The council staff magazine: let’s be honest, the very sight of such a thing can make the heart sink.
Done badly, they can be turgid affairs. You know the kind – a few thousand words on the implementation of a new governance framework here, a grainy picture of Marion from Accounts abseiling down the local library there.
Fortunately, in Redcar & Cleveland, we reckon we’ve hit upon a winning formula that’s made the staff magazine something which is appreciated, valued and engaged with.
And the very first question to ask was whether or not anyone actually wanted such a publication in the first place. Would we just be doing it for the hell of it because, y’know, the comms team always has to produce a staff mag, doesn’t it?
Never mind that it’s often an epic struggle to craft Pulitzer Prize-worthy copy around the new fire evacuation procedures; never mind that quality images and design are in short supply with budgets slashed to the bone; never mind that it’s been donkey’s years since you investigated whether a single soul was reading it and taking its messages on board, or just using it to prop up a wonky canteen table.
Hitting the road
For us, luckily, the appetite was very much there. Back in May 2010, we hit the road to ask more than 250 staff face-to-face whether they wanted a good ol’ staff mag at all and, if so, what they wanted from it.
They did want it and they knew what they wanted from it. And we set out to provide that. Eight pages, fortnightly, a mix of corporate messages and light-hearted content. An e-version for PC users and hard copies for those in remote locations. No hiding stuff from anyone; telling it as it is in dire economic straits.
Very simply, we told people what they wanted and needed to know. No bullshit.
Addressing the cuts
As the council grappled with setting its toughest-ever budget in the wake of the Government’s comprehensive spending review, for example, we spelled the situation out, warts ‘n’ all.
We had to find millions. Tens of millions, even. Times would be hard. Jobs may go. Teams would be affected, services hit. But we also outlined the wealth of support that would be available to those facing redundancy. They wouldn’t just be abandoned. Help in moving on to new roles or re-training would be available.
It wasn’t a barrel of laughs by any means, but the openness and frequency of the message was appreciated. Seventy-eight per cent of staff attended the budget briefing sessions pushed through the magazine.
Achieving corporate goals
We also work closely with HR to ensure the publication is aligned to the goals of our hugely successful Valuing Our People programme, plugging a wealth of initiatives to boost staff health and well-being.
Eighty-four per cent of staff, in a recent survey, said they regularly read the magazine. They ranked it their favourite method of communication, appreciating that it was done entirely in-house and on a shoestring.
We’ve picked up a clutch of awards along the way and are generally pretty proud of it. And long may it continue.