Western Kentucky turns successful yearbook into even more successful magazine
Whenever college yearbook folks hear that another college yearbook is being cancelled or transitioned into something like a magazine or table top book, they get nervous. But when it was announced that the Western Kentucky University Talisman was transitioning, it was hard to be nervous when the students and professionals were so excited about what was next.
The Talisman yearbook was a staple in the CMA Pinnacle Awards and the ACP Pacemakers, so it’s no surprise the first Talisman magazine was a design and story telling success.
Here’s how this successful transition was made from the mouths of the student and professional leaders. Kylee Kaetzel is the very first editor in chief of the Talisman magazine and Charlotte Turtle is the adviser who helped her make a big leap into a new world.
How long did you plan the transition?
Charlotte Turtle (Talisman adviser): The magazine format was something we discussed regularly. Our students wanted to add it to our list of products and many hoped to go into the magazine industry after graduation so it seemed like an obvious choice. In 2013, our budget was cut by 47 percent. We started talking about the possibility of change for the future. Our yearbook moved from a free distribution model to at sales model. For a couple years, we were able to make our budget work with reoccurring one time money. In the midst of this change, we kept discussing the possibility of a new product. A magazine was always at the forefront of the conversation.
In the fall of 2015, we realized that our budget was not going to cover our costs. The yearbook was halfway completed and there was no guarantee we could afford the printing bill with the amount of books we had sold. The two brave editors-in-chief met with the Provost and requested the funds we were lacking. He generously met our need and our 2016 book would be printed. Although this was great news, we knew that we couldn’t go on living this way year to year. The conversation about our future got moved to the front burner during the beginning of the spring semester and we started to be realistic about our options. The 2016 editors needed time to make their yearbook special since it would be the last edition. In the meantime, the leaders for the next year needed time to plan what the magazine could be. We had a very sobering meeting and decided it was time. The announcement was thoughtfully planned for March 15 and after that day we didn’t look back.
What kind of research and input did you seek?
Charlotte: We have a committee of journalism professionals and alumni from our program. They were very involved in the discussion since the initial budget cuts. They gave us some good input from their experiences. We looked to professional magazines who we had been admiring for years. We also went to the list of Pacemaker winners and saw what kinds of work they were producing.
How did you get buy in from your staff and from the university?
Charlotte: Our editors really took the lead to get the staff behind the new idea. Although the loss of the yearbook was something we all took time to mourn, we refocused on the potential of something new. It was a really quick recovery because the excitement of the magazine.
Kylee Kaetzel (Editor in Chief): I wasn’t in on the ground work of the transition, because the co-Editors-in-Chief at the time were at the head of that process. After the transition was definite, and I became Editor-in-Chief of the Talisman Magazine, we had to decide what direction we were going to take this new publication. Although we wanted to keep the storytelling aspect of the Talisman alive, putting that in a magazine format was going to look different. The buzz and excitement from potential staff members was almost overwhelming, as we had dozens of applications to be on staff for the first issue. I think the student body and staff realized that a change was coming, and thankfully, they embraced that change.
It was difficult to know if the university was fully on board with the transition. Although they approved the change, we were still going to need their support in order to make this a success. It was clear that everyone was all-in to the magazine when President Dr. Gary Ransdell showed up to our magazine launch party in December. He came and read through each and every page of the first issue of the Talisman magazine and gave nothing but praise for the product and the way the transition was handled on campus. That is when I knew we had taken the right step by making a magazine.
What has been the hardest part of the switch?
Charlotte: The hardest part was jumping into tight deadlines and figuring out something that was totally new. Defining the type of magazine we wanted to be and the content we wanted to produce had to be nailed down during the first month of school. From there, the editorial board had to convey that new mission to their staffers. All the content had to be produced in a little over a month so we could have time to figure out the look and feel of the magazine before we sent it off to the printer.
Kylee: I was never really on yearbook staff, except for doing public relations and social media, so transitioning from the yearbook to the magazine wasn’t difficult for me. I hadn’t been used to any particular way of executing a yearbook prior to becoming Editor-in-Chief, so I was ready to begin something new. I would say the hardest part of the switch for me has been coordinating the details, from how many pages it will be to what kind of content we wanted to publish to educating the campus community about our transition. Everyone knows that college kids (millennials) are one of the toughest groups to reach, so I made sure we have a marketing director who understood that struggle and was ready to get to work. We realize we are making this magazine for the campus community, but if they never hear about how we are, then they won’t pick it up. We are continually working on improving our social media following and using our website, wkutalisman.com, as a catalyst for the magazine.
What has been most surprising?
Charlotte: The most surprising thing was how well the WKU student body received our new product. We were fully distributed in less than two weeks. Students were praising our product on social media and bragging on our staff. That was a feeling I was used to during my time as a student when we handed out the yearbooks for free, but my student had not experienced that kind of reception. It is like the clouds have been lifted and we get to make something beautiful again without the gloom and doom of budget restrictions. Our staff also really enjoyed the process of magazine creation. They are free to create without the yearbook limitations so the magazine is trendier and more culturally relevant. Before, we were worried about the person picking the yearbook up off the shelf 50 years from now. Today, we can focus on the students who are walking the Hill every day and the culture that defines WKU today.
Kylee: I’m not saying this has been easy, but I am surprised by how smooth everything has gone so far. We chose a great printer, hired an amazing staff and produced a magazine that I am very proud of. There were definitely bumps we had to smooth out along the way, but Charlotte, the Talisman adviser, helped guide the process through every step and make sure everything was taken care of. I wasn’t sure what the Talisman transition was going to look like, and I had zero experience in publishing or producing a magazine, but with a talented staff of about 50 individuals and support from the university, I couldn’t imagine a better first issue.
If you could sum up this experience in six words, what would they be?
Charlotte: A refreshing facelift to the Talisman.
Kylee: Challenging, rewarding, tiring, learning, growing and leading.