What makes an effective employee magazine? If we were to get right down to the nitty gritty, we could compile 100 tips for producing an engaging internal publication, but, for now, here is our list of the basic things you need to do to create a magazine that your staff look forward to receiving.
Ensure you are producing a magazine that is truly aimed at your audience. Communicators often make the mistake of delivering magazines they would like to read, in a tone of voice – usually overly formal – that they think befits “good corporate communication”. Before you launch or relaunch your magazine, survey your readers. Ask them what they want from it. What content will help them do their jobs? What language should you use? How formal should the design be? Do they prefer to read in print or online? What publications do they read in their spare time? It’s no use trying to pitch an Economist-level staff magazine at an audience of avid Heat readers. Once you have your feedback, don’t ignore it. And in a year or two, survey your audience again and ask them how you’re doing. Your communications budget is being wasted if your magazine isn’t getting results from the readers you’re targeting.
Speak to your audience in a language they understand. Despite universal agreement that jargon is a no-no, there are still communicators who believe long words and boardroom acronyms make content sound professional. They don’t. They make your messages harder to digest. Write in a way that your audience speaks to each other – use a conversational tone to engage, entertain and inform clearly. Translate technical information into plain language. Your engineers and scientists may lap up complex terms and intricate product descriptions, but you need all your staff – from the frontline to the office – to understand your products and processes.
Start a dialogue. You want buy-in to your publication? Don’t let it become a sales brochure for your organisation or a management mouthpiece that talks at people. Create debate and discussion. Make staff feel like it is their magazine, that they are a part of it. Provide opportunities for them to comment, to ask questions, to see themselves pictured – to contribute.
Make your magazine about your people. It’s easy to get caught up in the innovation of your projects – the nuts and bolts. But behind the “what” lies motivating stories about the who, the how and the why. Why are your employees excited about the project? How will it benefit the organisation? Why does the team work so well together? How did they overcome challenges? Include multiple voices. Of course, let your staff hear what the people at the top have to say, but give your senior team the opportunity to read the views and concerns of your apprentices, graduates and new-starters – the next leaders of your business.
Convey character. If you feel like you’ve read a quote somewhere before, you probably have. Don’t succumb to bland, generic press release lingo. No one wants to read drab phrases of a “We are very pleased to win this contract” nature. And avoid using speech to outline processes. Ensure your quotes have feeling, passion and personality, and that they offer something new and reflect the character of the person who said them.
Stop your readers in their tracks with inspiring design. Why shouldn’t your 20-page staff magazine be every bit as striking as a publication you’d see on a newsstand? While content is, to coin a cliché, king, the highest quality journalism and your well-crafted messages will be overlooked if your magazine doesn’t have that must-pick-up factor. It’s the look and feel of a magazine that creates a first impression, so make sure your cover and spreads are creative, impactful and inviting.
Splash out on a photography budget. It’s often seen as a nice-to-have – and one of the first things to go when the money belt needs tightening – but good quality photography lifts a staff magazine. Few things make a staff magazine appear low-budget more than team photos that look like identity parades or poor-resolution head shots taken on a mobile phone. Aside from offering the quality aspects of lighting and sharpness, a professional photographer will bring creative compositions and dynamic angles to your images. And, with careful planning and briefing of shoots, you can set up additional shots and generic images for future issues or to boost your organisation’s photo library.
Be open and honest. Don’t brush bad news under the carpet. No organisation runs smoothly 24 hours a day – and your readers know this. Take issues out of the grapevine and bring them into the open. It’s important for your employees to feel motivated by good news, but they will also respond positively to an organisation that confronts difficult business situations head on. These are the areas where employees need clarity and direction. How and why did issue the problem arise, and what is the organisation doing to ensure it never happens again? The more your magazine offers a true reflection of your business – good and bad – the more believable your positive news will sound.
Be on time. Sure, the company won’t grind to a halt if your magazine comes out a little late, but don’t slip into bad habits or, before you know it, your quarterly magazine is coming out three times a year and your monthly magazine is appearing every six or seven weeks – and good news becomes old news. Getting a magazine out on time requires advance planning and an organised editor who can make quick decisions when you need a plan B for that two-page feature that falls through at the last minute. If everyone is aware of the schedule and what needs to be done on and by which date, you won’t go far wrong.
Continually evolve your communication channels. Your magazine should be a valued resource, so don’t let your readers become bored by it. Surprise them. Take inspiration from consumer titles. Refresh the design regularly and introduce new features and elements to attract attention. Stay aware of technological advances in communication. Do your readers still prefer to read only in print? Do you need an edition for a smartphone or iPad? Would a microsite version attract readers? The way people prefer to communicate and receive information changes constantly. If you want your magazine to stay on their radar, you need to do something different every now and again.