The value of print
Many organisations still see real value in producing a printed publication for their employees
While media organisations bemoan the declining sales of newspapers, there is one area where the printed publication is thriving. From the staff newsletter to the glossy magazine, organisations are finding that print is both alive and well and actually often preferred by their internal audiences.
For investment management group Schroders, three in five employees actively said they wanted to read the Inside Schroders magazine in print. ‘That justifies printing it,’ says Meriel Crawford, senior communications manager at Schroders. ‘They can take it wherever they go, pick it up and it’s a visual reminder to read it, unlike a PDF or Intranet post.’
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust agrees. ‘Circulation has been quite steady,’ says Elaine Parr, head of PR and communications at the Royal Marsden, of the hospital’s magazine RM. ‘Anecdotally, the storage bins are usually empty. Research shows that people don’t just pick it up; they pass it on to friends and relatives. We keep it in print so they can read it in the waiting room or take it home.’ RM started life in 2009, when 12 publications from the Royal Marsden were amalgamated into one quarterly publication aimed at staff, patients, carers, members of the Trust and other stakeholders.
But Southeastern Railway only launched its publication The Southeastern Standard last August after identifying demand. ‘Our people wanted something printed and that was easy to access,’ says Sarah Lawson, senior internal communications officer at Southeastern Railway. She notes that, whilst it is important to have a digital version of the newspaper, only 18 per cent of those who read the newspaper read it digitally. ‘[Print] just made sense – not everyone knows how to access it online,’ she says.
Alan Hines, managing director of creative agency Luminous, believes that the reason printed publications work is because we find them easier to read.
He explains: ‘Companies need to understand the audience and that they consume content in different ways. The online viewer is a different kind of viewer. Online is great for scanning but if you want a deep read, people want print. In many ways, digital is more disposable than paper. You don’t set proper time aside to read a digital magazine or find that URL. You can digest a printed magazine in more detail, save it for later.’
Hines also points to research that suggests we are taught to read books, but not digital publications. ‘People get taught how to read books but not online things. We are relaxed when we read pages. We have a relaxed posture, but you tend to crouch over when you’re reading something online and you tire more quickly.’
Like The Southeastern Standard, both RM and Inside Schroders are available digitally. A PDF of RM used to be uploaded onto the hospital’s website, but that proved the wrong approach. ‘It’s not digestible,’ says Parr. ‘Now our digital team abridge it, pull out key stats, display it online in an easy and digestible format.’
We explain everything in plain English. We don’t like jargon. We will call you out if you use an acronym
Hines points to The Economist, which can be read through its printed mag, iPad app, or responsive website, as a good example of this integrated approach. ‘Everything links with everything else. It’s all about getting that good content that reflects the goal of the business,’ he adds. ‘Companies are conscious about how their business is presented, and thinking more clearly about tools and content and how you leverage that.’
Hines says that this emphasis on content has been the biggest trend in corporate publications. Companies now care a lot more about their narrative. ‘What we’ve noticed is an increase in commissioning professional written work,’ he explains. ‘Companies are starting to realise there’s a value for content.’
Hines attributes this to the new emphasis on company purpose. ‘Our most recent brand jobs have all started with corporate narrative. Purpose is driving companies to think about what they are about and how they communicate that.’ Print might not be dead, but there are some things within it that are happily long gone.
Crawford notes that Schroders’ corporate publication stretches back to the 1960s. ‘It’s changed a lot. It used to be more like a newsletter. It had a Hatches, Matches and Dispatches section.’ Similarly, whilst corporate publications aren’t new to Southeastern Railway – it previously had a staff newsletter – The Southeastern Standard’s approach is. ‘It needed to be more human,’ explains Lawson. ‘People pick it up and read it. You find the same stories as what you’d see in the Sun or the Metro and people enjoy it because it’s people they know. It’s relatable. [The newspaper] tackles difficult and complex subjects but makes them easy to read. It’s straightforward, human and fits in line with our strategy.’
The team behind Inside Schroders are also on a mission to make communications clearer in the magazine. With 41 offices in 27 countries, the organisation has to be careful not to use phrases that could get lost in translation. ‘When it comes to actually communicating, we have more than 4,000 people in the business,’ says Crawford. ‘How we let them know what’s happening comes down to comms. We explain everything in plain English. We don’t like jargon. We will call you out if you use an acronym.’
Inside Schroders also has a chatty tone of voice, although Crawford notes that the rest of the business aligns with this as it took on a similar tone of voice when it refreshed its brand last year. In fact, the magazine aligns with the business in most ways, as its messaging reflects that of the chief executive and what issues he is focused on at the time.
‘We work closely with group CEO on his messaging, such as strategy or a drive around diversity and inclusion, and the magazine backs it up and reinforces it,’ says Crawford. ‘I meet with our chief executive regularly to understand what he’s happy about and his business priorities. Everything we’re doing aligns with that.’
But the publication is not just a broadcasting tool. In fact it makes a conscious effort to differentiate itself from other corporate materials. ‘The paper and colour palette is unique, it’s an unusual size,’ says Crawford. ‘We have a charity and community feature (where teams can talk about their own fundraising efforts) which helps create a user-generated feel.’
The Southeastern Standard is also keen to be a newspaper that employees want to read and sources stories that matter to them, by them, always looking out for that human approach. ‘We’re never short on stories,’ says Lawson, whose phone number is included in the editor’s section for employees to call with a story. ‘Or news that’ll really engage people. What was really helpful was having that buy in from senior-leaders. It fits business needs and the needs of the audience.’
RM has a slightly more difficult task, in that employees aren’t the magazine’s only audience. The hospital has 200 key stakeholders, including members of the Government and VIPs, such as its president, the Duke of Cambridge, who also receive the magazine. But it is primarily a magazine for staff and patients.
‘We have to have space allocated for members, we have an obligation to report on the work we’re doing,’ says Parr. ‘We have sections identified for staff news and patient news.’ But she notes that largely the magazine is undivided between audiences. ‘It’s too difficult to pigeonhole content,’ she explains. ‘If the story is strong enough, regardless of where you are in the hospital, it will go in.’
Perhaps that’s the nub and gist of it. It is less about how the publication is distributed and more about its function as a storytelling device across an organisation. ‘There’s a growth in better content,’ asserts Hines. ‘There’s still a really big demand for magazines. The trend is getting good content out there in the format that their audience want it.’
For RM, it’s about communicating pride. ‘It’s not about pushing internal messages, but communicating to patients and friends and family changes in treatment and also about communicating to our staff what we’re doing,’ says Parr. ‘It’s about them feeling proud of the work their colleagues are doing. In 32 pages, we can get across the feel of the Royal Marsden, the excellence of the leading work. It’s a magazine that we as a hospital can be really proud of.’
Long live the corporate publication.