“Housty, how do smaller publications get noticed?”

Each month we pose a question to the amazing Peter Houston, co-host of the Media Voices podcast, and magazine consultant extraordinaire, who will answer in his fabulously inimitable way. This month’s question came from Simon Brew, Publisher of Film Stories and Film Stories Junior.

Housty, we have a problem

“How on earth do smaller publications get noticed? And can you send me lots of money?”

Looking at recent news coverage, the best way to get noticed is to dress up like a Village-People reject in full facepaint and buffalo horns and storm a major government building. But it has to be said, there are downsides to basing your magazine promotion strategy on pantomime insurrection, jail time for one.

More sustainable strategies start, rather tediously, with doing excellent work. I know it’s boring, but great content gets noticed, mainly because there’s so much rubbish out there. If you accept science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon’s worldview, 90% of everything is crap. To get noticed, you need to put your publication firmly in the not-crap 10%.

Being small up against the giants of publishing can definitely feel daunting. But I think that’s where it pays to focus on getting noticed, not by all of the people, but by the right people. Give yourself permission to start by becoming ‘famous to the family’.

1,000 true fans

Seth Godin has used the family analogy to explain that your marketing mission is not to reach everyone; you just need to reach that small circle of people you want to admire and trust you.These are the people predisposed to notice your excellent work and to tell other people about it.

From this small but highly engaged group you can go on to find the 1,000 true fans that, back in the day, Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly said you needed to make a living as a creator. These are the people who will buy everything you do and maybe more importantly, tell everyone that will listen that they should be buying it too.

In the context of getting noticed, these evangelists are the people to focus most of your energy on. Not only because they will give you money (always important), but because they will get attention for your publication on your behalf.

There are a million articles and books on how to build your circle of true fans and they almost all advise on building a strong digital presence across the platforms that your family of true fans use. Exactly what that looks like depends on your audience. It might mean a newsletter, Twitter chats, images on Instagram, a podcast, Zoom events, all of the above.

A regular heartbeat

The clever part of using your digital presence to get noticed, especially if you’re a print monthly, is to create a regular heartbeat of digital activity to counter the potential flatline between issues. 

How you build that presence is a bit beyond the scope of this column (although I’m always up for a chat), but the good news is with excellent content as your starting point you will never be short of building blocks.

A few things I would say:

  • Be consistent and authentic – wherever your content appears, you need to be true to yourself. Don’t let the platforms shape your presence, use them to amplify your voice.
  • Be original – don’t do what everyone else does. Think hard about how to make the best use of your unique content to delight your audience in new and innovative ways.
  • Add value – whether you are trying to educate, entertain or inform, always give the audience something that they will appreciate. Give people something worth sharing.
  • Start a dialogue – as a smaller publisher trying to get noticed, your community is crucial. Talk to them, listen to them, leave them in no doubt that you love them like they love you.

Targeted advertising

And on the last part of your question, sorry I don’t have lots of money to give you. If I did, I’d probably suggest spending some of it on paid promotions. Like we’re always telling our clients, advertising works.

And, as much as we all try to resist the Duopoly, targeted platform advertising can be relatively inexpensive and effective. But if you’re keen to share the wealth, take advertisements in adjacent media – people publishing related content for similar audiences. Newsletter success Morning Brew used this strategy to grow from nothing in 2015 to achieve $20 million in revenue last year.

And if none of this works, maybe just get yourself a funny hat and some facepaint.


Peter Houston is one third of the Media Voices podcast, a magazine publishing consultant and trainer, and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.