Every year, Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) recognizes trade, association, and business publications around the world for their excellence in various categories, such as design, website, and writing. For the 2021 Tabbies, the organization added a new category to align with the times: COVID-19 coverage. TABPI announced its top 25 winners in July 2021, and Smithbucklin client PSDA received top billing — the Gold Award — for the PS Magazine article “The Month Everything Changed” from its June/July 2020 issue.
When the pandemic struck, the editors of PS Magazine — a publication tailored to print distributors and marketing service providers looking to create strategic partnerships with manufacturers and suppliers — knew they couldn’t ignore covering the effects it was having on the industry and PSDA members. It was April 2020, barely a month into the public health crisis, but they’d already begun hearing how distributors were pivoting, collaborating, and making it work.
The team wanted to report on this as it happened, but do so in a way that extended beyond the typical “lessons learned” retrospective usually seen in industry publications. They wanted to cover it on the ground, in the moment, with a narrative approach that placed the reader at the scene — on a deserted street, on a tarmac in China, on the phone with a banker, etc.
As editors working on a print magazine, they were aware that any article written in April wouldn’t hit mailboxes until June or July because of magazine lead times, and they also were aware they had no idea what shape the pandemic would take over those ensuing months. But they did know that what PSDA members were experiencing was important and worth documenting. And in unprecedented times, why not go for a nontraditional type of storytelling?
PSDA editors Darin Painter, Alexa Schlosser, and Kristin Frankiewicz; freelance writers Laurie Hileman, Lillian Chapa, and Jennifer Jones Donatelli; and designer Phil Montwill collaborated closely, meeting virtually twice a week as they tracked three print companies during the same 30-day span of April 2020. The events of 2020 were, in many ways, like watching a disaster movie, and they wanted readers to feel the cinematic nature of the moment. They broke the typical three-column magazine format to create a timeline of events for each company, with each major incident in the company’s month broken out in a bubble with headlines such as, “Monday, April 13, 5:30 a.m., ABS offices – Scott Steiner is a half-hour early, and he’s holding disinfectant.” The result of this style and approach was a piece that showed, not just told, about the struggles and triumphs of entrepreneurs in the industry.
The team timed the print publication with an online discussion in PSDA’s member-to-member forum called the PSDA Community. Dozens of audience members used that forum to share their own COVID-19-related stories, questions, opinions, and strategies with each other in member-to-member “Huddles” held online. The result was a piece of collaborative journalism and visual storytelling that led to interaction, idea-sharing, and utility for readers.
You can read the original article here. In May of this year, the editors also followed up with each company to see what had changed one year later. You can read that article on PSDA’s content hub, PostScript.