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Employee publications: dying? Flourishing?

BEFORE YOU CHECK YOUR ANSWER, READ THE RESULTS OF A NEW SURVEY OF IABC MEMBERS. YOU MAY HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR MIND.

* True or false: Over the past three years, corporations have downgraded the production values of their main employee publications.

* True or false: Over this period, corporations have reduced how often they publish their primary internal publication.

* True or false: Corporations also have decreased the dollars they spend for each issue of their main employee publication.

The answer to each of the questions on the previous page is false.

* Yes, the world of employee publications is changing. Corporate budgets are down in a tight economy. Staffs are being reduced. Communication professionals do more, and are being held more accountable.

But over the past three years, more employee publications have been "upgraded" from newsletters to magazines, for example, than have been changed to a less costly format, such as from a magazine to a newsletter. More publications also have added color to their pages than have reduced color. And when the design source is changed, more publications still choose a professional designer over the editor.
Table 1
What is your primary communication means?
Magazine 24%
Magapaper 14%
Newspaper 6%
Newsletter 53%
Other (fax, E-mail) 2%
No answer 1%
Production downgrade 9%
Production same 77%
Production upgrade 14%
NOTES: As many magazines were created as were killed; most of
those killed were downgraded to magapapers. The definition of
magapaper was not clearly understood as a newspaper format with
magazine design. Twice as many communications were upgraded to
newsletters from memos or no publication as were downgraded to
newsletters.


Also, more companies have increased the frequency of their primary internal publications than have decreased it. And they do not produce their publications at a lower cost. More publications are spending additional money on each issue, after accounting for inflation, than are reducing or holding to the same costs.

Can this be true? The world of employee publications is flourishing, not dying? It's not being replaced by less expensive communication methods -- such as broadcast fax, E-mail, and face-to-face meetings?
Table 2
What is its frequency?
Semi-annually 1%
Quarterly 16%
Bimonthly 23%
Monthly 39%
Biweekly 9%
Weekly 7%
Daily 1%
Other 3%
No answer/nothing 1%
Frequency decrease 14%
Frequency same 60%
Frequency increase 25%
No answer 1%
NOTES: When frequency increased, 11% went to monthlies, 7% to
bimonthlies, with biweeklies next. When frequency decreased, 6%
went to bimonthlies, 4% to quarterlies, with biweeklies next


Yes, it's true. At least, according to 218 of your peers. They responded to a survey sent in September to 1,500 IABC members responsible for their companies' primary internal publications. This response rate of 15 percent signifies interest in the issue, and can help us make direct comparisons between publications today and those of three years ago. Three years was chosen because it covers a period of economic downturn and new technological breakthroughs.

While the study is unscientific, is the information reliable? The 218 responses came from those directly in charge of their publications, about half of whom hold the title of director or manager. This total is broad enough to reveal general practices over the three years -- and not be thrown off by discrepancies in individual replies.
Table 3
Have you consolidated publications?
Yes 25%
No 73%
No answer 2%
NOTE: The primary reason is to cut costs and improve
productivity.
TABLE 4
Have you split employee publications?
Yes 16%
No 81%
No answer 3%
NOTE: The primary reason is to focus on specific audience
needs.


Do you edit a typical employee publication? According to the survey responses, it is still a two-color monthly newsletter, despite a tendency toward more expensive formats. It is written in-house and designed by you on a computer your company has purchased in the past three years. You work on this publication less than 15 hours a week, and your budget per issue of U.S. $5,000 to $10,000 has gone up during the three years. The greatest help to you on the job has been the advent of desktop publishing.
Table 5
Where does the glossy four-color internal publication stand?
Flourishing 7%
Holding its own 22%
Dying 22%
Dead 26%
No answer 23%
NOTES: The question referred to four-color publications in
general. Those with no answer usually declined to answer
because their own company had never had such a publication.
Two-thirds of those who said such publications were flourishing
themselves published in four-colors. Some would say a 23% rate
for no answer invalidates this table, but the remaining
percentages reinforce a current perception that fancy
publications are not the wave of the future.


Sound familiar? If not, it may be because each company's publication needs are unique. But trends are another matter. This survey reports changing practices you should be aware of. You may even want to use them as evidence -- for steps you'd like to take to improve your publication.

