“Can I suggest that the title of the new magazine for retired partners be Cut Off, or even Clear Off?,” wrote one furious correspondent to the John Lewis staff magazine recently.
The 88-year-old Gazette attracts the sort of mailbag that would have editors in more faint-hearted organisations reaching for the smelling salts. It is unique among in-house magazines for its tolerance of spleen-venting. Its strapline says: “The right to express any view on the Partnership” – and its letters section runs to several pages each issue.
But in an age of state-of-the-art intranets and blogging, is there still a place for the traditional staff magazine?
Decidedly yes, says Emma Cowie, events and communications manager at the Association of Publishing Agencies, whose members produce most of the UK’s staff titles for companies as diverse as Land Rover and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and who report no decline in business.
“As a means of opening up dialogue between management and staff and encouraging discussion about your brand with the people who deliver your brand’s values to customers, there is no substitute for a glossy magazine,” she says.
“We don’t necessarily go down the road of encouraging staff to be critical of their employers, but we do know that the magazines our members produce are read and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of employees.
“Intranets have their place, but in terms of the immediacy of seeing your department’s name in print, there is no comparison,” she adds.
For HR, it is important to keep an eye on the corporate politics that underpin any staff magazine.
Employers have been known to use the safety net of the staff publication to soften up the workforce in advance of bad news, while ambitious staff may consider writing for it to aid their climb up the greasy pole.
“Staff who take the time to write for the in-house title may come across as potential leaders with genuine commitment to the organisation,” says Cowie.
“At the very least, it is about getting your name and face known.”
Prêt Star – the magazine for staff at sandwich chain Prêt a Manger, which boasts “hand-crafted stories, biting interviews and juicy gossip” – clearly believes in mixing business with pleasure.
Along with the jolly staff photos and the impenetrable personal messages (including “Hayley, remember the Sausage Feet”), it encloses with every magazine a reply-paid card for contributions.
These are then fed into the company’s own internal ideas scheme, proving that a staff magazine doesn’t have to just be about news and views, but can be good for your business.
- Don’t be tempted to do it on the cheap.
- Don’t allow directors to drivel on for pages and pages – employees simply won’t read it.
- Do allow a genuine forum for employee debate. Offer anonymity if necessary.
- Encourage employees to write their own news and features.