Learn internal communications in just 61 steps

October 10, 2007

We focus mainly on media relations. While we enjoy writing services pieces about how to pitch, we’ll leave other facets of communications to the experts.

Surfing MyRagan the social network for PR people this morning, we happened upon a 61-step program by Ragan’s resident expert Patrick Williams on how to organize, and avoid pitfalls when creating internal newsletters. See after the jump for a full reprint.

Kidding aside about the number of steps, it’s a handy guide. Pair it with Strunk & White’s classic Elements of Style (free in its entirety) and you have yourself a college course.

MyRagan was created by Ragan Communications, the publisher of niche newsletters for PR people. It’s a tall order to take on Facebook in social networking and they’re doing o.k. They have nearly 10,000 members. However, the frequency of use has dropped off a lot since the summer launch. Join here and let us know what you think.

A 61-point checklist for employee print publications
I. Editing

A. First, decide what goes in the publication and what does not.
1. Select stories that help your organization solve its problems.
2. Select stories that help your organization meet its goals.
3. Select stories that show how management’s plans are in the employee’s self-interest.
4. Select stories that advance the cultural values and traditions of your organization.
5. If possible, use editorial boards to uncover the business plans of individual departments and business units. These boards give you “inside” information on what is happening in the organization.
6. Use focus groups to reveal reader interest.
7. Use readership surveys to find out the effectiveness of your story-selection decisions.

B. Second, write a communications policy for your publication.
8. Include the purpose of the publication.
9. Specify topics you will and will not cover.
10. Specify the techniques you use and do not use, including your style manual.
11. Describe procedures: deadlines, clearances, special issues, paper, printing, purchasing, freelancers, and so forth.
12. Make sure the policy is in writing, signed by the CEO (or whoever the top person is at your company). This document will be your weapon later on, if and when people question what you are doing.

C. Third, document your work.
13. Thank everyone involved with each issue, in writing, and copy their supervisors.
14. Save all testimonials, and copy your supervisors.
15. Enter competitions sponsored by reputable professional organizations.
16. Write an occasional article about your best work for your professional journal.

II. Writing

D. Decide on a name for the publication; some options:
17. Name the publication after one or more of the 5w’s (Who, What, Where, Why, When), so that readers get the sense that the publication contains news.
18. Ideally, name the publication after the readers. Naming the publication after the readers gives them a sense of ownership, and takes away from the “management propaganda” feel that so many employee publications have.

E. Develop a writing style for the publication; some tips:
19. Say everything you want to in the fewest words possible.
20. If a long word and a short word mean the same thing, use the shorter word.
21. If a familiar word and an unfamiliar word mean the same thing, use the familiar word.
22. Prefer specific, definite, and concrete words to general, vague, and abstract words.
23. Avoid clichés.
24. Prefer active verbs to passive verbs.

III. Introductory elements: headlines, secondary headlines, ledes, photography (with captions), and design

F. Understand the purpose of these elements in your publication:
25. Introductory elements should tell the reader what the story is about. Today’s busy readers need as many clues as possible to help them decide which stories they should read.
26. Introductory elements should get the reader into the story as quickly as possible. There is no time to be cute or clever in an employee publication.
27. Introductory elements should specify the reader’s self-interest—and tell them exactly why they need to read this story.

G. Develop a style for headlines.
28. A good headline states the topic specifically, and, usually, employs an active verb. Stay away from puns and other “cute” headlines. The headlines in an employee publication serve one purpose: To tell readers what the story is about, so they can decide whether or not they want to read it.

H. Use secondary headline elements.
29. Secondary headline elements summarize the story, or restate the headline in more specific language: kickers, blurbs, subheads, break-outs.

I. Write good ledes.
30. Good lede sentences typically employ the following techniques: allusion, anecdote, controversy, generalization, question, quotation, then-and-now, and the word “you.” They are not too long, however, because today’s readers don’t have time to wade through lengthy, thumb-sucking ledes that take forever to tell what the story is about.

J. Learn what makes for good photos and captions.
31. A good caption tells the readers what they are looking at and why.
32. A good photograph shows readers what people are like, not only what they look like.
33. A good photograph prefers one person to many.
34. A good photograph avoids clichés.
35. A good photograph shows action, including thought and emotion.
36. A good photograph is concise.

K. Typography and design.
37. Use one Roman typeface for the entire publication.
38. In design, prefer the functional to the beautiful: the political to the ornamental.

IV. Story topics and techniques

L. Select a voice.
39. The essay and editorial rely on logic and rhetoric.
40. The profile and narrative persuade through peer identification.

M. Let others speak in your publication.
41. Conduct forums on topics of interest.
42. Publish first-person accounts.
43. Publish letters and tributes.

N. Publish the views of management.
44. Avoid clichés.
45. Reprint business speeches in the employee publication.
46. Vary the formats: message from management, interview, conversation, etc.

O. Address contemporary topics. The contemporary topics of recent years, for instance, have been these:
47. Team management
48. Productivity improvement
49. Corporate history and culture
50. Containing the cost of benefits, especially medical benefits
51. The effect of tax laws and other legislation on the corporation
52. Employee engagement
53. Wall Street, mergers, and acquisitions
54. The renaissance of customer service.

P. Experiment with story techniques
55. Try puzzles, games, quizzes.
56. Invite guest columnists.
57. Insist on humor.

Q. Mission and identity
58. Publish your mission statement.
59. Show the role of your corporation in society.
60. Identify your organization and the employee’s place within it through history and shared values.
61. Publish accounts of important celebrations.

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One Response to “Learn internal communications in just 61 steps”

  1. Mark Ragan Says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for mentioning MyRagan to your reades.

    But you didn’t mention our other social networking site—MyRaganTV. We hope it will become the YouTube of the communications world. It’s a video sharing site that allows anyone to upload videos about PR, marketing, internal communications or HR.

    Check it out.

    A couple of other things:

    –No, MyRagan usage has not decreased since our summer launch. It’s actually about the same, as measured by the number of daily logins. On Tuesday, for example, some 800 users logged into MyRagan, which is customary for that day of the week.

    — We never really thought of ourselves as an alternative to Facebook. We would never be that cocky. Rather, we think of ourself as a “Facebook-like” site that marries social network to a niche. Unlike Facebook, MyRagan combines social networking with fresh content on a daily basis. Some of that content comes from MyRagan users, and some of it comes from our editorial staff.

    Thanks again for visiting.

    Mark Ragan
    CEO
    Ragan Communications Inc.


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