(This is the first installment of a slightly fictionalized account of my adventure as the temporary editor of an employee newsletter. Names have been changed but not much else.)
My biggest client is having a staffing crisis. For various reasons Big Division’s communications department is three or four people short, including the burned out editor of the weekly print newsletter, Plant Site News, who has transferred to another job.
So, for the umpteenth time in my long and sordid career, I find myself stepping into the breech to become the editor of another employee publication.
It’s an interim job – I’ll be looking after the publication for a couple of months while my client finds a candidate to fill the vacant editor position.
At first glance it’s a bit of overkill to use a senior consultant like me to edit an internal publication. But there’s a plan to revamp employee communications at BigCo and I’ve been asked to help with the overhaul. Taking the helm of the flagship division’s publication for a few weeks should give me some insights into how the organization currently communicates, and what might need changing or improving.
In the meantime, starting next week, I have a newsletter to put out. As I write this blog post, the outgoing editor is laying out her last edition. Since I arrived yesterday I’ve been going through the administrative motions to get myself an I.D. card, site pass, company laptop, e-mail and voicemail. Although I’m a contractor, for the next while I’ll be working on this assignment full time, spending two or three days a week at the plant site and the rest of the time working out of my home office.
After three years of being a completely independent sole practitioner, it feels strange getting my photo taken for a company badge. I feel the warm yet strangling embrace of mother BigCo and I am nostalgic and fearful at the same time.
Yesterday I met with the editor for a briefing on the publication, a classic 8-page, 8.5” x 11” house organ that’s been published every Thursday without fail since 2001. It’s packed with just about everything one would expect from a company rag: weekly production numbers, updates on various projects, safety tips, upcoming events, new hires and service anniversaries, HR stuff on pensions and benefits, and so on.
It’s a busy publication – so busy that the outgoing editor suffered burnout after only a year in the job. In some ways Plant Site News is a victim of its own success. Lots and lots of people sending in stories to the point where it’s all the editor can do to keep up with the material coming in. There’s not much planning beyond getting a grip on the week ahead. No written purpose or content guidelines. Just a steady stream of information coming in, and a hard deadline every week to get it out.
When you publish that regularly, for that long, you have content providers who expect their stuff to get in the newsletter, and you’ve got a readership that expects its Thursday information fix. I feel the pressure already.
This is going to be a living, breathing hell. And it’s also going to be a lot of fun.
Let the meatgrinder begin.