If there is one fact that jumped out of the survey, it is how well publications have adapted to the explosion in communication technology.
Table 6A
Is your publication written and designed on a computer?
Yes 92%
No 6%
No answer 2%
NOTE: This correlates with the 57% who learned desktop
publishing and the 28% who purchased it, and with the 30% who
wrote in desktop on table 18.


The survey also reflects a horse race between IBM and Apple for dominance in this area. Final returns showed that 48 percent of 201 computer users work with the Mac, 38 percent with the PC, and 11 percent use the Mac for graphics and the PC for text. (Three percent did not identify their computer.) The existing strength of IBM in the corporate world appears to have benefited them in making the desktop publishing decision.

What about management's role in change? Is it the same old story, higher expectations and lower resources? It's not that simple. After all, who pays for desktop publishing and better design and production values? While 15 percent of the editors did write in some complaints about management, such as cutting publications and receiving closer scrutiny, some 57 percent said management support had improved in the past three years, and 30 percent said it had stayed the same. Indeed that total of 87 percent matches the 87 percent who said management holds them more or equally accountable as it did three years ago.

So what have the three years meant to that old stand-by, the corporate publication? We might conclude that corporate executives are more aware of the importance of communication. That editors are not wrong in thinking they are doing more with less. But new technology means they're doing it more efficiently. And their positive tone even suggests that editors are becoming satisfied with themselves.
Table 10
Who designs your employee publication?
Outside designer 24%
In-house designer 29%
Editor 46%
No answer 1%
Downgraded source 15%
Same source 67%
Upgraded source 17%
No answer/no one 1%
NOTES: Downgraded means from outside designer to in-house
designer to editor; upgraded means from editor to in-house to
outside designer. Interestingly, 9% of editors have given up
design duties (upgrading), and 9% have assumed such duties.
Also, a 46% total for "designing editors" is impressive.


Twelve trends highlighted

If you want to measure your publication against current practices, here are 12 tendencies you should be aware of.

* Of 218 responding editors, 18 percent said (Table 2) that their main publications had increased to a monthly or bimonthly frequency, while only 10 percent said that they had been reduced to a quarterly or twice monthly frequency.

Tendency: When frequency changes, it's likely to increase rather than decrease.
Table 11
How much copy is written in-house?
100% in-house 75%
75-90% in-house 13%
50-75% in-house 3%
0-50% in-house 6%
No answer 3%
More % in-house 19%
Same % in-house 70%
Less % in-house 8%
No answer 3%
NOTES: 62% of editors said all copy was written in-house three
years ago and still is today; 6% said 75-90% was written
in-house and still is. If 19% of publications write more copy
in-house, then downsizing hasn't moved assignments outside. In
support, 5% of editors went from no publication to 100% written
in-house.


* 14 percent of all publications upgraded were (Table 1) to a more expensive format, such as a magazine or magapaper, while only nine percent were downgraded to a magapaper, newsletter, or other.

Tendency: When format changes, a more expensive format is more likely to be chosen.

* 87 percent of all respondents learned new skills in the past three years, while 62 percent bought skills outside, mostly desktop publishing and graphics.

Tendency: Editors are adapting to change, and using outside resources mainly for technological change.
Table 12
How many colors does your publication use?
One color 23%
Two colors 56%
Three colors 3%
Four-plus colors 17%
No answer 1%
Fewer colors 12%
Same number 63%
More colors 24%
No answer 1%
NOTES: When publications increased the number of colors, twice
as many went to two colors as went to four. When the number
decreased, 2/3 of the publications went to one color.


* While 46 percent of the publications use the editor as the designer (Table 10), 17 percent increased costs by moving to in-house or outside designers, compared to 15 percent who cut costs by moving to in-house designers or editors.

Tendency: A slight tilt toward increasing design expenses.

* While 56 percent of publications are two-color (Table 12), 24 percent have increased the number of colors, and only 12 percent have decreased them.

Tendency: When color use changes, more publications add color than eliminate it.
Table 16A
Does management hold you more accountable?
More 67%
Same 20%
Less 3%
No answer 10%
Table 16B
How do you rate your organization's support?
Better 57%
Same 30%
Worse 7%
No answer 6%
NOTE: Fortunately for editors, the two tables correlate.


* 35 percent of publications (Table 13) increased the money spent on each issue, 23 held their own, and 21 decreased the amount.

Tendency: More budgets are increasing, even after accounting for inflation.

* In addition, 42 percent wrote in that their companies use other communication vehicles more frequently than their main publications.

