Forming an editorial board? Have a plan for maximizing feedback!
Every so often, I field questions about the value of editorial boards. In fact, considering all the other stuff on our plates today, forming and then overseeing a board is a time-consuming process. For that reason, many of you might like to defer getting started. On the other hand, once you have an authoritative, dedicated group of board members in place, benefits in terms of content improvement can be significant.
There are four possible ways to get maximum input:
- Send published articles to pre-selected members for comment;
- Use a peer review board to review/recommend improvements for articles prior to publication;
- Poll the group twice a year (I prefer telephone as opposed to impersonal snail mail or e-mail surveys);
- Host a class dinner for your board during a major convention that most members are likely to attend.
Of the above possibilities, (3) and (4) are the most promising. In the case of (3), first I drew up a list of ten questions I wanted to discuss with board members. The objective was not so much to get feedback on past issues as it was to determine what we should be doing next. I also wanted board member perceptions on how they ranked us against the competition in terms of editorial strengths and weaknesses. One of my key concerns was whether other magazines were doing a better job than we were of maintaining personal relationships with the industry in question. Once my list was drawn up, I wrote a letter to each board member (the typical group size was limited to 25 maximum) outlining the agenda. I asked for 30 minutes of their time and advised that I would call soon to set up a date for the interview. When board members were first recruited, they were told that these interviews would be a condition of board participation. To make a long story short, depth of response was tremendous.
As for organizing a board, it helps if you’ve established contact with many of the executives you’d like to have join your group. Your letter of invitation should outline benefits of membership. In my case, I was able to offer exclusive information alerts that would be available to board members. Another perk was the availability of a qualified staff editor to provide a special briefing to a board member’s executive group on current industry trends. Also worth mentioning were the usual amenities, like being listed on the magazine’s masthead and receiving a handsome plaque of board member recognition.
Finally, if your arrangement is working smoothly, you should be able to poll board members occasionally for a high-value, exclusive feature to appear in your magazine and/or on your website.