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When companies start thinking of employee publications, they often believe it should be an in-house product. It makes sense when you first think about it. Who knows your employees better than you do? However, there are huge benefits to letting a public relations / marketing firm write and manage your publication.

Mainly, a neutral / outside voice is important and key. When employees write their own publication, it is almost impossible to remove each person’s biases from their writing / coverage. For example, if the HR department runs the publication, it is easy for more HR articles to make it into the publication, which may upset the Accounting department or the Marketing team. It is human nature. You write what you know, so you write about your department.

An outside team of writers can help prevent bias claims because they have no bias. They can provide the third-party point of view to keep the writing neutral and keep everyone happy.

Also, when things are run in-house, it is common for them to be pushed aside and forgotten. Again, it is our nature — take care of your customers first, deal with your in-house stuff second. An outside agency can help keep the publication moving on schedule to ensure it hits mailboxes when it is supposed to.

Finally, when it comes to writing, let a professional do it. We know AP style and grammar. I’ve seen numerous engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc., try to write copy for various publications. It isn’t pretty. I guarantee you’ll be happier with your product if you let a team of professionals handle the writing. We don’t try open heart surgery. You don’t try writing a publication.

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Many in-house publications are targeted at employees, which can serve a number of purposes.

1. Be a megaphone. An employee publication is an easy way to communicate a lot of company information on a widespread scale. If your company has a lot of news, this is one way to disperse it that you can ensure everyone will receive (as opposed to an intranet site that everyone might not log into).

2. Instill pride in your employees. An employee publication is a great way to show off the successes of your company and communicate them to your employees.  Show that your company is winning awards, receiving new contracts and recording high customer satisfaction. This will show your employees that the company is here to stay and has a bright future, which can lead to …

3. Retention and recruiting. Many industries are known for high employee turnover. An employee publication is one way to constantly remind your employees about your organization.  For instance, if your main office is in New York but many employees work in California, it may be hard for those California workers to maintain a connection with the company. An employee publication would constantly remind them of the organization and help them stay committed to your mission and goals.

4. Document your company’s history. Hopefully your company is here to stay and will be around for the next 25, 50 or 100 years. An employee publication is one way to document your company’s history. You’ll be amazed 50 years from now when you look back at all the great things your company did in its first few years in business.

5. Recognize your employees. All companies look for some way to recognize their employees’ good work. Whether it is that front parking space, a raise, new office or an Employee of the Month plaque on the wall, employee recognition is an important part of maintaining a successful company that people want to work at. An employee publication can be a great way to recognize your employees and their hard work through employee spotlights and features.

So after a few months hiatus, I am back on the blog. Like so many clients do, I got really excited when I first began this blog. I posted almost daily. I monitored the stats. Over-analyed my posts. But then got discouraged that I didn’t really feel like I was making a difference. My posts seemed just like everyone else in the PR industry.

Now I’m armed and ready to make a difference.

I’ve re-introduced this blog once again — this time with a niche. Story Assignments focuses on publication management. I hope to teach lessons, offer opinions and encourage others to start or update their current company publication. This is a niche of public relations, but it is a strong one. From eight to 48 pages, I’ve seen the full gamut of what a publication can become.

Just because the newspaper industry is struggling and magazine subscriptions are dwindling, doesn’t mean publications are dead. Instead, now they may be more important than ever (more to come).

I’ve been away from my blog for a while as I’ve done a little soul searching to really understand what I’m all about. I’ve been in a little rut at work and have been wondering what is it I truly enjoy about my job — what lights my fire to make me excited about work. I find it a little funny that after doing all of this thinking, I went to my Blackberry — which is where I keep my blog ideas — and found “My top 5 strengths,” an idea suggested by a Twitter post probably at least a month back by @prsarahevans.

Now, I caveat this post by saying that I’m not trying to brag. This post is more about reminding myself then showing off to anyone who reads this. It is a good exercise, and I recommend that you do this too. Please comment below on what your strengths are.

So, with that said, here mine are.

1. I know AP style and use it. When I first started my current job I came on as a publication manager — a new position in charge of running three publications for thee clients. A huge part of running those publications was editing them. Since then (now almost two years later) I have continued showcasing my editing abilities by reviewing press releases, bylines, strategic plan, RFPs and even ad copy. I take pride in my abilities although I am never too proud to say that I have an AP Stylebook next to my desk that is regularly referenced and I know I miss things.

2. I’m great at running things. I am an organizer. I like lists. I like checking things off my lists. I like making one list and then dividing it into smaller lists of things to get done today, tomorrow and at some point down the line. Because of this I have become a strong publication manager — I currently have four publications in production at different stages — and I also am a good event planner. While organization is not the end all be all of these activities, it does help.

3. I can piggy-back on ideas. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most creative one in the office … by far. However, I do think I am good at hearing an idea and developing it more. This is why I love brainstorm sessions. Whether it is two people or 20, hearing ideas and talking them through really allows my brain to turn. And while my idea might not be the one chosen, at least I can keep the conversation going and hopefully spur someone else’s brilliant idea.

