Gardner Merchant is a contract services company employing over
40,000 staff in 3,500 units around the UK. The bulk of its business is
in catering, with sites ranging from Gatwick airport and Sandown
racecourse to Aldershot Garrison.
Talisman Communications, publications and presentations specialists, has
handled the company’s internal communications since 1991.
To communicate effectively with all levels of staff, within a company
that runs a wide range of operations, at sites all over the UK.
In March 1996, Gardner Merchant felt that Communicater, its in-house
tabloid style newspaper, was not catering successfully to all levels of
staff. So, from April through to August 1996, Gardner Merchant and
Talisman conducted an internal communications audit. This involved focus
groups, composed of various levels of staff at five different locations,
from Glasgow to Bristol.
They found that over 70 per cent of employees were females who read
magazines in preference to newspapers. Talisman therefore proposed to
segment the company readership with two appropriately targeted in-house
Stars, the magazine for ’frontline troops’ who make up the majority of
the workforce, was launched in November 1996. With a print run of
33,000, Talisman based the format on the best elements of their core
readers favourite reads: Bella, Best, and Chat. The result was a fun
publication, focusing on staff achievements, handy work tips, recipes
Vision, the quarterly magazine for unit managers and above, was launched
the following month. As a communications vehicle for management,
Talisman aimed for a formal approach with an up-market glossy feel. So
the 24-page publication carried news of contract wins and financial
growth alongside senior management profiles.
After each edition of Stars, feedback sessions are held with staff. Both
Gardner Merchant and Talisman say these have shown ’a very positive
The meetings have also resulted in amendments to the magazine, such as
the horoscope column which kicked off in the May 1997 edition.
Bob Cotton, Gardner Merchant’s director of communications, claims that
Stars is much more widely read than the former publication. This is
based on the improved level of readership response. However, the company
is not planning to do any formal evaluation of the two magazines until
November of this year.
Gardner Merchant senior management were reluctant at first to segment
their internal audiences. However, they accepted that Talisman was the
communications specialist and listened to its advice.
Nick Turrell, Talisman’s senior project manager, edits Stars, and says
that the magazine obviously doesn’t appeal to senior managers, hence
their initial scepticism. But, he says: ’It’s been refreshing that they
heard what we said and responded to it.’
Turrell adds that even if senior management still don’t like the
magazine they now appreciate its effectiveness. More so since May this
year, when Stars won a Communicators in Business award for the best
Client: Gardner Merchant
PR Team: In-house and Talisman Communications
Campaign: Relaunch of Gardner Merchant’s in-house publications
Timescale: March - November 1996
Budget: pounds 20,000 (excluding cost of producing magazines)