Published: 11 June 2010

What charities can learn from Men’s Health

Copywriter Trina Wallace suggests five things charity communicators can learn from a magazine cover, such as Men’s Health

“Strip away fat!” “100 simplest weight-loss cheats ever.” “Boost your brain power by watching the World Cup.”

Charity sector communicators can learn a lot from these headlines.They’re taken from the July issue of Men’s Health magazine.

Like any effective publication, pick up a copy of Men’s Health, read by a quarter of a million people every month, and you’ll know instantly what it’s all about. You’ll get an idea of who the reader is, their hopes and desires and why they buy the magazine.

Now, I’m no Men’s Health reader myself, and this blog isn’t about critiquing its content. I take the magazine down from the newsagents’ shelves now and then and recall my old journalism tutor’s lesson about why their cover works so well: it sells the magazine’s content to its target audience so they buy it.

Here are five things to learn from a magazine cover, like Men’s Health, to help you improve your charity’s communications.

1. Know what your audience does in their free time.

Ask a Men’s Health journalist what their reader might do on the weekend and they’ll, sigh, and whittle off an answer: “Go for a half-hour jog they thought would be an hour’s run, plan their next week’s meals, watch the match at their mates BBQ, shop for the latest gadgets and have a few beers at the pub, but then feel guilty about them the next day.” Or something similar. As a charity communicator, you need to be able to do the same thing for your target audiences. Know your audience well and you’ll be more easily able to persuade them to donate, or change their behaviour.

2. Use SMART to get your reader’s attention.

Men’s Health readers like SMART targets – as in, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. For example, “24-hour muscle: seven ways to pack on 5kg.” They know that their reader really wants to get fit but is so busy they want results fast. Your charity’s target audience, donors for example, are probably also looking for immediate results. So, to grab their attention, tell them how many lives their cash will save and in what timeframe – shopping lists are essential items for your communications so invest resources in getting them done properly.

3. Re-package what you do.

Every month, Men’s Health will have articles about losing weight, gaining weight, the right food to eat, how to improve intelligence without much effort etc. It’s just re-angled each time. You should apply the same creativity to your charity communications. It might be the third annual report you’ve written but you can approach it in a completely different way – use an unusual format, get your service users involved, or go for an online version. Some of the readers of the charity communication you are working on might not have heard your story before, so if it’s tired in your telling, they’ll notice and switch off.

4. Know how you want your audience to feel.

Men’s Health stories are generally about motivating readers to look after themselves, emotionally, physically and mentally. They are made to feel excited, enthusiastic and good about themselves. When you produce your communication, you need to think about how you want your audience to feel when they read it. It might be empathy for a case study, or shock at a hard-hitting campaign.

5. Hone and translate your key messages.

Like any good charity communication, a Men’s Health article is filled with key messages. “Keep fit, look good and you’ll achieve more,” is one. “Busy successful men like you can stay healthy with minimum effort,” is another. These key messages help shape the magazine’s content every month. If you tailor your key messages to your target audiences, your charity communications will be a whole lot easier to produce, not to mention more inspiring and effective.


Trina Wallace, copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.