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Pros and Cons of Using a Guest Editor

By

A photo of U2 singer Bono

Bono's one day as guest editor of The Independent dramatically boosted sales.

Photo © Getty Images
A guest editor can draw new readers to your publication and offer a fresh perspective on a variety of hot-button issues. These contributions can help build your magazine's brand while increasing your sales figures. Weigh the pros and cons to decide if working with a guest editor is right for your media brand.

Pro: Guest Editors Bring Many Perks

You have an excellent editorial staff so why have an outsider tinker with your publication? If you know how to choose guest editors, they can breathe new life into your publication and, with it, bring free publicity, new readers and a spike in sales.

Bono's one-day stint as guest editor for The Independent gained the publication an extra 70,000 copies in sales. Any media outlet would jump to have those thousands of eyes on their products.

Most publications don't have the luxury of Bono stopping by their offices to guest-edit an issue. But high-profile people in your field or relative unknowns who have a spark of talent and a passion to share it can take your publication in a direction you never would have expected.

Pro: You Set the Guidelines Your Guest Editor Will Follow

Establish guidelines your guest editor will follow. Start with your expectations.

Will the guest editor choose his own topic and the writers who will contribute? How many pages do you expect him to fill and what will the approximate word count be per page? What is the style and format you expect him to follow?

Describe everything as if it's a job description for a new employee. All guidelines should be in place before you begin the search for your next guest editor.

Con: Guest Editors Have to Be Monitored Closely

Keep an eye on your guest editor as if your publication's brand depends on it. Because it does.

A guest editor may walk into the door with the idea that this is his time to do what he wants with your publication. Or you could run into a conflict of interest that puts your publication in a negative light and possibly a legal situation.

When Ashton Kutcher guest edited a special online-only edition of Details, it wasn't long before The New York Times uncovered he was an investor in many of the companies he was spotlighting. Gawker tallied up more than a dozen companies profiled that Kutcher partially owned but failed to disclose to readers. Red flags initially prompted talks of an FTC investigation but a day later the FTC released a statement on Twitter that it would not be investigating the actor.

This scenario could be a nightmare for any publication. Any controversy that questions the character and intentions of a guest editor you chose and the content you published can damage your publication -- both publicly and financially -- if you are investigated or sued.

Con: Guest Editors Could Put Your Media Brand in the Line of Fire

A guest editor's vision can put your publication in hot water. Although you have the final say on what makes the cut, be ready for controversy when the issue hits the stands if you approve it.

In 2006, Giorgio Armani guest edited The Independent for a special Product Red edition. The cover shot of white, blonde actress Kate Moss as a black woman to promote a story on the struggle of women in Africa caused a major backlash. The special issue didn't flop entirely but only 10,000-15,000 people picked up a copy. That's about 9,000 fewer copies than the previous Thursday's issue that featured a human body wall chart inside.

Just because a guest editor is taking over the reigns temporarily, doesn't mean you have an easy out should his choices offend your readers, or worse, the world. It's your name that's on the magazine's masthead. You will have to stand by the issue you sent to print or be prepared to apologize for it.

Just remember, if you have a successful issue, readers will give your guest editor all of the credit. If you have a disastrous issue, readers will blame your publication.

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