Should you have a staff magazine?

In these days of digital domination, is there still a place for the good old-fashioned printed staff magazine? Perhaps you don’t have one but think you should. Or maybe you’ve got one and aren’t sure whether its day has passed. In this post, I’ll take a look at a few factors to consider when making your decision.

I’ve seen in my own experience just how well a staff mag or newspaper can work for keeping your people informed, helping them get to know the organisation and their colleagues and sharing pride in achievements, among other strategic priorities. But, as an internal comms manager, I’ve also taken the tough decision not to have one in some circumstances.

To do a staff mag or newspaper well takes quite an investment – in both time and money – so it has to really earn its keep. So, is it worth it for you? The answer is: it depends.

Time, money and skillsShould you have a staff mag? Some factors to consider - Eden Lighthouse Internal Communications

Your decision should start with your internal comms strategy (more on that below), but a lack of budget and time could mean that producing a staff magazine simply isn’t an option.

To produce a staff mag or newspaper frequently enough to be worth doing will take up a lot of your time and demands the right skills. Even if you outsource it to an agency, you’ll still have to dedicate more time than you might think to liaising with the agency to agree story lists, arrange interviews with staff members and check proofs, among other things. On top of the cost of your time (and agency fees), there’s the expense of printing and distribution.

The key here is to prioritise. If you have the time and money, you’ll have to make a choice about where you direct those resources to make the most impact with your communications. Again, it’s back to your IC strategy. What does your organisation need from you for the next two years? If there are lots of changes coming up that will affect staff deeply, are you better putting more time into supporting those changes by enhancing face-to-face communications? If you prioritise a staff mag, will it mean you’ll have to go a bit lighter than you’d like to on other methods, like staff conferences, back-to-the-floor visits by senior leaders or improving communications within teams?

Your comms goals

Assuming you have the budget, skills and capacity to produce a staff magazine, your decision then should start with your IC strategy… what you’re trying to achieve for your organisation and what tools you need to achieve it. You must be clear on exactly what your staff mag or newspaper needs to deliver for you, as part of your IC toolbox. If your other tools are covering all the bases, then perhaps you don’t need one.

You should also consider whether your organisation already has what I’d consider to be essential and fundamental IC mechanisms in place and working well. In most cases, the first priority should be to have an effective framework for face-to-face communication – a good flow of communication within teams and a solid framework for face-to-face communications among employees and leaders. I’ve previously had to justify not creating a staff mag in order to focus on getting the basics in place first. Unless you’re extremely well resourced, you just can’t do it all.

Your audience

When you’re deciding on the right tools to help you fulfil your strategy, you must start by knowing your audience. Do your employees read magazines or newspapers at home? If not, printed publications are unlikely to be their first choice for finding out things when they come to work. Remember that people don’t leave their natural preferences at home.

When you’re analysing your audience’s communications preferences, look out for different trends in parts of the organisation. You might find that staff in one department are avid newspaper readers while others are digital junkies. One organisation I worked for produced a printed newspaper for staff in a directorate who tended to be out and around all day. Don’t assume that people are newspaper readers just because they don’t have much access to a computer, though.

In conclusion…

I’ve outlined what I feel are the main factors you’ll want to weigh up when making your decision on whether to have a printed staff magazine. You may also have others that you have to take into account, but in summary…

If you don’t have the resources, then there is no decision to make. If you could feasibly do it within your resources, is it right for your audience? If not, decision made.

If it could potentially be popular and well read, then it’s about priorities. Few IC teams or practitioners have unlimited resources, so what will you have to sacrifice to have the magazine? Do you already have the basics in place? If not, I’d recommend putting your effort into those first.

If you’ve got the resources, your staff are avid mag readers and you’ve got the IC fundamentals up and running, then you’re in business – a staff mag that’s done well should help you create an environment where your people know what’s going on and bring you all those other benefits of effective internal comms.