BAM! POW! 8 ways Mayo Clinic’s magazine scored a knockout

People. Lists. Shorter stories. Even comic-book-style illustrations. Mayo’s internal publication won back readers by competing with Glamour and Sports Illustrated.

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


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 would once have shied away from such a flashy (and readable) approach.

“They would have said, ‘No way. You’re demeaning us. You’re going to make it look like this isn’t serious work,'” she says in a lecture titled “You’re not their first priority: How to make your employee publication a must-read.”

Fenske tells how the famed hospital organization turned a declining print publication into a lively, fast-growing magazine called Shields. After the redesign, the magazine made up for seven years of decline in less than a year. From 2011 to 2012, new subscriptions grew to 1,140 from a paltry 58, she says.

Here are from Mayo tips for your magazine relaunch:

1. Bring your audience along with you.

The comic book graphics never would have worked for the first issue, but readers and executives came to trust the more lively approach as they grew accustomed to it.

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

2. Get to know your employees.

Before redesigning, Mayo did extensive research, formed focus groups, and asked employees about their news delivery preference. Although some organizations have scrapped print publications, Mayo learned that employees read its magazine on the bus to work.

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 spoke with some of the 5,000 nursing department employees.

The research revealed that employees are most interested in matters that affect them and their families (such as medical benefits). Things they needed to do for their job ranked second.

“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.

3. Know your competition.

Mayo mailed its magazine to readers’ homes, and therefore editors had to grab readers who have other distractions within reach. Acting on advice from consultant Steve Crescenzo, the health organization turned its Mayo Today into Shields, a consumer-style publication.

“We had to remember was, when people got their publication at home … we weren’t competing with Company ABC’s publication,” Fenske says. “We were competing with Sports Illustrated, Glamour, Good Housekeeping.”

4. Tell stories with people.

For one issue, the bigwigs wanted to talk about how education contributes to Mayo Clinic’s strategic plan. (No! Death by boredom!) But Shields focused on five students at its hospitals, bringing the story alive.

5. Break up those 3,000-word stories.

Mayo’s staff worked with scientists who liked detail, so it 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.

Shields began publishing short introductory articles, with featurettes about individual employees. Now editors are hearing feedback like this: “The stories have just enough meat to be interesting but not so much that I want to quit reading halfway through,” Fenske says.

6. Make it a meal.

Mayo divides its stories and graphics into three categories: Appetizers, main courses, and desserts.

The appetizers include top-five lists of items such as unique jobs (one was “artificial organ designer”). There is also a brief employee profile.

Under main courses, Shields publishes three features per issues. Desserts include games, among them a crossword-like game that teaches safety.

7. Be prepared to work more.

Here’s advice no one wants to hear. But “it takes a lot more work to get a better publication,” Fenske says.

Still, take heart in this:

8. If you can’t make it perfect, make it better.

No matter how well you plan, you can’t do everything at once. Yet incremental change is still a worthy goal. With every issue, strive to improve.

How do you know your magazine is reaching employees better?

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


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