FOCUS: CONTRACT PUBLISHING - Persuade your staff to read all about it/An in-house publication can be a useful way of keeping staff informed and making them feel wanted. Mary Cowlett reports on how to persuade them to take notice

With the amount of paper, pamphlets and publications that land on most people’s desks at work, the staff magazine is almost certainly a low priority read.

With the amount of paper, pamphlets and publications that land on

most people’s desks at work, the staff magazine is almost certainly a

low priority read.

Couple this to the increase in other, faster forms of internal

communication channels, and in-house publications can seem pretty

irrelevant. But having decided that the company journal will be one of

your mouthpieces for getting across corporate strategy, values and

culture to employees, how do you ensure they actually read it?

For an increasing number of organisations, the solution is using a

specialist publishing company.

With a wealth of experience in the consumer or customer arena, a

contract publisher can give an internal publication a news-stand feel

and quality familiar to readers.

Abbey View, the quarterly group communications magazine for Abbey

National staff, is published by John Brown Contract Publishing. To draw

readers in, it features celebrities like Full Monty actor Robert Carlyle

on its cover and has a wealth of competitions and general interest

articles, alongside company news, staff profiles and business

information. Mailed to employees at home, the magazine looks and reads

like a middle-of-the-range consumer title.

John Brown chief executive Andrew Hirsch says: ’Abbey National came to

us because of our work with Virgin on its in-flight magazine Hot


We did research into the types of news-stand magazines Abbey National

staff liked reading and produced something that appealed to the common

denominators among their thousands of staff.’

An important part of deciding on the quality, content and style of a

publication is establishing what readers expect. Harvard PR director,

Gareth Zundel says: ’You must always start with a readership survey and

identify where interests lie. Are people flicking through to find a

picture of themselves and their colleagues, or are they looking for some

corporate spin on a news story or event?’

With the ever-growing reliance on electronic media, organisations with a

high level of PC-facing staff are seeing the role of their print-based

communications move away from the traditional newspaper format. But

while employees look to intranets and desktop delivery for

up-to-the-minute hard news on, say, merger negotiations, they want the

print medium to provide magazine-style comment and insight into


Julian Treasure is the chairman of the TPD group, which produces Talk,

the quarterly title for employees of mobile phone company Orange, and

One Team, the staff magazine for building society the Bradford and

Bingley Group. He says: ’Traditionally, internal publications have

always been based on the local newspaper ethos, which is perfectly valid

as employees are, in effect, part of a close-knit community. However,

quality now matters. People are used to seeing outstanding magazines on

the news-stand and receiving outstanding customer magazines from

companies they do business with.’

He believes there is scope for contract publishers to provide top-notch

staff publications for organisations, as many of the skills used in

producing customer titles are easily transferable.

’We have experienced staff who are used to getting under the skin of a

client and actively involved in their business,’ he says. But he warns

that the interests of readers are not so easy to equate. ’The

relationship between customers and a company is easy - it’s about

service. But there is a mix of values with internal audiences - you’re

dealing with their livelihood,’ he adds.

But while employee publications are a workable proposition for some

contract publishers, the fee-based funding can be a turn-off for


Mark Flanders, founder of The Publishing Team and its specialist

internal communications division, The Communicatons Team, says: ’Very

few large contract publishers have found staff publications viable. The

print-runs tend to be small, the information very specific and the lack

of opportunities to raise advertising revenue means they find it hard to

make money.’

In other words, unless you are a large national or multinational company

with a substantial readership, the overheads of outsourcing may be

economically unviable.

Flanders is also not convinced that producing glossy news-stand quality

magazines for staff is always appropriate. ’You have to find a way to

share company brand values, demonstrate best practice and motivate

people in a language that they will understand,’ he says. ’In many

instances, the smarter you make the publication, the more people view it

as a corporate vehicle and the less they trust it.’

Another aspect of deciding on the tack to take on internal publications

is appealing to a diverse audience. While a manager will find ’a day in

the life of the financial director’ of relevance to his work, an

administrative assistant or shop-floor worker may, at best, be


This is where a contract publishing company can come into its own. A

team of independent journalists with the latest technology at its

fingertips is able to tailor information to attract a broad spectrum of

staff by using the whole bag of tricks, from dynamic photography and

design to tone of editorial.

An alternative to using one vehicle to cover the common ground of all

staff is to divide the audience. French multi-national Alstom has two

regular staff journals: Management Forum, a magazine produced three

times a year in English and French for its 12,500 top managers, and

Challenge, a quarterly title published in English, French, German and

Spanish for the other 110,000 members of the workforce.

Tim James, publishing director of Summerhouse Publishing, oversees both

titles. He says: ’The two are very different in design, quality, flow of

copy, production values and most critically, tone. Challenge is

approachable, vibrant and involving, it’s about creating dialogue,

whereas Management Forum covers topics of interest for the company’s top

players and has a more traditional feel and a much cooler approach.’

