Stop the press: personal stories are key to strong company newsletters
Straight-talking common sense from the front line of management
QOn your suggestion, we started a company newsletter during lockdown, which hasn’t been badly received, but it’s not exactly making a big impact. What tips do you have for making ours a well-read, talked-about success going forward? A The Timpson newsletter has developed over 24 years and now makes an important contribution to our culture. But we never planned things that way. It started by chance.
I was finding that every week started with a stack of new problems (memos in those days, not emails) from colleagues who wanted a solution to something that prevented them doing better business: stock shortages, machinery breakdowns, staffing problems and the occasional complaint about a line manager.
It was my fault because I had encouraged every colleague to write directly to my office, but it made my Mondays a bit depressing.
To produce something more positive, I sent everyone a pad headed “GOOD NEWS – Dear John, here is my good news…” The following Monday, I received 11 stories: mostly record sales figures, a competitor who had closed down and a manager who had become a grandfather. Next week, there were 15 more that I put into a report and I awarded £10 to the colleague who sent the best news of the week.
The prize produced a lot of interest and when we ran an “amaze me” week with £5 for every amazing story, we got a bumper post bag that was turned into a four-page newsletter. Since then, apart from the beginning of lockdown, we have issued a newsletter every week, almost entirely based on input from colleagues. I wanted it to be their newsletter, not a vehicle for corporate communication. I chose one bit of company news each week for the front page under a tabloid type of headline (I would love to have written headlines for newspapers), but most of the paper was about our colleagues, with lots of pictures. In the early days, I photographed everyone I met on shop visits, but now colleagues send loads of pictures and stories from their own mobile phones. For the most part, we’re telling the day-to-day story of our business through the eyes of our people. There are profile interviews, customer compliments and reports of random acts of kindness. Colleagues who have received one of our “dream come true” rewards describe their experience (often a visit to Vegas or meeting a close but distant relative on the other side of the world).
There is a bit of business. We quote the top 20 sales performers in several categories and run adverts for job vacancies, but more than 80pc of the newspaper is purely about people.
For several years, the newsletter has been edited by Jools Payne, who previously did our public relations. Jools knows our business inside out and is in constant touch with Timpson colleagues around the country. The result is totally different from the company magazines produced by PR firms to fulfil a marketing brief.
Most of the content comes from our people, so really is about the business. You should focus on the same.
QIs it me or does everyone else find it difficult to discover what is really happening in a public company’s annual report? As more and more information has to be reported in accordance with the latest accounting standards, it becomes ever more difficult to discover what’s really going on.
AIn 1943, following guidelines issued by the wartime paper controller, the William Timpson Ltd annual report was produced on both sides of one sheet of A4. The chairman’s report was pretty brief, but the figures revealed all anyone needed to know.
As a family business, we don’t have to publish a shareholders’ report, but I send one to every colleague, as they have a right to know about the company. I follow the paper
controller’s example by keeping the figures concise, then talk about the business in pictures rather than words.
If someone else is willing to do all the reading, I’m offering two new Company Report Awards: one for the longest and the other for the most incomprehensible!
Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high street services provider, Timpson. Send him an email at email@example.com
Emails from colleagues can form the basis of an engaging corporate newsletter