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Vital internal organs
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 16:32

Neil Gibbons surveys internal communications specialists to unearth the finest internal magazines of them all:

Nothing escapes the beady eye of criticism – not even internal magazines. Confined as they are to a tightly limited readership, you might think these publications can fly under the radar and avoid judgement. They can’t. Because here at Communicate, we sought an industry-wide view of excellence in internal communications. And, as with last month, we spoke to those who are truly in the know. We polled internal communications agencies – the very producers of internal magazines – and asked them to anonymously rate the publications that have caught their eye in the last year. The result? A definitive opinion of which internal magazines are highly rated by the industry itself. And here are the top five...

The Job

1st – The Job, Metropolitan Police Service

The UK’s internal communicators have spoken: The Job is the business. A monthly publication for the Metropolitan Police Service, The Job was a clear winner in our poll, despite working to an exceptionally challenging brief. The work of publishing agency Seven Squared, it reaches out to the Met’s 53,000 officers and staff . “That’s an incredibly diverse group,” says editor Jon Watkins. “It includes everyone from murder investigators to canteen staff . So our aim is to build a sense of togetherness, and to show how each person’s role contributes to the overall goal.” Watkins concedes that the Met has struggled to maintain spirit in the past. With morale notoriously low, ensuring that everyone felt recognised was a priority. But when Seven Squared took on the title three years ago, Th e Job was regarded as a tool of senior management, unsubtly booming its message to employees. It fell to Watkins and his team to turn round this negative perception. “It used to be a fortnightly newspaper,” he recalls. “But it was full of pictures of people shaking hands and handing over cheques. It was nicknamed Pravda because it seemed to ram corporate messages down the reader’s throat. We still communicate corporate messages – each article will touch on one, and usually more, of the Met’s seven priorities – but we try to be clever about it. And we never include an image of someone on the board. We don’t want it to be seen as their mouthpiece.” Watkins acknowledges that readers will dip in and out of the magazine and has tailored The Job so that it can be picked up and flicked through. “No feature is over 2,000 words, we use nice photography, we put in boxed-out segments and use pull quotes. We know that offi cers are busy.” Yet they still fi nd the time to off er their views. Each year, Seven Squared surveys readers and receives a staggering level of feedback – some 8,000-10,000 responses. “Overall, they fi nd it open and accessible,” says Watkins. “Asked if they find The Job informative, 76% agree or strongly agree; 78% believe that it supports the values of the Metropolitan Police Service and 86% that it is professional in tone.”

2nd – MDUK, McDonald’s

MDUK is the bi-monthly magazine for fast food outlet McDonald’s in the UK, produced since 2003 by Summersault, a contract communication agency based in Leamington Spa. Unashamedly youthful in its design and tone, MDUK is, says Summersault’s managing editor Samantha Tame, “an internal magazine with newsstand values.” More reminiscent of consumer titles like Heat, the 24-page title lives up to that billing. Such an irreverent approach makes sense because MDUK is aimed not at all McDonald’s staff , but specifically at the 70,000 crew members, the frontline employees in its 12,000 restaurants who generally fall into the 16-24 age bracket. “We have to engage with a challenging demographic,” says Tame. “It’s designed to be dipped in and out of during crew members’ 45-minute break. That means we’re competing against mobile phones, MP3 players or mate, so it has to be accessible.” Part of the success of MDUK comes from the buy in from McDonald’s management, who were handson enough to bring features ideas of their own to the regular editorial meetings. “In general we work very much in partnership with our clients,” says Tame. “We position ourselves as an extension of their team and this is particularly true in McDonald’s case.” The magazine is designed to both disseminate information and foster team spirit. “The crew are our frontline ambassadors,” says Tame. “Part of what we do is arm them with information – so they can say with conviction that, for example, McDonald’s burgers do contain 100% prime cuts of beef.” It also attempts to show the room for progress within the firm, engender a sense of pride in their roles, equip staff with the knowledge and skills to do the job well and show recognition of a job well done.

If that sounds somewhat dry, Tame insists that “MDUK seeks to deliver business messages in a fun and engaging way.” A feature in which three staff members visited a plant in Sheffi eld was portrayed in cartoon style, presenting the visitors as superheroes. The magazine is at pains to encourage two-way communication. “It’s so important,” says Tame. “We have a telephone hotline, a letters page and we seek and publish readers’ opinions. The editor’s welcome always features a crew member and special features such as “Grill The Executive”, where we invite members of the crew to ask questions of management. Our readers contribute a lot – we always have far too many stories.”

