KH: Most housing communications professionals will produce a newsletter or magazine for their tenants and residents. It is always a challenge to keep magazines interesting, fresh and a must-read. So when Ben Black, Communications and Marketing Manager at Bron Afon Community Housing, offered to share how he's developed their publication into a compelling read for tenants and won a CIPR Award, I leapt at the chance. Here's Ben's guest post:
Bron Afon Community Housing won the ‘best external magazine’ award at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations PRide awards for Wales.
In this part of south Wales, an estimated 26% of adults have poor reading skills. Winning this award was a slap on the back for our communications forum who worked so hard to make it a magazine that they felt their neighbours and friends would read.
The group were nervous when they set up a plain English group to check key publications that we produce. They felt that they would need A-levels in English but quick agreed that they simply had to understand what was written.
Every time they check Community News or another document they ask themselves five questions:
- Does the document include jargon, abbreviation or technical terms?
- Can any words be cut out or changed for shorter words?
- Is the document easy to read aloud?
- Do you think the spelling, punctuation and grammar reads correctly?
- Do you understand the document?
Bron Afon’s strapline is ‘investing in people, homes and communities’. We do more than just fit new kitchens and bathrooms. In the last year we wanted to make sure that Community News carried this key message and was understood by readers.
To do this effectively we had to remember that: an average reader would find our strategic objectives boring!
We decided to present every story in plain English and in a professionally designed magazine that used strong photos.
The overall objective throughout the project was to produce a first-class magazine that residents would want to read, find useful and most importantly help them understand more about Bron Afon’s role in Torfaen.
Our objectives were:
- they find the magazine easy to read.
- they understand Bron Afon’s role in Torfaen.
- they always read the magazine and find the content useful.
Strategy and tactics
We focus on a small number of key tactics for each edition:
- ensure a balance between ‘soft’ stories and ‘business’ stories.
- ensure stories carried the underlying message that Bron Afon does not just fit kitchen and bathrooms but actually invests in ‘people, homes and communities’.
- always feature a Torfaen tenant, leaseholder or member on the front page.
- ask the chief executive and directors to agree the key messages, ‘sign-off’ the story list and then let us get on with producing the magazine!
- keep the word count on every story to a minimum.
- listen closely to the views of the plain English group. If they did not understand a story then the ‘red pen’ came out and it was changed.
Another important output was regularly turning Bron Afon’s key messages into simple stories that would appeal to Torfaen residents.
- Bron Afon spent £1.5m on making homes more energy efficient. We found a tenant who told her story about how she saved £400 in energy bills.
- A new playpark was built on Bron Afon land but the real story was that local people had helped to design it. We found three young people who helped out and photographed them.
We surveyed readers and were impressed with the results. We received 61 responses. The results told us that:
- 100% said they found it easy to read.
- 100% said they understood Bron Afon's role in ‘investing in people, homes and communities’.
Our readers also told us:
“Everything in the booklet is up to date and gives you information that you need.”
“More pages needed, interesting information but ends too soon!”
KH: What I love about this case study is the tenant involvement. Tenants have been totally involved in the whole process here, from the front page through to the content and evaluation. It's a great example of how tenant involvement can make a service even better. Well done Ben and Bron Afon!