Use 7-Factor Analysis to Judge Front Cover Story-Telling Success
The story-telling value of magazine front covers can be assessed with a combination of seven quantitative and qualitative factors. The benefits of this seven-factor approach were affirmed for me by a recent cover-judging experience.
The project in question spanned eight publications, with three recent issues for each. The judging factors described in the next few paragraphs could each earn a maximum score of five points. Factor performance of less than maximum value earned three points. Factors totally missing the boat earned zero points. Several zero scores were imposed because cover headlines lacked numbers of any kind. This was no surprise. I ran into similar shortcomings during several years judging the Azbee’s Best Headline category.
Here’s my system:
- Number of story lines. Entries with four to five cover lines earned the maximum score of five points. Those with three or fewer cover lines earned three points. One entry managed eight active cover lines per issue. It can be done effectively.
- Active story lines (with verbs, not labels). As you will see later on in this list, there is a difference between “active” and “story-telling.” Fortunately, on this project I did not have to deal with graphic policies insisting main headlines should not exceed three or four words.
- Page numbers for each story line. Although I judged this factor, I did not score it because a company policy addressing this practice was not in place. Two publications did see fit to use this extra way to direct readers to key articles.
- Headlines with numbers. It’s unlikely that every story line merits a number, but every issue should be able to produce at least one. In the issues I judged, articles in several publications included significant statistics that were crying for cover mention. In a similar vein, some covers would benefit by including one or more tables as graphic elements.
- Story-telling headlines. Many editors settle for headlines that indicate what the article covered, but not what the writer discovered during interviews. There is a difference!
- Story-telling photos. Most entries used a single photo. As often as possible, I assigned a full score to covers depicting on-the-job activity as opposed to still-life scenes. For example, a posed photo of a person looking at the camera may not be as good as seeing that person in motion.
- Lead cover story total pages. This factor was judged but not scored since it involved an indirect cover consideration. What’s considered is whether the headline most prominently featured on the cover connects to an in-depth, high-value article of five or more editorial pages. Of course, publications with tight editorial budgets may settle for features of fewer pages.
This approach to assessing magazine covers is another example of how quantitative analysis can be applied to editorial performance, especially during a competitive match-up against tough opposition. Other possibilities are covered in my two B2B books: Get Serious About Competitive Editorial Analysis and Get Serious About Editorial Management.