Staff magazzzzzine or a right riveting read?

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.

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That’s got a ring to it…

At some point in the near future, I will actually get off my sofa.

I reckon I’ve been here since July 27th, when Danny Boyle’s £27m spell-binding, eye-popping, musical, theatrical masterpiece of all things jolly well British sent us all into a sporting frenzy.

Okay, my Olympic obsession hasn’t been quite that extreme. But it’s true to say there have been times when London 2012 has been so compelling it has left me rooted to the spot, gazing on in awe.

Here’s a few things, in no particular order, the 30th Olympiad has taught me:

1. Pass some coins over the counter at your local newsagents and you’ll still get a quality product in exchange. Reporters, photographers and subs on regional and national papers have excelled themselves with the depth and quality of their coverage and design. The Times takes the gold medal for its magnificent wraps, especially the ‘Mod Rule’ special for Bradley Wiggins’ time trial success.

2. The BBC’s coverage has been a joy. Rightly panned for its Jubilee flotilla disaster, no such criticism can be levelled this time round. Pundits such as Ian Thorpe, Michael Johnson and Mark Cavendish have been superb; Clare Balding on sparkling presenting form. The very swanky BBC Olympics app is a must-have; the red button interactive guide a triumph. I’ll let them off for Trevor Nelson commentating on the opening ceremony. Just.

3. If we really must have an Olympic football tournament and a Team GB in it, we should’ve picked Beckham. We just should have.

4. Social media has seen its fair share of winners and losers too. Racist tweets have seen athletes expelled. Those silly spectators trying to capture, share and discuss their Olympic memories were entirely to blame for the communications breakdown in the cycling road races, preventing organisers receiving crucial timing and positional updates (according to the IOC anyway). Fortunately the good has outweighed the bad – personal bests have come from @TeamGB @RoyalMailStamps @ryanlochte and many more.

5. ‘Super Saturday’ made me wish I’d
not “forgotten” my PE kit so often at school. It was the single greatest sporting day ever on these isles, bar none (well, since Darlington won the 1989-90 GM Vauxhall Conference title at least).

6. Legacy. Okay, I thought it was nonsense and only used for comedic effect on TwentyTwelve, but there’s already encouraging signs. The Local Government Association says councils across the land are reporting surges in use of leisure facilities. My eldest has even spent a week at a trampolining club after watching Kat Driscoll perform for GB. Legacy? Like, totally.