tED magazine received the Magazine of the Year award during the 2019 Azbees for the Under $3 Million in Revenue category.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) honored tED magazine as Magazine of the Year among publications of less than $3 million in revenue. Not to be confused with TED Talks, tED magazine serves as a B2B publication for electrical distributors.

The St. Louis-based magazine serves as the official publication for the National Association of Electrical Distributors. The brand has been around for 52 years. Currently, tED magazine Publisher Scott Costa says the publication features a team of five employees—himself in the role of publisher; Misty Byers, who serves as editor; Nicky Herron, who serves as the web content manager; Karen Linehan, who serves as production editor; and Randi Vincent, who serves as art director. The brand also has a part-time employee who helps as needed.

tED magazine

tED magazine

tED magazine produces 12 issues a year along with supplements. It has two websites, six e-newsletters per week as well as podcasts and videos. Costa says his team does “the work of 20 people with just five people.”

Costa says he and his team were thrilled to receive the Magazine of the Year award in 2019. I connected with Costa to learn more about tED magazine and what sets it apart from other publications.

Megan Smalley: Could you share the history of tED magazine, and how has the brand changed in recent years?

Scott Costa: The magazine has always been with the [National Association of Electrical Distributors]. It’s been a nice little publication that helps our members deal with day-to-day business and learn best practices.

When I came here eight years ago, I noticed some issues out there we probably needed to talk about. We put a harder news edge to [the brand] in recent years and still [share] best practices and things you can do to continue to run your company well. We focus a lot online now. We post seven to eight news stories every day. That’s been very well received. We have great sources and contacts about everything Amazon is doing to let our distributors know and share the story right away online. Our members can’t watch [what Amazon is doing] as closely, but we can. We still talk best practices, but we also talk about what they need to know in the news.

We also redesigned everything in January 2016; the magazine itself had a new look. Online offerings had a new look that year to modernize. We redid the look of e-newsletters to make them easier to read in recent years. So, we definitely made appearance changes and they coincided with some editorial changes to pair them up as a branding strategy. [With rebranding], we didn’t change the three sections we cover in the magazine—news, business news and best practices. We did make it look different and changed the content to have a bit more of a hard news edge.

Smalley: As the publisher, how involved do you get with the editorial content?

Scott Costa, publisher of tED magazine

Scott Costa, publisher of tED magazine

Costa: I have some really good editors, and I don’t micromanage them too much. I do come to them to ask them what’s happening on projects. But they are good at what they do, and I don’t need to stand next to them to make sure all the commas are in the right place. I don’t overmanage, but I do say, ‘This is a story we need to cover.’ Oftentimes, they are doing that already. They are great at what they do, and that’s a huge benefit to me.

Smalley: What are some unique things you have tried to do as a brand to stand out?

Costa: One of the things we did—we tried it and it seems to be working—is we got rid of most (not all) of our expert-written columns. I have a hard time reading magazines where there are no quotes, and everything is written by an expert. [Columnists] just say they are an expert and we have to believe it. We wanted to find experts and interview them instead, so readers would get the article from tED, not some guy they don’t know. That change cost us some money. It’s easy to have a columnist who provides free editorial, but if people don’t read that, you’re not getting the benefit. [With our brand], we’ll come through with what you need to know and how you need to know that. I think it adds values when you focus on readers and when they know things are accurate.

Smalley: What advice would you give to ASBPE members about creating strong editorial content consistently?

Costa: I think there are a couple of things. I think it’s hard for me, and probably for others, to be in an office and try to gather news when the whole world is out there where news is happening. The key here is to have a lot of sources who give you information. I try to have as many sources as possible telling me, ‘This is happening …” Have as many sources as possible—good, close sources to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to news that’s out there.

Also, read press releases super closely. In there are nuggets of follow-up stories you don’t realize are there. Pore through press releases and see if there’s another story there. We all find press release stories. Everyone will get that release. Dig in and see if other stories are in there that won’t be done by other publications. That sets you apart.

ASBPE: What advice would you give to ASBPE members on submitting Azbee entries? What are mistakes to avoid?

Costa: Here’s what we do, and I can’t say it works for everyone. We just work all year long, hyper focused on our readers and our customers and what we do. We never assign something hoping to win an award for it. Just keep cranking out the best you can and in the best format you can, whether it’s online or in print. Don’t let each other down inside the office in terms of what your magazine is doing. Just keep doing the best stuff you can. Then, two weeks before Thanksgiving, sit down and decide about awards. We ask ourselves, ‘What did we do that we’re really proud of, now that we can look back?’ It’s amazing how much better you feel about the stuff you submit when you originally did it for your readers and nothing else. That means a lot to me. Even if you don’t win an award, celebrate that you’re proud of this pile of things that you did. It’s great to win awards—I’m thrilled that we won and I’m honored—but just focus on doing the right thing for your readers and customers every day, and you’ll find good entries you’re happy with submitting.

One other thing is to work on it in advance. If you do it one day before the deadline, you’re rushing, there are typos, you attach the wrong files. Don’t do that. Don’t wait until the deadline.

And with that, the 2020 Azbees will start accepting entries on Nov. 1. Start thinking about content you’re proud of now!