In winter 2017, I led the launch of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s premier digital magazine, Virginia Tech Engineer.
It was no easy feat with a two month timeline, but here’s the behind-the-scenes work that went into it:
PUTTING TOGETHER CONTENT
In total, I wrote eight of the 12 stories for the magazine (including the feature story on the college’s new dean), contributed dozens of photos, and produced five videos (with a sixth created by my video production intern using footage I shot back in March). In total, that adds up to 11,971 words and four separate trips to Abu Dhabi, California, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis.
I managed a small team and collaborated closely with a colleague who designed the online layout and contributed photos. My supervisor, colleagues in central University Relations, and I edited all 12 stories that appeared in the magazine. I input all of the stories into the university’s CMS, Adobe Ensemble.
Through the five videos I filmed, conducted interviews for, and edited, you can:
- soar in the clouds with the self-proclaimed “liberal Democrat Jewish transsexual” widow of a “conservative Christian Republican 40 years older” who founded one of Virginia Tech’s most popular on-campus labs;
- follow an undergraduate design team to SpaceX in California as they race to invent a fifth mode of transportation;
- meet the alumnus whose recent donation of 16 motion capture suits to Virginia Tech is propelling research all over campus;
- sit in on Rolls-Royce’s first-ever U.S. Ph.D. Day at their Indianapolis campus;
- and step into a brightly colored lab where K-12 students invent roving robot vacuums topped with stuffed animals and “dabbing” lions;
My video production intern edited together a sixth video using my footage from my 10-day March 2017 trip following a team of engineers to the deserts of Abu Dhabi, where they competed in an international competition using cutting-edge technology.
PLANNING AND PROMOTION
The initial planning meeting was held Oct. 18, 2017, and the magazine was published Dec. 18, 2017 — meaning we put this first-ever digital version of the magazine together in exactly two months. It was a tall order and one we couldn’t have done without the help of our central University Relations team, who created our template and modified local assets to create the clean, minimalist look we envisioned and my colleague designed.
Before the magazine launched, our team created promotional teaser images that we featured on our Facebook daily for a week. Once the magazine launched, we promoted the overall magazine to our audiences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using a short social video I cut together. Then, over the next few weeks (this is still ongoing as of publication), we posted stories individually and using native video where possible, with Facebook and Twitter being our main promotional avenues in terms of social media. Emails were also distributed to tens of thousands of alumni.
As of publication of this post, the front page of the magazine had 298 shares. My stories collectively have seen 270 shares from the webpages themselves so far.
The homepage of the magazine was the second most frequented page on the College of Engineering website from December 18 until the publication of this post, right after the actual homepage of the website. Of the stories, my feature story on Julia Ross was the most viewed, with users staying to read for three minutes and 32 seconds on average.
So far, our combined magazine videos have nearly 16,000 views, with about 60 percent of those views coming from videos I produced, though we have not yet posted all of our videos for the winter edition of the magazine. We did this to help prolong the life of the magazine and try to reach people following the slow holiday season.
From an internal audience, I received many a kind email from my coworkers and colleagues across the university that I’d be remiss not to include here — their feedback is less about numbers and more about the feeling you get when the smart people you work with say genuine, encouraging things about the work you’ve poured your heart and soul into.
Naturally, I started mapping out the next magazine in my head before we were even done with this one. I love working on ambitious projects like putting together magazines, but am also hyper-aware of all that goes into the production of them so I like to at least start envisioning a few of the stories coming up. I won’t go into detail on that here, but we’ve got some good stuff lined up so far — I’ve already knocked out one of those stories in the first two days of being back from winter break, so I’m hoping to continue that momentum.
I’d also like to really utilize the digital space more and add on some capabilities we didn’t have a chance to incorporate in this edition. Mainly, we’re inspired by autoplaying video and interactive features, like those built in stories put together by the New York Times graphics desk (one of my personal favorite sources of digital magazine inspiration, especially since seeing Larry Buchanan talk at a conference).
Granted, I know we have a small team to work with, so my main focus for this next magazine is delegation and maximizing the capabilities of the team we do have. I’m hoping to recruit a few more interns and to build on the strengths of my teammates, given what we’ve learned from this first edition of Virginia Tech Engineer.
My sincerest thanks goes out to anyone who contributed to this magazine in any way, shape, or form. I’m proud of the product we put together, and look forward to continuing to improve it.