Magazine article Communication World

It's Time to Admit the Hard Truth: We're Not Photographers; Are Boring Corporate Photos Driving Readers Screaming from Your Publication before They Read Even One Word?

Magazine article Communication World

It's Time to Admit the Hard Truth: We're Not Photographers; Are Boring Corporate Photos Driving Readers Screaming from Your Publication before They Read Even One Word?

Article excerpt

I have a routine that I go through at least once a week. I pour myself a glass of wine and grab a stack of about 100 employee publications to read. This is easy for me to do, because I have thousands of employee publications in my home office. In fact, I don't have any furniture in my office, just stacks of magazines and newsletters. My computer sits on them, my printer, my phone, my radio--everything teeters precariously on employee publications. It's a way to save some money and surround myself with material at the same time.

Anyway, last Thursday I poured my wine and settled in to read. Normally, going through publications is a labor of love for me, but this time I was distracted. Rather than focusing on the task at hand, my mind kept drifting back to a conversation that I had with some folks I had met at a party the week before.

They asked me what I did for a living. After I told them, I asked them a question: Do you read your employee publication?

The answer was a resounding no. Six different people who work at six different companies, and not one reads the employee publication.

Why not? I asked.

I was expecting the usual slew of answers: Because it's corporatespeak, it's all spin, it's propaganda, they don't have time, it's all good news all the time, etc.

But I didn't get that. In fact, I got one word from all six people.

Boring.

That's right--they didn't read the publication because it was boring.

"I pick it up once in a while ... and, I don't know, it just looks boring," said one person who works at a big food company.

"I'm bored before I even read anything," said a woman who works at a consumer products company.

"Why would I bother reading it?" asked another who works for a large law firm. "It's so damn dull."

Damn dull. Boring. These are death sentences in today's media-driven world.

In the old days, we could maybe get away with being a little dull, because there weren't that many options to choose from. People had the employee publication, a couple of TV stations, the daily newspaper and maybe a magazine or two. They would read the employee publication because there was nothing better to do.

Not anymore. Now we live in a world where there are hundreds of media outlets to choose from, from the Internet to blogs to 24-hour news to cable TV to e-mail to streaming video. In today's short-attention-span, sound-byte society, the one thing we can't afford to be is boring.

With that mind, I turned back to my stack of publications and tried to figure out what it is about most employee publications that seems so damn boring before you even start reading them.

Yes, we have boring headlines, and boring quotes, and we write about many boring topics. But in order to know those things, you have to actually read the publication. Yet the people I talked to were bored before they ever read a word.

How does that happen? Is it the design? The masthead? The cover? The color? What is it about so many employee publications that bores readers right off the bat?

Well, after studying about 200 employee publications, I came up with the answer: It's the photos, stupid.

Corporate photos: Why do we bother?

The first thing that leaps out at you when you go through a bunch of employee publications is this: The photos are all really boring. The same cliched photos appear in every single publication:

The "execution at dawn" photo, where six or seven team members are lined up against a wall and "shot," usually holding a plaque of some sort. …

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