You're not their first priority: How to make your employee publication a must-read

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When illustrating an internal magazine story on a potentially dry topic, Mayo Clinic communicators used comic book-style pictures.

“NEWS FLASH!” the text on one illustration read. “UNBELIEVABLE DISCOVERIES! REGENERATIVE MEDICINE!”

If the approach looks daring for a conservative health care organization, it wasn’t always like that at the institution based in Rochester, Minn. Mayo public affairs specialist Jessie Fenske says Mayo once would have shied away from such a flashy (and readable) approach.

But the new way paid dividends. Hear how the famed hospital turned a declining print publication into a lively, fast-growing magazine called Shields. After the re-design, the magazine made up for seven years of decline in less than a year. New subscriptions grew from 58 in 2011 to 1,140 in 2012.

In this session you’ll learn:

  • How to discover what your employees want to read
  • Tips for creating a magazine that competes with consumer publications
  • The steps of a successful employee magazine re-design
  • Why a magazine is like a three-course dinner
  • How to find internal communications' Holy Grail: Make the important interesting

The comic book graphics never would have worked for the first issue. Learn how to bring executives and employees along bit-by-bit to accept a new style.

“Push the envelope a little with each issue,” Fenske says.

Hear how Mayo planned its re-design by doing extensive research. And it decided  digital-only wouldn’t work. Scrap the print magazine? Turns out employees read it on the bus to work.

But employees’ interests weren’t necessarily those of the bigwigs. Mayo communicators interviewed staffers who push gurneys from room to room and spend little time on computers. The editors talked to some of the 5,000 nursing department employees.

Hear about what most interested employees—and what came in second. And sorry, execs, it wasn’t the strategic plan.

“If we ever want them to discuss strategy, it needs to be really good, it needs to be really entertaining, and it really needs to grab their attention,” Fenske says.

Find out who Mayo’s real competition is. It mailed its magazine to readers’ homes, and therefore editors had to grab readers who have other distractions within reach.

And find out how to tell about issues using real people. For one issue, the bigwigs wanted to talk about how education contributes to Mayo Clinic’s strategic plan. But Shields focused on five students at its hospitals, bringing the story alive.

Under the old dispensation, Mayo’s writers worked with scientists who liked detail, so the magazine was notorious for 3,000-word pieces that the researchers enjoyed but the nursing staff didn’t read, Fenske says.

Consumer magazines take a different approach. They often bunch together mini-stories on related topics.

Hear details on how Shields began publishing short introductory articles, with featurettes about individual employees.

And find out why, in your magazine organization, you need to “make it a meal.” Mayo divides its stories and graphics into three categories: Appetizers, main courses, and desserts.

And take heart in this: If you can’t make it perfect, make it better. No matter how well you plan, you can’t do everything at once, Fenske says. Yet incremental change is still a worthy goal. With every issue, aim to improve.

Then maybe you’ll start getting calls like this: “We need two more boxes. Are there any left in the warehouse?”

Start here.

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Broadcast: 
December 2012
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Presenter bio: 

Jessie Fenske is a public affairs specialist for institutional communications at Mayo Clinic, and works on the team that plans Mayo's intranet, internal social media and internal news delivery strategies for 58,000 employees. Her primary responsibilities include conducting employee research, managing and editing content, and co-editing of Mayo Clinic's recently re-designed employee magazine.