But the biggest challenge in preventing employees from simply throwing

internal publications in the bin must be credibility. With a direct line

of communication to staff, it can be tempting to use the print medium as

a propaganda machine.

’I am the first stage of the reality check,’ says NatWest Group

communications manager, Nick Howard, who has final editorial say on the

staff title NatWest The Business, published by BLA, the contract

publishing arm of the William Reed Group.

He admits that sensitive information is controlled in the run up to the

announcement of annual company results, but says: ’Most of the time, the

senior executives actively encourage openness and honesty. The staff

respect this and that actually gives the executive team more


At a time when organisations are seeking to make their brand come alive

for staff and align their messages to internal and external audiences,

companies which have the balance right have created magazines for staff

which are seen as a perk of the job, not just another document heading

for the circular file.


As PR Week went to press, members of The Bradford and Bingley (B&B)

building society were having a final chance to vote on whether to

convert to plc status. While the building society has reportedly spent

pounds 5 million on a communications programme to promote the benefits

of mutuality to members, it is also asking employees to act as

ambassadors for the society.

One of the tools the society has used to explain the situation to staff

is One Team, the B&B internal magazine. Published by the TPD Group, the

publication has laid out the arguments and explained the role each

employee can play in fighting the resolution.

B&B communications manager Martin Tregellas stresses that the magazine’s

aim is not to be a dictatorial management tool. ’It’s

people-orientated,’ he says. ’The articles are intended to show people

and teams in action.’ Feedback from employees reveals that one of the

most popular segments is ’The things we do’, which features pictures

sent in by readers of their own events.

Tregellas says one of the advantages of using a third party to produce

the magazine is that senior management are relaxed about how messages

are delivered. ’It brings a level of independence to the editorial

style,’ he says. ’The people who own the messages are more happy being

interviewed by a professional journalist who will put their own steer on

an issue, than somebody in-house.’ In the past, this hands-off approach

by the senior players has seen them portrayed as a Subbuteo football

team - with chief executive, Christopher Rodrigues in goal - to explain

the reorganisation of the group following its acquisition of Mortgage

Express and Black Horse Agencies.

To ensure that the publication is hitting the right spot, each issue

carries a readership questionnaire attached to a competition. This

addresses design, layout and how much of the magazine people usually


But the key issue for Tregellas is whether the content mix is right.

He is keen to keep business information in check and address issues as

they affect the whole workforce. ’The magazine only works in the context

of a suite of internal communications tools,’ he says. ’We use other

channels such as cascade briefings, the intranet, and video for details

that relate to specific audiences.’


Following the postal strike of 1996 and uncertainties about

privatisation, the Post Office’s internal communications division

commissioned an annual report designed and written specifically for

staff. Post Office head of communications policy Susan Burgin says: ’The

objectives were to support the Post Office’s strategy of encouraging its

businesses to work together more closely, to improve understanding of

the organisation as a whole, and to provide straight answers to straight


With more than 200,000 employees working in four businesses - Royal

Mail, Post Office Counters, Parcelforce Worldwide and Subscription

Services - this was a massive challenge. To make the situation more

difficult, the project was undertaken against a backdrop of grass-roots

employees feeling that senior management was remote and uncaring.

An internal communications report commissioned two years ago described

an ’organisation which is losing the commitment of some of the very

people on whom it will need to rely for the delivery of its future’.

According to Burgin, there were several issues to consider in preparing

an interpretation of the annual report and accounts for employees,

including how to avoid delivering information in a patronising tone. ’We

recognised that the huge sums of money involved made profits fairly

meaningless,’ she says. ’But going beyond that to think about the

individual, wasn’t there a chance that a frustrated postman on pounds

235 per week could find the financial success of The Post Office a bit

of a turn-off?’

In 1997 the organisation asked internal communications specialist

Redhouse Lane to produce a stand-alone, full-colour employee report to

be sent to each member of staff at home. Entitled Sorted, it demystified

the accountant-speak and translated financial performance into ten pages

of layman’s language.

While the report was well received, it stopped short of interpreting

performance in terms of brand values and corporate reputation.

The 1998 report, The Big Picture, moved towards involving employees by

giving them an idea of how, as individuals, they contributed to the

organisation’s success and reputation. Redhouse Lane came up with a more

informal approach to communicate issues such as competition and

partnership, customers and the community, and investing in the future. A

cartoon centre-spread was used to illustrate the Post Office’s central

role in the community.

Feedback on The Big Picture was generally supportive and created high

levels of interest. The majority of readers found the information

helpful and enjoyed the informal approach. However, while many praised

the cartoon centre-spread, just as many took exception, some describing

it as ’over the top’ and ’childish’.

Burgin is determined to move the annual Employee Report towards a

document that looks at the Post Office’s overall performance. ’Our

future objective is to work towards a ’social report’ for employees -

warts and all - to ensure they understand and believe in our values and

aspirations,’ she says.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in