Laura Peet thought she'd covered all the bases when she prepared a
feature on a top customer-service employee for a client's internal
She secured the necessary approvals, double-checked the employee's name
and title, and made sure that the subject himself was comfortable with
the story. However, right before the publication went to press, Peet, a
principal at Gilliatt & Campbell, learned an interesting piece of
information: the employee had been fired.
"He might have been serving some customers well, but not all of them,"
she jokes. "When working on an internal publication, you can never
forget about the obvious. In this case, we should have checked with the
human resources department."
This is but one example of the pitfalls that await PR practitioners
asked to devise, design, and distribute internal publications. No matter
how well you prepare in advance, you can never completely anticipate the
multitude of problems that spring up at the last minute - everything
from garden-variety typos to a CEO deciding that he doesn't like the way
light reflects off his hair in the photograph he hand-picked. Still,
those who have worked on internal publications insist that it's possible
to create a glossy magazine, pamphlet, or newsletter that connects with
a company's employees or clients in a way that is simultaneously
intelligent and entertaining.
Identifying a single client contact is possibly the most essential item
on any to-do list for an internal publication. "Otherwise, you'll run
yourself ragged trying to get 30 people to sign off on each issue," says
Doug Monroe, a former Hayslett Sorrell VP who worked on Bell South
The PR people on the project must then sit with the client to decide
what the publication will and won't be. "There must be a clear strategy
and set of objectives," says Anne Deeley, global practice leader for
workplace communications at Deeley-Trimble/MS&L. "Otherwise, the
publication becomes a dumping ground for everything."
The client contact can often accelerate the process by facilitating
interviews or photo shoots. But even the most conscientious contact
person often has a hard time conveying the importance of deadlines to
others in her company. It's easy to understand why: internal
publications rank far behind just about every other work-related task on
the average corporate exec's agenda. When a company's Powers That Be
finally approve an internal publication - usually after a "final"
deadline has passed - they tend to be its harshest critics.
"Clients will come up with the most interesting things that absolutely,
positively must be changed at deadline time, most of which have more to
do with the way a publication looks than the way it reads," explains
Pohly & Partners president and Custom Publishing Council co-chair Diana
Pohly, whose firm produces publications for Continental Airlines and
"Usually, we try to push back gently and say 'we can do this, but there
are costs.' But if (Continental chairman and CEO) Gordon Bethune says 'I
don't like that photograph,' the photograph goes."
In terms of content, the general mantra is that just about anything can
work, so long as it ties into the predetermined strategy and
Practitioners warn of certain types of content that can render even the
most artfully produced publication completely unreadable. "Does anybody
really want to read about little Johnny's little-league team?" asks Ivy
Hecker, director of innovation and growth at Lang Group. "I've seen
pages of stories and photos about white men in gray suits leading the
company to greater glory," cracks Advertising Ventures president and
chief creative officer Steve Rosa, who is currently working on
publications for CVS Pharmacy and Textron. "That's totally out of touch
with today's work force."
Like any other publication, it is critical that internal newsletters
remain keenly aware of their readers' needs. "If something doesn't
either help employees do their jobs better or feel better about the jobs
they're doing, it's not worth including," Rosa says. Northlich Public
Relations management supervisor Heather Valento agrees: "I revised a
weekly newsletter to focus on business-only content after years of
including an employee classifieds section. While dedicating more space
to business issues was probably the right thing to do, it sent a signal
to many loyal readers that they didn't have a voice in the publication
Despite the declarations that company intranets are the internal
communications vehicle of the minute, it's important to remember that
many audiences remain intimidated by computers. "Some clients are
pushing us to move exclusively to electronic-based communications, but
I'm not convinced this is a good idea," says Deborah Bowker, a managing
director in Burson-Marsteller's DC office. "Employees have all kinds of
learning styles and ways of absorbing information."
In the end, so long as its producers are responsive to the needs of the
readers, an internal publication almost always fosters morale and
generates water-cooler buzz. "A custom publication can't be the be-all
and end-all for communications and sales problems," Peet says. "But if
done right, it can revolutionize the way a company communicates with its
employees and clients."
1. Do set a clear strategy and list of objectives for the
2. Do identify a single client contact. It is much easier to coordinate
deadlines, revisions, and approvals through a single person than through
a host of busy executives
3. Do emphasize graphic content over editorial elements. Most experts
suggest a 60%-40% balance between the two
4. Do attempt to use professional-quality photography, rather than
blurry shots taken with a digital camera. If this is not possible, avoid
photographs in favor of illustrations, charts, or other graphic
1. Don't let ego drive the editorial and creative content. A publication
with photos of a company's CEO on every page will have little
credibility with the rank and file
2. Don't move an internal publication exclusively to a company intranet.
Employees prefer something that is tangible and can be brought home to
show to their family and friends
3. Don't try to be all things to all people. If a publication is
predominantly distributed to a management-level audience, don't include
birthdays and other employee announcements
4. Don't rely too heavily on humor. Humor-heavy internal publications
offend more often than they amuse.