Effectively communicating a company’s key messages to its employees is a daunting task. How do you deliver valuable, useful information in a way that draws in these readers and conveys the strategic points the company needs them to absorb? Complicate that mission with a corporate structure comprising 220,000 employees in five distinct and recently merged regional subsidiaries. Designing and executing a compelling internal communications vehicle under those conditions was the goal when SBC Communications Inc. decided to transform its company newsletter into a focused, strategic tool.
After a few years of explosive growth, SBC concluded in late 1999 that it was essential to develop a strategic internal communications vehicle to channel its employees’ energies in the same direction, toward the company's ambitious business goals. SBC needed a way to cut through the corporate clutter and deliver to its expanding workforce the essential details on developments in the rapidly changing industry and on the company’s evolving strategy to become a global telecommunications leader.
What was the most effective way to deliver creative, cohesive, market-driven messages to a huge and diverse constituency? SBC decided to convert its traditional, monthly newsletter, sbc.com, into a vehicle that would compete successfully for employees’ attention while providing the essential information. The challenge was to raise its content to a strategic level, while also driving employees to an emerging communications channel that was growing in importance – SBC’s intranet.
Converting sbc.com to the kind of publication SBC needed at the opening of the e-commerce century required an innovative and comprehensive plan, with no increase in budget. Since debuting in 1997, sbc.com had become a six-page tabloid with a mixed menu of information and features as varied as new products and services, employee heroes and company sponsorship of sports events. Zoned editions with three corporate pages and three local pages went to employees in 18 states, Washington, D.C., and overseas locations for the regional brands: Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell/Nevada Bell, SNET and Cellular One. SBC had just completed a merger with Ameritech, and sbc.com would increase circulation to reach those 70,000 employees in five more states.
In prior research for SBC, management and non-management employees expressed an overwhelming need for more information on topics that included:
- Corporate strategies, priorities and policies.
- Long-range and immediate plans.
- Acquisitions and strategic partnerships.
An employee survey showed that a vast majority rated such topics as “very important” or “somewhat important”- as high as 97 percent for some kinds of information. The survey also showed that a majority of employees – as many as 77 percent – preferred to receive strategic and corporate information from a newsletter.
Employees cut across all categories, from senior management to engineers to data experts to sales representatives to service technicians. About two-thirds were “non-management, bargained-for” employees. The work force was almost evenly divided between men and women, and more than one-third of the employees were minorities. They worked for a company that had grown from the smallest “Baby Bell” to the second-largest telecommunications employer in the country. The company's rapid expansion – fueled by aggressive acquisitions and mergers, new products and services, and a strategy to become a true global communications leader – also had made it the second largest by revenue.
Transform sbc.com to an effective, dedicated, e-commerce-focused communications conduit delivering top-level corporate strategies to all employees.
Drive readers to the intranet's news and information page, News Now.
To meet this challenge, SBC would have to infuse a general information newsletter that had only a vaguely strategic purpose with a laser-like focus on corporate strategy and initiatives. Each story would have to deliver key messages tied directly to the company's direction and decisions – all in a creative and engaging form. SBC also needed a way to disseminate the information that would be excluded from a refocused sbc.com.
SBC launched the transformation of sbc.com in January 2000 through two related initiatives. First, the newsletter shifted to a significantly redesigned, four-page publication that carried only corporate-level news and information. Second, local news and features for the regional brands migrated to the News Now site on the intranet, which also was redesigned to reflect the new purpose and content. In addition to delivering refocused, strategic stories written in clear, direct language, sbc.com concentrated on driving readers to News Now and establishing a more effective “link” between the print and electronic publications.
SBC implemented these initiatives by:
- Focusing sbc.com on corporate-level stories written to deliver strategic, key messages. Editors develop and distribute to writers a set of bullet points called “key employee take-aways” as guideposts for the construction and execution of each story.
- Developing stories based on the company's four growth drivers – data, long-distance service, wireless and national expansion – and presenting them in bright, interesting, readable form. More stories focus specifically on improving employees' knowledge and understanding of electronic and data communications. For the first time, sbc.com published a special issue dedicated to one topic in a combined August/September 2000 “data” edition. The issue also contained links to data-related stories on News Now. More special issues are in planning.
- Redesigning sbc.com with a more “techno,” Web-related look and feel. Design elements include mock clicking “buttons” at the top of stories and special “link” boxes with buttons to highlight News Now and other intranet sites – with URLs provided – that offer additional or related information.
- More and brighter graphics and data boxes contribute to the electronic appearance while providing useful information at a glance – more similarities to an electronic information source.
- Coordinating stories, features and photographs between sbc.com and the News Now intranet news site. A special “What's on the intranet” box in sbc.com teases News Now articles and features, and drives readers to the site. Folios at the bottom of each sbc.com page also refer readers to News Now “for more news,” and provide the URL. sbc.com encourages employees with intranet access to print items for those who do not have access.
- Redesigning the News Now intranet site to provide links to pages with the information and features that migrated from sbc.com. The text of every issue of sbc.com also is available on News Now.
An analysis and matrix of stories published between January and December 2000 showed that:
- 30 stories, plus the special all-data edition, covered developments in data communications and technology – a prime objective for the project.
- 10 more stories dealt with the other SBC growth drivers – an unprecedented focus and production.
- 41 additional stories covered company plans and priorities, key internal messages and topics such as SBC’s international business.
The effort to drive readers to the intranet also was immediately successful. In January 2000, the first month for the new design of sbc.com, hits on the News Now intranet site jumped an astounding 66 percent to more than 20.5 million. By October 2000, monthly usage had climbed to more than 33.5 million hits as readers explored scores of new stories posted to the site, many of them teased in sbc.com.
Anecdotal evidence also showed that:
- SBC business units began requesting additional copies of sbc.com to distribute to customers and new hires.
- E-mail feedback on stories skyrocketed, contributing to the need to hire an additional SBC staffer.
- Requests from senior leadership for stories outlining company priorities and initiatives soared.
- Feedback from managers indicated they had begun to look to sbc.com for the “official word” on corporate strategies.