It’s hard these days not to be lured by the latest online and mobile media platforms, with their seemingly limitless capacity for engaging audiences.

The challenge is figuring out which of the many channels resonate best with your co-op’s members and which are the best investment of your limited resources.

“You can spend a lot of time working on messaging and content for your social media sites and end up with just a handful of likes and shares,” says Keith Phillips, editor of South Carolina Living, which is published by statewide association The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “I tell communicators you have to be really analytical and honest about where these platforms fit into your overall strategy and where to concentrate your energy.”

One medium that’s never lost its appeal with co-op members is the one that’s been around the longest: statewide magazines. A new survey by American MainStreet Publications (AMP) and other third-party national research show that despite a decline in the magazine industry overall, statewide publications are enjoying remarkably broad and deep engagement, including among younger readers.

“Co-op magazines are the strong foundation for any communications plan,” Phillips says. “Tell your story well in print, and you’ll reach most of your members. You’ve also got all the art and copy that you need to craft a social or digital message that builds on that foundation.”

AMP, the advertising sales cooperative for 26 of the country’s 32 statewide magazines, recently commissioned a national survey that polled more than 18,000 magazine recipients. Its findings show these publications are widely, deeply, and regularly read and highly trusted by co-op members.

“If you want to reach members, magazines are the biggest tool in the toolbox,” Phillips says. “I think that’s an important point that communicators need to be reminded of every so often. We’ve been so successful at communicating through this medium for so long, we forget how effective it is, especially when we’re all being bombarded with new media platforms.”

Readers by the numbers

More than 9.6 million households receive the publications AMP represents, and some 28 million people read those magazines. The recent reader survey found 85% of co-op members describe themselves as “regular readers,” meaning they read three out of four issues.

The combined readership makes statewide magazines “the fourth largest network of magazines in the United States,” says Mark Adeszko, AMP’s chief operating officer. “The only publications that have more circulation are two AARP publications and the Costco magazine.”

Adeszko says the survey confirms what co-op magazine publishers have known all along: Print resonates more deeply with readers than digital. Multiple studies show that on average, an adult will spend about two minutes on a website they visit before moving on. Compare that to the 52 minutes a magazine reader will spend with their publication of choice.

“When people find a magazine they like, they’ll spend almost an hour reading it during the course of a month,” he says.

The survey also examined media consumption among three distinct groups: baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials in the general and rural populations. The “grabber” here, as Adeszko put it, is that millennials read magazines in greater numbers today than ever before. In fact, 95% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they consume magazines, compared to just 81% who use Facebook.

“This one is a real eye-opener: Rural baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials are three times more likely than their urban counterparts to prefer to consume content in magazines than in a digital format,” Adeszko says.

Phillips notes that print does have limitations as a communication tool, especially in today’s lightning-fast media atmosphere.

“It’s finding the right mix and being sure that in your pursuit of digital and social, you don’t forget that print is vital to get right,” he adds. “It’s your biggest opportunity to reach members.”

Robin Conover, vice president of communications at Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and editor of Tennessee Magazine, seconds that.

“We produce content that our members absorb in different ways—print, video, and social. Each has its own place and time to be distributed and consumed,” she says. “I love digital gadgets, and I’m visual, but have I ever sat down and read an entire magazine on an iPad or iPhone? No.”

Adeszko, who’s been in the magazine industry for more than 30 years, says the advertising buyers he talks to about the statewides are routinely impressed with the reader engagement he’s able to show them.

“Advertisers are beginning to get the message that rural audiences are significant in size and that they consume media differently than audiences in metropolitan areas,” he says. “To effectively communicate their messages to rural audiences, advertisers need to recognize and respect these differences.”

As long as co-ops and statewides continue to prioritize high-quality, relevant, local content, he says, the engagement levels should continue to strengthen.

“The bottom line? Print is stronger than ever in rural America.”

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