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How to relaunch a publication (without upsetting your co-workers and going around in circles)

From an agency point of view, there are two main scenarios where you might find yourself relaunching a publication. Arguably the easiest, is when you’ve pitched for and won the title from a rival, or been handed one by an in-house team no longer able to manage it.  This is the perfect opportunity to take the publication to pieces and reconstruct it from scratch. In fact, if you’ve won it from a rival, the temptation is sometimes to rip it completely to shreds to try and prove a point – a danger in itself and something I’ll come on to in more detail later.

The other scenario is when the publication is one of your own. A tricky task, as you risk entering a whole world of pain, complete with egos, office politics and general upset from your co-workers who have lived, breathed and nurtured it over the past few years. Nobody likes criticism, so it’s always a scenario that needs to be approached sensitively.

Below are a couple of pointers to consider before you ask the question: ‘To relaunch, or not to relaunch?

The starting point is critically where some noses may be put out of joint and you need to tread very carefully. The argument for an in-house relaunch is that they know the history, market, team and mission of the title more intimately than an outsider might. On the down side, an in-house team can also bring politics, preconceived notions, a lack of innovation, or historical baggage to the table. Further, they may not have all the skills needed for such a complex project or they lack the time or energy required.  

Going in-house is not a totally cost-free way of doing things either. The weeks of salary and benefits for the person taken off-line are real costs and depending on the results you may end up paying more than if you had hired a consultant. 

The pros of a good consultant are they can provide a quick, cost-effective solution to get your relaunch up and running, and efficiently (sometimes over a shorter number of days which keeps costs down). In addition some of this work can be done remotely although things can slow down without face-to-face interactions.

The main point to note here is whichever route you go, the in-house team still need to be kept well informed and involved at a level.

Get back to basics and consider why this title was launched in the first place. What was the business rationale, who are the audience, why would they read it, who are your advertisers (if you have them), what do you want to achieve? How are you going to stand out from competing titles, if there are any?

If this is your own title, you may you already have the answers to these questions, but are those answers still correct? Be objective, critical and if possible get a fresh pair (or pairs) of eyes to look at it. Talk to your readers, find out what they love and hate about the title, or even worse – what they are indifferent about.

Once you’ve got a good idea of what your audiences want from this publication, it’s time to start planning how you’ll address those needs. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a relaunch, not a brand-new start, so you don’t need to rip everything up and start again. This is always a temptation with relaunching a title that is new to you. You don’t need to trash everything just to make a point, there are bound to be elements of the publication that are currently working well, or that are extremely popular with the readership. You might be tasked with attracting new readers, but don’t alienate your existing loyal audience.

There will be multiple stakeholders involved in a relaunch so make sure everyone has the same vision. Listen to all tactics and ideas that are offered and discuss it though democratically so everyone is heard.

Decisions will need to be made, but even if people’s ideas are not taken on board, if they feel they’ve been allowed the chance to put forward their thoughts, they’ll feel part of the process.

It is difficult for teams to succeed without a leader so you should designate someone to play that role. However, that person doesn’t know everything. There are certain tasks, creative exercises and maintenance functions that need to be performed, so split up the task among the right people.

In conclusion, a relaunch, as with other business activities, is really only as good as its team. A team that is able to effectively communicate, adapt, collaborate, and innovate together is going to be ultimately more successful than reflexive, command-driven, authoritarian teams in most instances.

Add a healthy, positive work culture and clear and agreed goals and you’re some way to producing the relaunch that will make a difference. But always remember; a relaunch never has been and never will be a magic wand so keep your expectations realistic.


Anna-Louise Dearden is editorial director at Summersault Communications.