Network magazine is an impressive publication that addresses Network Rail’s corporate objectives and values, and clearly meets its aim: to ‘bring Network Rail’s strategy and priorities to life though the voices of the people at the heart of it’. This entry demonstrated how evidence and insights were used to meet stakeholder needs. Evaluation showed a high proportion of the target audience read the publication and found it interesting and varied, important to the front line, honest and trustworthy, and prepared to tackle difficult or negative subjects. Network’s design is clear yet effective – it uses a sensitive but creative storytelling approach to bring potentially dry corporate issues to life.
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Brief and objectives:
Network Rail owns and operates the railway infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland. We’re delivering a better railway for a better Britain. Our job is to give people line of sight and show them how their work is helping us achieve our goals.
Network is a 20-page magazine, published 10 times a year, printed carbon neutrally. The remit is to bring Network Rail’s strategy and priorities to life though the voices of the people at the heart of it. More than 9,000 copies are distributed to around 350 sites. A digital version is also available.
The magazine has clear objectives:
- Simplify the corporate narrative and share stories in an easy-to-digest format, in a language that is simple and balanced in tone.
- Tackle tough subjects that matter to colleagues.
- Align business priorities (5Cs: customer focused, cost competitive, commercial, culture and capacity) with a people-centric narrative.
- Drive advocacy.
The idea, research and planning:
Engagement Network launched in 2014 following an audit which revealed that only 40% recognised the previous magazine as a trusted source of information. Fewer than 20% said it helped them understand their role.
In 2018, 82.7% of survey respondents read all or most issues of Network – a 15.8% increase from 2015.
Transparent Transparency is the main theme of Network Rail’s strategic business plan. Network needs to be a trusted source of information. It shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects or failings in the business. It should address poor practices as a learning tool – aligning to the 5Cs and driving advocacy and trust. People focused Network is an easy-to-access, people and feature-led magazine with engaging photography.
The remit of Network is to:
- Present a people-centric narrative
- Be an investment in our people
- Have a greater resonance with ALL colleagues
- Represent the front line.
To achieve this, we work with colleagues across the business to tackle difficult subject matter and to shine a light on issues that are important to the front line. For Network, good looks like:
- Our people tell the story
- Cover and content is high impact and immediately engaging
- Content is straightforward and doesn’t assume technical knowledge
- Features are balanced and honest, with the voice of the customer present wherever possible
- Content is aligned to strategic themes based on the company’s priorities.
Strategy, tactics, creativity and innovation:
Each story links to one of the internal communications themes: celebrating our people, better every day, Railway Upgrade Plan, safety and performance, Digital Railway and caring for our passengers and communities. These align with the overall business strategy. We feature colleagues ‘on the ground’ and use inviting imagery that builds trust.
- Put people at the heart of each story.
- Commission photoshoots to ensure maximum visual and written impact – photography should add value and draw in the reader.
- Features are built from short, sharp segments of easy-to-digest text, with multiple entry points. There is no room for jargon or wasted words.
We’re creative in our treatment of stories – ‘At war with myself’ (November 2018, p14-16) told the story of a colleague with post-traumatic stress disorder. We created the shadow of solider to draw in the reader and create visual representation of what he lives with.
Gerry Mann – ‘A caring cuppa with a good Samaritan’ (November 2018, p10-12) – talked a suicidal woman away from the railway by taking her to a nearby café. Network took Gerry back to that café, which provided a soft and inviting background, to retell his story.
Pedestrian Lucy Ruck – ‘Instant impact’ (May 2018, p8-10) – lost her leg after being struck by a train. This bold feature – speaking to a customer seriously injured on our network – was supported by an equally striking front cover image, which showed her without her prosthetic.
As well as helping normalise visible disabilities, it highlighted the real-life risk of not engaging with communities about railway danger. Gerry and Lucy fronted external media campaigns on the back of the Network features.
Company challenges have been covered with honest voices throughout the last 12 months. Anticipated problems with the May timetable delivery were covered in April’s edition (‘A shared challenge’), ‘Remembering Clapham’ spoke of errors creeping back into practices that were like the causes of the Clapham rail disaster in 1988, while ‘I sleep where I can…’ (October 2018, p10-13) focused on Network Rail supporting homeless people sell The Big Issue in managed station.
We plan each edition six weeks in advance. Each area of the business is engaged by the Network editor to gather content ideas. This is followed by a planning meeting with beetroot to discuss the stories, explore story treatment, photography and page design to ensure we’re bringing the story to life editorially and visually. Our editor carries out key feature interviews face-to-face and helps direct the commissioned photography.
Measurement and evaluation, including engagement of target readers:
In the most recent (2018) survey, 40 per cent of respondents were front line colleagues (our main audience), an increase of 38% on the previous year. 82.7% of respondents read most or all issues of Network (4% increase from 2017) 63% agree that Network reports on issues important to the front line 61% agree that Network is prepared to tackle difficult or negative subject matter (+5%) 63.7% agree that Network is honest and trustworthy (same as last year).
More than 12% of the colleagues surveyed (3,000) took part in the 2018 survey.
The digital version of Network was viewed on average 6,102 times, with an average read time of 4.57 minutes (+91% on 2017). April 2018’s edition was viewed 18,045 times, May 2018’s edition was read for an average of more than 8 minutes.
Budget and campaign impact:
Annual budget is £113,257.
On average each edition costs £10,965. This includes content planning, proofing and sign-off (£825), creative treatment (£3,750), the print of 10,200 editions (£2,460), as well as the distribution and postage of the magazine (£2,070).
Also included in the costs are four professional photoshoots (£400 each) and the design and platform costs for the digital edition (£260).
Three internal contributors work closely with an agency designer and editor. Efficiencies are driven by contributors taking photos and using external media materials.