If you manage internal communication for your organization, you may think your role is to share news with employees.

But news is becoming more and more of a commodity--so it's less and less valuable.

Want proof? Meredith Corporation, the nation's largest magazine publisher (known for such titles as Better Homes & Gardens and Allrecipes) believes the future of publications is not in news.

In fact, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, Meredith executives "believe there isn't value in magazines providing news or sports coverage in an online world awash in real-time updates." Instead, "they see big opportunities in the lifestyle arena where food, fashion and home content isn't time sensitive, and the styles of famous personalities have unique power."

For example, "When Meredith acquired Time Inc. last year it quickly spotted the problems: Time magazine, Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated. The titles had the richest history and greatest prestige, but they depended on news content easily found elsewhere. Meredith didn't see a way to change the downward trajectory, so it put them up for sale, with little nostalgia."

Meredith's newest magazine is "Happy Paws, which focuses on the emotional needs of animals and issues they face, including stress and anxiety. The debut issue in April, priced at $9.99, contained such stories as 'Understanding the Canine Mind' and 'What is Your Dog Saying?'"

What does a magazine for dog owners have to do with employee communication? I'm not suggesting that you post pet photos on your intranet, but I am asking you to listen to Doug Olson, president of Meredith Magazines. When asked how Meredith intends to solve the problem of people buying fewer magazines, he responded, "The solution is give them magazines they want," he said.

What do employees want? Not old news. That means that our mission in employee communication is to help employees understand key issues so they see how their jobs contribute to the organization's success. Employees are our customers and we need to figure out how to meet our customers' needs.

So I'll remind you again about the wise advice of Don Ranly, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Ranley coined the phrase "refrigerator journalism" to describe content that audience members find so useful that they cut it out (or print it out) and stick it on their fridge. 

"In today's microwave world, in-a-hurry readers want practical information presented in the most efficient and effective way," writes Ranly.  "Perhaps the primary rule of writing today is: Did you give the message in such a way as to take the reader the least amount of time? Readers will pay attention to what you say only if you show them respect." 

Although Ranly refers to his principle as "refrigerator journalism" or "service journalism," the advice is useful for internal communicators who need to create content that employees open, click to and spend time with.

To achieve that, according to Ranly, your content needs to be: 

  • Useful. "Find ways to demonstrate how the reader can use the information. See how often you can get 'you' in the first sentence of your copy."
  • Usable. For instance, "make a list. Lists get more attention, better comprehension and more retention. Five ways to save money. Do this; don't do that. Advantages, disadvantages. 'Tips' is a magical word."
  • Used. "Service journalism is action journalism. You are successful only if people use the information. People stop paying attention to information they never use."

But people do pay attention when the content helps them solve a problem or achieve an objective. When employees spend time with your content instead of ignoring it, you've achieved success.

Published on: Jun 16, 2019
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