Read Like Your Enemies Will: Lessons in Magazine Editing From AARP’s Bob Love

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A transcript of the ASME-award winning editor’s keynote at the Folio: Association Media Summit.

Editor’s note: In March, editors, publishers, marketers, and other professionals from membership associations all across the country gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the second annual Folio: Association Media Summit. Among the full-day event’s many highlights was the breakfast keynote delivered by Bob Love, legendary editor of AARP The Magazine, and a 35-year veteran of the magazine business whose ASME-award winning career has featured stops at eminent titles like Rolling Stone, New York, Playboy, and Reader’s Digest, among several others.

Below, enjoy a slightly abridged and lightly edited version of Love’s keynote address, full of invaluable wisdom on the inherent challenges involved in publishing an association magazine, and how they are different — and similar — to those faced by their counterparts in the mass consumer space.

Good morning, and welcome to the National Press Club. With your indulgence, a little story about Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa dies and appears at the Pearly Gates. God says, “Welcome to your heavenly rewards for a lifetime of work with the poor and the sick. It’s your turn now, Mother T, and I’m here to help. Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to do . . . Maybe something in cloud-computing?”

The little nun considers this for a moment or two, looks up at God and says:

“Well,” she says, “I always thought I’d be a great magazine editor.”

And there you have it folks, everything you need to know about our work in a single sentence.

On days when the copy is singing, your headlines are genius, your deadlines are met, and your art director is being angelic, the job feels like heaven.

On other typical days, you’re never far from being reminded — by a reader or a board member — that many people believe a deceased Albanian nun with no journalistic experience could do a better job than you running the magazine.

The organizers of this event asked me to talk to you about my long experience in the trenches of consumer magazines: Something like 35 years now that I think about it. To see what lessons I may have learned that can be transferred to you and your publications, which like mine, now have the advantages and drawbacks of a built-in audience — membership.

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