Q&A with our Editor of the Year!

The Association of Optometrists’ Optometry Today is a magazine which keeps its readers abreast of the latest research and innovations, providing exclusive career advice and helping to keep their patients safe. John White, OT editor and AOP deputy director of communications, recently won Editor of the Year in the memcom membership excellence awards. John has been instrumental in ensuring that the magazine offers improved content offering to members, an operational saving to the AOP and a growth in digital advertising revenues. We were really excited to catch up with this esteemed Editor following his big memcom win last month. Here’s our interview with John…

Your website optometry.co.uk now generates £150,000 per year, an impressive 1,000% increase on revenues from 2012. What would your top tips be to other online editors looking to build advertising revenues?


Four steps come to mind:

1/ Create content that is ‘digital first.’ While we are always thinking about smart ways to leverage the content that we produce for the monthly print edition, producing unique and regular content for online is key to help drive and grow traffic. We take a multichannel approach that fuses daily news stories alongside longer form features and video content.


2/ Invest in your online platform and your brands. In the last four years, we have taken a series of steps to upgrade our CRM, website and CMS and invest in an ad server platform (DFP Small Business). This work can be challenging and time consuming, yet it is key to making sure that your product can meet the needs not only of readers and advertisers, but, just as crucially, the team who are using these tools every day to produce and publish the work.


3/ Gain extra clout through social media. Through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram we share our content to maximise exposure and drive our onsite traffic. In particular, this works well to increase our reach outside the UK. OT reviews the performance of the content it produces weekly – this helps to steer what we write and when we publish it.


4/ Work closely with partners to deliver innovative solutions. With the support of Think, our publishing partner, we have focused on offering native content solutions. Where possible, we also look at taking a multichannel route with advertisers that blends their content across online and print for the greatest impact.


What training did your team have in order to create successful content online as well as in print?


OT is lucky to have a really talented team who are essentially digital first in their approach. To be honest, in terms of training and background, I am the print dinosaur! One piece of work we did early on was to think much more carefully about a ‘create once, publish everywhere’ strategy. It is easy to think you are being smart using your content, but when we actually looked at our channels – in our case print, web, email, social media etc across OT and the wider AOP communications function – we realised that through an organisation-wide planner we could be more effective in getting our messages across to members.


Can you tell us a little about the Perspectives section in OT and why is works so well?


In any professional sphere, there is always going to be, as Mrs Merton would say, heated debates – and rightly so. In OT, we use our Perspectives section to draw out some of these conversations, commissioning professionals for their views, often based on our monthly theme. We also use the section to include commentators from outside optics, who share their personal take on how vision has affected their lives. Plus, we always open the section with our CEO, who contextualises the theme of the edition with the work that the AOP is doing – and teases out any actions that we would like to see members take.


How do you decide on the theme of each edition? And how do you ensure this permeates throughout?


The decision to adopt an overarching theme every edition was one that we landed on while relaunching the title with Think in 2015. We had made the call to migrate from fortnightly to monthly, in part based on data from our 2015 reader survey that highlighted how time-poor members were. We knew that we needed to deliver as much ‘added value’ as possible with the relaunch. The monthly theme not only helps us to tailor and curate our 100-page journal, but it gives us the scope to tackle fascinating and more out of the box topics. Plus, it gives each edition a brand identity of its own, and makes it a product that readers are, hopefully, more likely to keep.


The process for deciding the themes starts in Q3, when the OT and AOP comms team review all of the themes that we are working on that year, and what is in store for the year ahead. Working closely with our brilliant clinical editors, we draw up a Booker Prize style ‘long list,’ which we then share with a diverse group of stakeholders, including AOP staff and Council. Using a mixture of surveys and interview research, we then have great data when choosing and finessing the agreed themes. The process takes around 12 weeks and is invaluable!


92% of your readers rate the design as good or excellent – do you have any tips for other designers in the membership sector?


1/ Keep on brand. Ok, this may sound like a given, but during the relaunch of the AOP brand identity in 2015, we made sure that the OT brand was fully thought through and was developed as a companion piece. Not only did this result in a slick new look that gave the design team creative scope within limits, but it helped us to drive home the message to members that this was ‘their’ AOP members journal.


2/ Know your audience. While I might covet the out-there charisma of airline inflight titles, or the grown-up chic of certain business magazines, creating a visual language that appeals to your readers’ sensibilities is key.


3/ Don’t rest on your laurels. At any one time, the OT and Think teams usually have an idea for tweaking a design, be it a revamp of an entire section, or creating a layout for a new regular feature.


4/ Images, images, images. Readers love them – and the OT team is always thinking about ways to incorporate visuals into our work. Simple steps we have taken include: cutting back on the generic stock images that we use; commissioning photographers and illustrators to produce eye catching covers; producing infographic-led news stories every month; and launching our Instagram account to promote our stories using our visuals.


What does it mean to you to win Editor of the Year?


Hmm, you have an editor who is lost for words here! It was a complete honour and a thrill to be chosen by the judges. With the support of the brilliant OT, AOP and Think teams, the job of editing OT is a pleasure; being recognised with the award would not have been possible without them.


What did you enjoy about this year’s memcom event?


The 2018 awards event was the perfect opportunity to catch-up with peers from across the profession – and to celebrate the exciting work we are all doing in the membership/society space.