Say it in print Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

Employees at Franklin Bank are in the know, thanks to The Inspire, a monthly newsletter posted on the company intranet. The six- to eight-page e-publication contains high-quality pictures, news briefs on employee accomplishments, kudos to top performers and information on the bank’s new customers and latest endeavors.

“The cornerstone of an internal newsletter is employee recognition,” says Craig Johnson, president and CEO, Franklin Bank, Southfield, Mich. “Second, a newsletter should highlight company news, whether financial information, mergers and acquisitions, initiatives — all those things. An internal newsletter is an effective open forum.”

Customers also pick up printed copies of The Inspire to learn more about Franklin Bank’s company culture, Johnson adds.

Smart Business asked Johnson how an internal newsletter can function, what content to include and how to get started.

How does an internal newsletter benefit the company and its employees?

An internal newsletter can improve employee morale and let staff know that they are on ‘the inside.’ With this forum in place, employees know they won’t have to read about a significant company event in their local newspaper first. Internal newsletters encourage employees to participate in the process, to bring forward their ideas, join committees and get involved in initiatives. Over time, employees really take ownership of their publication. They get to know their co-workers better and learn how different departments in the company function. This communication format is one more way to strengthen employees’ commitment to your company. Also, in printed format, the tool is valuable for recruitment.

What should the newsletter include?

Just because you produce an internal newsletter does not mean employees will read it. Your employees are not the captive audience you may expect. You must include compelling content that is relevant, interesting and written in a voice that keeps people’s attention. In other words, avoid dryly regurgitating last month’s numbers or plopping in overpolished material from your PR or HR departments.

This newsletter should speak to employees in a casual tone, addressing milestones and achievements of co-workers and also sharing important company news. It’s important to strike this balance. For instance, you may print a list of top department performers, include an employee profile in each issue, and list birthdays and anniversaries — information employees really look forward to reading. But your staff also wants to know about benefit plan changes, new customers, continuing education opportunities, new branches or offices opened and the latest company initiatives. Mix ‘light’ announcements with business news. And address subjects that may be uncomfortable. Employees need to know the bad news, too.

How should sensitive business information be communicated in an internal newsletter?

Management must be willing to share the good and the bad. This can be difficult, particularly for closely held companies, but communicating ups and downs helps build employee trust. You want your staff to know that they can depend on the internal newsletter as a reliable source for company news — not just fluff. That said, you should be careful how you couch unfavorable financial news or other sensitive topics. Communicate in clear language, avoid clouding the message with marketing messages — remember, you’re talking to ‘your team.’ Leave employees feeling secure about their roles in the business and informed about the reality. Also, you can count on the fact that employees will share their internal newsletter with outsiders. Only print what you want others to know. And don’t criticize your competition.

How do you manage the review process?

Managers need to commit to deadlines and recognize that regular, predictable publishing of the newsletter is critical. You should include quality photographs, print it on nice paper stock and take care to design a visually appealing newsletter. How you present the information is almost as important as what you say. If the publication is written by your employees, be careful not to police the content. You’ll want to review it before publishing. Set aside the time to do so, and show those who work hard on your newsletter that their efforts are a priority to you.

When is it a good idea to hire an outside firm to produce the newsletter?

Producing an internal newsletter is time-consuming and, depending on the frequency and sophistication of the articles and design, you may wish to outsource the project. You can hire writers/consultants to produce the newsletter, but be sure to appoint a person in-house who will serve as the liaison. If you produce the newsletter in-house, give employees the freedom to produce the publication and understand that the responsibility is on top of their regular duties.

CRAIG JOHNSON is president and CEO of Franklin Bank in Southfield, Mich. Reach him at clj@franklinbank.com or (248) 386-9860.