The Corporate Newsletter, Upside Down

Artemisia Gentileschi, Allégorie de la Réthorique

Artemisia Gentileschi, Allégorie de la Réthorique

“Hey, let’s do something to inform everyone in the team, create a team spirit, and engage people. Let’s… create a newsletter!”

Oh noooo. The newsletter. Here it comes again.

The intentions are very noble and there's nothing to blame here. It is absolutely necessary to organize a relevant flow of information within a company, a team for it to thrive. People need to access information about their environment, their management's strategy, collective achievements etc.

As teams grow and spread across various buildings, cities and continents, it is not realistic to rely on presential events for a quick and efficient circulation of information. Merely making the information accessible through an intranet or a collaborative platform isn't the panacea either; we are so overloaded with information, emails and meetings that very few of us actually make the effort to dig into the information made available.

That's why, at some point in time, comes the newsletter. The magical solution (or it seems) to PUSH information forward, to frame the collective culture and mindsets, to engage teams around business objectives.

If it's a brilliant idea, how come people don't read newsletters?

Nobody read newsletters

Be honest... Do YOU read your company's / function's / department's newsletter? The question doesn't apply to newsletters' editors, obviously.

By experience, the usefulness of newsletters is much lower than what internal communication people and newsletter instigators confess (or realize).

Despite hard and sometimes excellent work by communication professionals, the truth is that people seldom read newsletters, except when they're featured in – with a picture.

Why? Because newsletters suck. Newsletters are expensive, time-consuming, top-down and mostly useless.

They are labor-intensive and require a number of specific competencies (writing, editing...). Chasing information and validation from busy colleagues is a nightmare. Sooner than later, the unglamorous grunt work is handled over to an admin, a junior, a trainee – or outsourced.

Newsletters are hardly interesting. They reveal nothing that can’t be known by the outside world, in order to limit the risks of information leakage. They use the common sterilized language of internal comms; it’s all about positive, ex-post information. The actual stuff people would like to know can’t appear, because “it is not yet official / approved / validated". When it does, people are often already aware through internal gossip – or the news is then so “cold” that nobody cares any more. Newsletters’ lead time is increasingly disconnected from the pace of information we're now used to.

Finally, everyone understands newsletters are a mere promotion tool for the department / company and their leaders. Watching the editions pile up with time, leaders can consider they've done the job – information circulation, employee engagement: tick the box, done! and communicate upwards on their achievements. Except that employees are less and less engaged through top-down operations.

All of us, newsletters’ audience, we know they’re just a waste of resources.

Is there nothing we can do to save the newsletters?

Don't dump the newsletters, change them

The need for information and cohesion remains, at company or department scale.

So do constraints on information confidentiality, meaning it remains difficult to produce fresh and interesting content.

However, by changing the information source and flow direction, it is possible to re-invent newsletters that are meaningful and engaging.

Set up a grassroots, collaborative, digital newsletter.

Even if the newsletter this way looks a bit less glamorous than a former outsourced version, it is much more powerful. People relate to it, it becomes theirs: they have moved from being the audience to being the co-authors. They’re not passive anymore, but engaged into sharing their information.

This type of approach works.

It requires a bit of communication, stimulation and support in the beginning – especially in hierarchical work cultures. People have to get used to being empowered. But once they’ve tasted it, I can tell you there’s no going back.