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
In other words, unless you are a large national or multinational company
with a substantial readership, the overheads of outsourcing may be
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.
B&B: REACHING OUT TO STAFF
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.’
CARING TO SHARE: THE POST OFFICE SHOWS ITS TRUE COLOURS
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.