Tendency: Companies are coming to recognize it is important to communicate quickly.
Table 17
How have you tied content to corporate goals?
Run articles
on strategies/issues 54%
More communication
with management 12%
Run management
messages 11%
Change approach
of current articles 9%
Other 2%
No answer 19%
NOTES: All answers were written by hand and categorized. ("No
answer" increased because answers had to be written out.) More
than one response could be given. Conclusion: It's more common
(65%) for editors to relate to management strategy and issues
than (23%) to expect management to relate to communication
needs.
Table 18
What change has helped your publication most?
Desktop publishing 30%
More audience-related
articles 14%
Funds for staff/resources 14%
Management recognition/
involvement 14%
Restructuring publications 8%
Other 5%
No answer 19%
NOTES: All answers were written by hand and categorized. More
than one response could be given. Answers were collected in 25
groups; of these groups, desktop was 4x the next highest group.
The groups were then refined into the 6 categories shown here.
Perspectives differed: some liked more frequent publication
dates for faster communication; some liked less frequency so
they could think more or do other work.
Table 19
What change has helped your publication least?
Fewer resources/
more work 27%
Management too
heavy-handed 15%
New graphics/desktop
add work 6%
Other 2%
No answer 55%
NOTES: All answers were written by hand and categorized. More
than one response could be given. Downsizing of staff and
cutting of production costs were 18% out of the 27%. Also
cited: less time to think or plan. Many editors declined to
answer this "negative" question. Are they optimistic, or
unwilling to appear negative? Editors were asked to send in
their publication, but were not asked to give their name.
Table 20
How many employees receive your publication?
1-999 21%
1,000-4,999 46%
5,000-9,999 11%
10,000-24,999 11%
25,000-49,999 8%
50,000-plus 2%
No answer 1%
NOTES: Total is 1,718,632 employees who received the 215
publications reported. 27 percent of all circulation was
between 2,000 and 4,500. One magazine went to more than
100,000. Some publications also went to retirees, but these
numbers were not counted.
Table 13
What is the budget for one issue?
$0-$99 6%
$1,00-$9999 13%
$1,000-$4,999 26%
$5,000-$9,999 13%
$10,000-$24,999 10%
$25,000-$49,999 8%
$50,000-$99,999 2%
$100,000 plus 1%
No answer 21%
Lower budget 21%
Same budget 23%
Higher budget 35%
No answer 21%
NOTES: Only 10% of budget increases matched a 10% inflationary
increase for period; other increases were more. The greatest
proportion of increases were in the $100-$999 range and the
$5,000-$9,999 range. For all other ranges, increases slightly
exceeded decreases.
The high degree of no answers seem to be from editors who have
no budget responsibility or do not wish to discuss budget. Will
such editors tend to run higher-budget publications? The answer
is not clear.


And, yes, all this requires harder work.

* Of those who edit their main internal publications (Table 4), 63 percent edit other publications, 69 percent do general writing, and 58 percent handle marketing or PR. These numbers have increased 20 percent for each in the past three years.

Tendency: Staffs handle more jobs today. (Surprise!)

* While 55 percent work the same hours per week on their main internal publications, 25 percent work fewer hours, compared to 13 percent who work more hours.

Tendency: Many publications require less time to produce. Is this because desktop publishing cuts production hours, or do editors simply have more work to do and thus spend less time on publishing?

And management?

* To tie publication content to management goals (Table 17), 63 percent cited relating content to corporate strategy, while only 23 percent cited more management involvement in communication.

Tendency: Editors are left to their own initiative in conveying the corporate message.

* In citing what helped them most (Table 18), 44 percent of the editors cited the impact of new resources requiring financial support, such as desktop publishing, and 27 percent cited their ability to make editorial improvements, while only 14 percent cited greater management contact.

Tendency: Editors appreciate practical help to do their jobs more than management input into content.

* In citing what helped them least (Table 19), 33 percent of the editors cited cost-related factors, while only 15 percent cited negative management input.

Tendency: Some editors resent the lack of practical help in doing their jobs more than the lack of management support. However, a majority of editors, 55 percent, did not answer this negative question.

Robert A. Parker, president of RAP Communications, Nutley, N.J., is a consultant and writer for corporate internal and external publications.
COPYRIGHT 1993 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:improvements in employee publications
Author:Parker, Robert A.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:2501
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