4. I choose what I do. I list this as a strength because it really helps me put everything in perspective. When I went to college I ensured myself that I had a few paths to go down. I have a journalism degree. I have a marketing background. I have an event background. I have a math degree — yes, suprising I know. I have my teacher’s certification and can teach fourth graders up through Algebra II and pre-calculus. I’ve got a lot of options, but I hapily say that I’m in a profession that suits me.

5. I’m anxious to mentor and be mentored.Throughout my PR and related careers, I never had a mentor. I was a do-it-yourselfer and a self-starter, so I learned on my own and, probably a little to my detriment, was never big on asking for help or asking questions. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I am anxious to help my peers and help someone get started on his / her career. I want to share my knowledge, but most of all, I want to grow. People younger and older than me have a lot of experiences I don’t have, and by working more closely with them, hopefully I can further my own development.

As newspapers close their doors and magazines cease circulation, more and more journalists are stepping over to what many of them once considered the “dark side.” PR agencies are now populated with former journalists who bring their newsroom experience to the PR industry.

My concern with this is everyone seems to assume that every journalist is a good fit for PR. This isn’t true. Just because you’ve been on the receiving end of a pitch doesn’t mean you can make one.

Journalists are also used to telling everything. They dig for the secrets and bring them to the forefront. Many times in PR there are certain items that aren’t fit to publish or are said in confidence. This is a hard lesson for many journalists to learn. Sometimes the good (getting published) doesn’t out way the bad (secret revealed).

Also, there is a whole other side to PR than just pitching the media. Client services play a huge role in being a successful PR professional. Are you able to be an expert for your client? Can you handle managing a budget? Can you prepare a yearlong plan of strategies that will reach the client’s target audience? Do you know how to speak to the client when those strategies fail? Are you able to say no when the client’s idea just isn’t right? These are items you aren’t born with and definitely don’t learn while being a journalist. They are ones every PR professional must learn and that takes time. 

I’m not trying to say never hire a former journalist. I work with ones who bring fantastic insight and strong ideas to the table. I’m just asking the entire industry to pause and think about this a little more before every laid-off journalist jumps into agency life.

Time to get away

Image Courtesy of The Meeting Institute

Last week was supposed to be our company’s retreat, which had to be postponed because of a rash of influenza that spread throughout the agency’s halls. So instead of attending the retreat I’d rather take pause to talk about the purpose of it here.

It is good every once and a while to take a break from the day-to-day stresses and think about how you can improve yourself, or in this case, the agency. Those times bring opportunity for growth. 

However, it is hard to grow when you don’t know where you are currently at. You have to first pause and breakdown your situation. At last year’s retreat we talked about the four stages of a team — form, storm, norm and perform. By knowing where you are in this cycle you can then discuss how to move to the next one. We all want to be in the perform stage so you have to figure out how you can get there. 

These same thoughts can be applied to my personal growth. Where am I at in my learning cycle? What are my strengths? What am I doing to use those? What are my weaknesses? What am I doing to help overcome or reduce those? 

By knowing where you are at then you can take steps to better yourself in the future.

My company is just jumping into the social arena with a new Facebook page, Twitter account and hopefully soon, a blog. As I’ve been watching it unfold and participating in the process when I can, I have noticed how easy it is for one person’s voice to become the voice of the organization. It is an issue that all businesses must face when they enter Web 2.0. If only one person twitters or if only one person writes the copy on the Facebook page then how is the company’s voice being portrayed?

I know people from my company read this blog and so with a small shout out to them I bring up some points you may want to consider as your company enters the social media realm:

1. Think about the reasoning behind each social media outreach. Why do you use Twitter? Are you trying to be an expert in your field? Improving customer relations? Making business contacts? For KGBTexas, I believe the original purpose was to show our clients that we knew what Twitter was about. Okay, now that we’ve become mini-experts, what is the point? Why have a business account when your employees could (and already do) have their own? 

2. Keep that goal in mind throughout the lifecycle of the process. It is easy to get caught up in social media. You can easily spend hours every day connecting with new people, reading the words of experts and commenting on their thoughts. However, you came into this realm with a purpose in mind. Always ask yourself if what you are doing is to reach that purpose. If your goal is to obtain new clients, then use your Twitter account to do that. Be in circles with the types of businesses you serve. 

3. Convey personalities correctly. A main benefit and excitement of social media is that it allows everyone to display their distinct personalities. However when you start social media for your business you have to decide how those personalities will be conveyed. If the business has a Twitter account then the business’ point of view should be conveyed — not the person running the account. If you create a blog you get a few more options. Maybe you only have one author and that author represents the business’ voice. Or you let multiple employees write and each have their personality showcased. Do this with individual author pages where each employee writes his / her own bio. The same with a Facebook page. Let each person have a photo and write his / her own bio. If you’re going to let the individuals be shown let them fully embrace their personalities, their likes and dislikes and their beliefs. 

Obviously the more employees you bring in the more time you are taking away from their work. However, that is what social media is about. Your business isn’t about the work of just one person, so your social media efforts shouldn’t be too.