you, esteemed alumni magazine editor? It means don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of your niche (at least a little) and give some broader context to your content. Do the obligatory president’s letter and coverage of the University’s new capital campaign if you must. But the take away here is this: in what unexpected ways can you tie what’s happening on campus into what’s happening beyond campus and appeal more generally to your readers’ interests?

   

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