A final question Bill Sweetland needed to answer to complete his critque of the slick corporate magazine was about the writing, and the headlines. He had already talked a lot about the writing. So:
Let me say a few words about your headlines: They are not very good.
Look at the headlines in the Spring 2009 issue, starting from the front of the magazine:
Voices for change
A fresh approach to learning
Looking to the future (Groan! The staple of editors at a loss for words)
From the CEO
Fit for life
You can do better than this. In truth, many of your headlines are lifeless because there is literally nothing in the story worth a real headline, for example, the three stories about learning and strategy, “Voices for change,” “A fresh approach to learning,” and “Looking at the future.” The solution: Write a story in which you include some fresh fact or idea that begs for a snappy, short, readable headline.
And then Bill wound up the critique with a barrage of good questions, a bevy of difficult truths and host of hard-to-digest bits of advice.
What are the chances you could persuade executives to allow you to do more with the publication? Could you get an executive-employee dialogue going in the publication about company issues? Could you do stories on company topics? More stories about individual employees, stories that inspire their fellow workers to think more about their jobs? Is the phrase “social media” mere foul language to your bosses?
There is no substitute for good-quality, long, thoughtful stories about your huge corporation and all of its departments, its “silos,” its business initiatives and processes, its flawed structures and workflows, its misunderstandings and business triumphs, its departmental jealousies and remedies for this, its industry, its competition, its plans for expansion, its long-term goals or strategy. Every part of the subjects I’ve just mentioned is just as exciting as, or more exciting than, stories about what individual employees do with their free time. I know that that will be hard for you to believe, but give it a chance.
Stay away from general stories that lack a male or female hero. Concentrate on making the company better by writing about it as a business, and cut back drastically on the stories about employees having interesting fun, and, for that matter, stop writing so much about workers doing good for their communities. And don’t forget always that your job is to make your gigantic corporation explicable to and understandable by your own employees. That is far more important to employees than making them feel good about themselves or making them proud of the charity work they do, and in the end, such an attitude is far less condescending.
Tune in tomorrow when I share the editor's response to Bill's broadside—and a good argument for the usefulness of the unreasonable critic.