3rd – Ariel, BBC

Perhaps the most well-known internal publication is Ariel, the in-house newspaper for BBC staff . A weekly tabloid of news, analysis and opinion, Ariel is named after the statue of Shakespeare’s Prospero and Ariel by Eric Gill which appears on the facade of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London. The 16-page paper is published in-house and distributed free to staff each Tuesday. “It contains job announcements and classified ads but it’s mostly editorial content,” says Ariel editor Andrew Harvey. “It’s a mixture of news and features and we also have an online news service [which is only available internally within the BBC].” Unusually among internal magazines, Ariel is not aimed exclusively at its own. Although 20,000 copies are left in dispensers (“a bit like the Metro”), the public are free to subscribe, albeit for an annual fee of £50. It also attracts revenue from advertising sales but is heavily subsidised by the BBC. That said, it enjoys greater freedom than most other internal publications are used to and isn’t expected to chirp out a given set of corporate messages. “We’re independent of management,” says Harvey. “But we are the BBC in-house newspaper and we exist to be supportive of the BBC.” And how does Ariel go down among BBC staff ? “Well, there are 20,000 copies available every Tuesday and by the end of the week, there aren’t many left – that’s usually a good indicator,” says Harvey. “And anecdotally we do get a lot of positive feedback. We also have a very lively letters page. People are proud to be involved with the paper.”


4th – DWPeople, the Department for Work and Pensions

“An internal magazine needs to strike a balance between what management wants to say and what readers want to read,” says Michael Shakespeare, internal communications managing editor at the Department for Work and Pensions. “Find that balance, and you’re halfway to a good magazine.” And DWPeople is more than halfway, according to our poll which puts the department’s internal magazine in fourth place. Written and produced inhouse by the internal comms team, the monthly was launched in 2005 and has a readership of 106,000. As well as being a communication tool with which the department can ensure that staff are aware of issues that affect them, DWPeople is, says Shakespeare, “a brand behind which the staff can gather and feel part of a whole.” The team behind the magazine takes care to avoid information-overload, favouring “easy-to-digest portions” which direct the reader to more in-depth information if they want it. “The intranet is an indispensable information resource and there’s no point, or practical way, to replicate this in print,” says Shakespeare. “The magazine gives a snapshot of the main issues and a way to feel part of a community.” The magazine centres largely on issues that aff ect staff : benefit schemes, conferences, award ceremonies, staff surveys and the like. But the team tries to balance this with features about people who work for the DWP. “ ‘Team of the Month’ rewards a hard working or award-winning team. We also cover staff with interesting outside activities such as actors, ghost hunters and musicians. And then we have a series of regular features – news and letters, for example – which are to keep staff informed and to give them a forum to express themselves.” Senior managers play their part too, working closely with the team to ensure the correct messages are getting across. “They give us the stories they want covered, but then lets us present them in the best way to engage our readers,” says Shakespeare. DWPeople solicits opinion and comment throughout the magazine, and it tends to be forthcoming. “Our readers can be a very vocal bunch if a particular subject hits home,” says Shakespeare. “With such a large readership we can be sure that most stories will provoke some kind of opinion.”

5th – Upfront, Lloyds TSB.

Published 11 times a year, Upfront is the internal magazine for high street bank Lloyd’s TSB. The magazine is a 16-page news-led title and was conceived as an inclusive, informative publication that would be regarded as a single voice for every one of the bank’s 52,000 staff . Now three years old, Upfront is designed and project-managed by London-based communications consultancy Beetroot, and slots neatly into the bank’s larger internal communications suite. A typical issue contains news, competitions and offers as well as a more in-depth centre-fold feature on a big, topical issue. Much of the content majors on the individual and collective fundraising efforts for the fi rm’s charity of the year, while its sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics forms the basis of another regular section. But it’s the fi rm’s employees who are the core focus of Upfront, with regular features intended to promote employee engagement and involvement. In “Back Chat”, two colleagues compare jobs and in “My Other Life” an employee will discuss a hitherto unknown side to themselves, such as an unusual passion or hobby. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the magazine is very well received among Lloyds TSB staff. They are keen contributors, meaning that there’s always a healthy surplus of content. In light of its recent acquisition of HBOS, the firm seems over anxious about publicising its internal communications eff orts, with Upfront’s new editor Oliver Robinson nervously asking us not to publish an image of the magazine. Nonetheless, senior management does play a hands-on role in the direction the magazine takes, and regularly appears in its pages to talk directly to the workforce, and group chief executive Eric Daniels recently outlined the firm’s mission in a special feature.