PR TECHNIQUE INTERNAL PUBLICATIONS: Creating internal publications- Identifying your principal client contact, and agreeing to somestrategic objectives are the first priorities when planning an internalmagazine, says Larry Dobrow. Then the fun begins

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

Cellular's magazine.

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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in