Company magazine keys on 3 elements to engage its readers

How LifeLines won its 2nd straight Ragan Recognition Award.

How LifeLines won its 2nd straight Ragan Recognition Award

Good writing. Good photography. Good design.

These three elements—their long-held standards—make LifeWay’s internal magazine stand out. The publication was given the 2010 Ragan Recognition Award for best nonprofit magazine. It also won the award in 2009.

LifeLines has been published since the 1940s, but editor Kelly Davis Shrout says the three principles have remained the same—even if the name or frequency (at one point, it was a daily) of the publication changed. Now, the 16-page magazine is published 11 times a year.

“You have to be willing to evolve as communications evolve, but not to forget these three elements,” Shrout says. “These are the standards.”
One item that has stayed consistent in the magazine is the listing of employee anniversaries and retirements, celebrating long-time employees and focusing on milestones—five or 10 years, and on up to 40-year veterans.

“We think that’s non-negotiable,” Shrout says. “It shows that employees are valuable and have been valuable. We want to recognize people.”

The six-person editorial staff has a $1,600 budget and produces 2,500 copies per issue. Shrout says their efforts are supported by LifeWay corporate executives who believe in the power of employee communications. LifeWay publishes Christian reading materials.

‘Vision and values’

Every Thursday, the staff gathers for an editorial meeting to brainstorm story ideas and talk about future issues. “Our newsletter promotes our vision and values,” Shrout says. “Each story has a purpose. We just don’t publish to publish. We inform employees about what’s going on.”

Here are a few examples of feature stories that Shrout is particularly proud of:

  • A story about LifeWay employees who adopted children. “The story showed what makes LifeWay employees who they are,” Shrout says. “This was a way for readers to connect with our core values.”
  • A feature story about Christmas and why Christians believe what they believe. “One person said they were personally challenged by the article,” Shrout says. “It’s good to know that someone was challenged with our writing and content. It’s not always fluffy.”
  • A story about excellence in customer service. “We highlighted employees who excelled in customer service,” Shrout says. “We had someone tell us that the story made them want to be a better employee.”

She says the editorial team solicits ideas from employees, including department heads. For example, she’ll write a blurb on LifeWay’s intranet and ask for story suggestions. Recently, human resources told Shrout about a new conflict-resolution class it was offering. Shrout turned that information into a story about people working out their differences.

Ink in her veins

Despite that symbiosis between intranet and newsletter, Shrout says she’s a print junkie.

“I never want to lose the awe of our print publication,” Shrout says. “We can’t display our intranet in the hallway, but in our office, we have a plaque where you can see six different issues of LifeLines at once. It takes a lot of work to get each one done.”

Yet she understands that LifeLines can’t stand alone. She plans to make it more connected to the company’s intranet, where it is already available. By yearend, the company plans to make a digital version that would be accessible to the public, Shrout says.

“I think people will still want to take home a copy,” Shrout says. “If you’re doing your job of making it look appealing, your employees will still want it. But we want to broadcast our message on as many outlets as possible. The audience isn’t one size fits all. People want a little bit of everything.”

4 tips for creating a better internal publication

Lifelines editor Kelly Davis Shrout shares some quick tips for planning the next issue of your company’s magazine:

1. Consider your audience. “Step back and ask yourself, ‘What are the needs of employees at the time of the publication?'” Shrout says. “As your company grows, downsizes or changes leadership, what do employees need to know about?”

2. Highlight your company’s core values. “We have six core values for our company,” Shrout says. “If there’s a story that lends itself to promoting a value, we’ll write about it. But we don’t want to force anything in; we want it to blend.”

3. Test the waters with digital and online media. LifeWay experimented with an internal social media page, along with Flip cam videos, which were promoted in the magazine. “You can’t think about something too long, or it’s never going to take off,” Shrout says. “Create something, and put it out there. See what happens.”

4. Find out what people are talking about. Balance what you’d like to share with employees and what they’d like to tell you. “Get a 360-degree view of your company,” Shrout says. “Talk to front-line employees, management and directors.”

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