If you want to boost reader engagement, boost advertising revenue and build a loyal audience, consider putting out a special publication that is likely to resonate with your target audience.
Your regular readers will already be on notice, but a special issue can attract the attention of other readers who aren't familiar with your magazine. If they like what they see, they may stick around and become consumers of your other content.
While too many special issues can alienate the advertisers you depend on to support these publications or simply divert their dollars from elsewhere, some advertisers specifically want the exposure of a special publication that is likely to have more promotion, fanfare and oomph.
There are several types of special publications, and more than one of them will probably match the desired effect you hope to achieve.
If your focus is on one annual issue that shows the highlights of the year, then consider features that were popular and generated positive responses for a definitive cross-section of what your publication is all about. At this time you can highlight updates from some of those stories. For example, an article about the increase in Americans retiring to Costa Rica would be an excellent candidate for another look at how life is going now for those people.
A milestone anniversary issue (10th, 25th, 50th) would have even more chances for compelling content since you can draw from such a large body of work. Depending on how far you go back, this might require some heavy digging – does anyone remember pulling content together for millennium editions? It's a lot of work.
Putting together an issue like this also should involve getting different eyes on the project, particularly people within the company who have been there longer than others and could provide valuable feedback. For older publications, a longtime employee might also be a candidate for a look back through the years, written either by that person or a staff writer. Whether in the newsroom or the mail room, longtime staffers have unique insights that can add color and authenticity.
Best of Topic Issues
Perhaps you want a few special issues that focus on content printed in your magazine. Some candidates could be collections of recipes, arts and crafts, household tips, decorating ideas, ideas for teachers, standout people, or other topics culled from the previous 12 months of your publication, organized into different topic areas. For example, a special publication focusing on arts and crafts would put domino art in a different section than woodworking, and an issue highlighting best of people could target philanthropy, business or health care.
Depending on how much your magazine utilizes content from readers, you could also publish a "Best of Readers" special issue, including tips and photos.
If you put out a special publication that does not draw on favorite content from previous issues, you have more work and more time to put in, but you also have more possibilities. Instead of fitting existing content to a theme, you can create content based on that theme. Readers can help, too, by submitting content that enhances the appeal of your magazine.
Holiday publications, especially Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, can be popular. People are always looking for something different to work into their traditional celebrations, such as food, decorations, celebrations, crafts and gifts. How about a combined Mother's Day/Father's Day issue that focuses on Mom for half the magazine and Dad for the other half, with the magazine flipped so that both sides are the "front"?
For a regional magazine, a "who's who" of notable people in the region could develop considerable interest. You could set categories – such as teacher, philanthropist, business owner, restaurateur or athlete – and choose a person to head each category, with a handful of runners-up below or on a facing page.
Some other ideas for topics and content:
Creativity on Display
A special publication is an opportunity to play up content and make it big, bright and beautiful, create unique print ads that are tied into a theme, and design bold, imaginative covers and pages. Your regular issues are creative on their own, and they are important, but special issues give you a chance to work with something different. That's why we call them special.