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Foreign Affairs Finds a Passionate New Audience

Publishers Press

How a 93-year-old brand retooled for a new era while staying true to good old-fashioned quality content.


Think you can’t teach an old brand new tricks? Then you’ve clearly missed the rebirth of Foreign Affairs. Published since 1922 by the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York-based brand recently underwent a complete redesign—both in print and online—and emerged with enviable readership numbers. How did they do it? Foreign Affairs publisher Lynda Hammes shares her insights.


Good Bones, New Look

The first big change? A complete redesign. “We’re living in a design-conscious world,” says Hammes, “and signaling through design that the magazine is inviting and exciting was important.” Key to that signal was introducing images on the title’s cover for the first time in its history. The team then worked visual appeal throughout the publication, including going all-color. The underlying message in the new look: this brand is worth your time.

“It’s a luxury product and it’s really important to show our informed, educated and savvy reader that they are spending their time with something that is high quality,” Hammes explains. “We were really looking to elevate the look and feel.”


Keeping the Core

What didn’t change, however, was the brand’s dedication to delivering thoughtful, in-depth stories on key international issues. If anything, Foreign Affairs has invested more deeply in covering geopolitics and regional crises. “The editors have broadened what we do to include a range of really contemporary issues—genetic engineering, big data, the Internet of things, LGBT rights,” says Hammes. “We live in this world that is flooded with information and part of the promise of what we do is to allow a discerning reader to parse through very complex issues and stay up-to-date on relevant issues, such as technology and cyber security. That has really helped make the magazine accessible.”


Doubling Up on Digital

Big changes apply to as well, where content has been doubled and being made increasingly accessible across any platform the Foreign Affairs audience wishes. And, says Hammes, not only does the FA audience read in-depth online, but they’ll also pay for it. “We have a paywall that we introduced about a year ago,” explains Hammes, “and we worked hard and did testing to make sure that it’s polite, clear and helpful to new readers. That has been really important for conversion.”


The Audience Pay-Off

Changing their look, boosting digital and tweaking their marketing is clearly working. Despite its significant $54.95 annual subscription price tag, Foreign Affairs has hit an all-time high circulation of 170,304 with an additional e-reader paid audience of 12,000. Audited subscriptions have climbed 15 percent despite the 10 percent bump in price. Ads, too, have increased: 14 percent in print and a whopping 47 percent digitally.

The lesson? Be true to your brand’s core while making every user experience consistent and appealing. Says Hammes: “Everything we do is about quality.”

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