How to build a global network of sources for internal communication

The story of how a voluntary ‘Write Club’ improved news coverage in Maersk Line.

In the beginning of 2013, I took over the role of internal news editor in Maersk Line, a global company of some 20,000 people. A very fun and interesting job which I held for three years, finding many good stories and meeting  a lot of talented people.

With the job I also inherited certain challenges: readers had told us that content was too HQ-heavy; not surprising, since less than 10% of the workforce were based in Copenhagen with me.

Of course there were some who preferred the ‘corporate’ voice with only official, sanctioned content. I, however, sided with the majority who enjoyed a more ‘grass-roots’ feel, while of course staying true to corporate strategy and values. It was my job to balance the two.

What I needed was people from around the world who wanted to write, and preferably had some potential in the area. I had some connections, but not enough, and not always the right people. Furthermore, I had no formal mandate, so participation would have to be voluntary, which in itself can be a challenge in KPI-driven culture.

Do not talk about Write Club

The idea came from my predecessor, as did the name. Not everyone got the pun, but that’s ok.

We launched Write Club by advertising to an existing communication network and by word of mouth. Per design it was not clear exactly how it would evolve, since I wanted to gauge the mood and interests of the people who joined.

The general idea was this: bring people together who want to improve their writing skills, give them special attention and coaching, and hopefully they will deliver content along the way. I had typically between 10 and 20 people on the roster, with varying commitment  and skill levels.

What did we do?

A few main features kept the network alive. Roughly once a month, I hosted a webinar with an agenda typically like this:

  1. Editorial update from HQ: What’s going on in terms of strategy, what types of stories am I specifically looking for.
  2. Assignments: Especially in the beginning I would give the members short assignments, both for me to gauge their skill levels, and for them to improve. In the next call, we would then review their homework and have a general discussion.
  3. Theme of the day: Presented either by myself or a guest speaker, this would take them through topics such as interview technique, building a storyline, or where to look for stories. Always encouraging participation and discussion.

In addition to the webinars, I would do my best to hand-hold the members and give special attention to their assignments and eventually their story projects. I would encourage everyone to look for stories, and actively follow up on their commitments. No raised fingers, however, since this was all voluntary, so it was up to the members to decide if they wanted to write ten stories per year, or just two.

On a few occasions my travels made it possible to meet one or more Write Clubbers in person, but for the most part our interaction was purely digital.

We did get to know each other quite well, however, and an extra benefit was when two or more members would collaborate on a story. It typically started when I heard their pitches, and if two stories were similar, I would encourage them to join forces. So instead of publishing one story about sales training in Korea and one about the same Poland, we would have a wider feature story about sales training with sources from Korea, Poland, and perhaps a third country.

Whenever a story from a Write Clubber was published, we would put a discreet Write Club logo in the corner of the story, which eventually led to people asking about the club and how to join.

What were the results?

I don’t have access to the data any longer, but we did put out a lot of stories from corners of the world which had not previously been covered. Most of these stories performed above average in terms of readership and interaction. And when we surveyed the readers a year later, many people commented that they appreciated the increased variety in voices and geography.

For the people who joined, it is my opinion that they improved their skills, some of them considerably, and I believe they were grateful to be part of the project.

Eventually, Write Club outlived itself. Organisational changes meant that I would increasingly rely on dedicated communication professionals in global regions as sources and writers. But building on the success of Write Club, I made sure to schedule regular calls with these people to ask them what was going on in their region, discuss potential stories, and continue the dedicated coaching on writing.

What did I learn?

People are happy to join. My biggest worry at first was whether anybody would actually take the time to participate, and if my coaching was enough to make their efforts worthwhile. This worry was quickly put to rest, however. Since the Write Clubbers had joined out of interest, they were quite keen on the project, and the opportunity to improve their skills, and see their work and their location featured in global news, was enough for most.

You only get what you put into it. I was kept busy by many other tasks, and Write Club was not always my first priority. So while the members were engaged, the network needed my constant initiative and nurturing to thrive.

What might seem like extra work pays off in the end. Dealing with volunteers requires extra attention and patience. Some writers were nearly prolific, but others needed a lot of work in terms of editing. For these individual stories, it might have been faster to write them myself. But I wanted the variety in voices, and I wanted people to learn. Fortunately they did improve, and when Write Club was at its best, it was delivering quality content which I could definitely not have done all by myself.

Want to know more?

Feel free to drop me an email.

Advertisements

Farewell to Maersk

Today is my last day working for Maersk Line. Four and a half years is a long time, and my longest employment to date.

It has been a fantastic journey, and I have come to cherish the unique world of shipping and the history and values of this company, one of Denmark’s oldest, largest, and most prestigious. The famous Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller was still around when I started, and I got to see him a few times before he passed away, 99 years old, during my first year with the company.

Triple-E 07

I count myself fortunate for having come this far, for the people who have had faith in me and for the many experiences and wonderful people I’ve come to know across the world. Symptomatic to modern-day work I’ve had 5 different managers and 7 different seats. More interestingly, I’ve made 7 overseas trips, with probably the most memorable being attending the naming ceremony of the world’s largest ship in Korea.

I look forward to my new role and challenges as Senior Communication Consultant in Novo Nordisk, but of course I will remember fondly the many good experiences and people in the world of Maersk.

My Second Anniversary of Shipping

Spring 12-02

Two years have now passed since my first day in the job for Maersk Line.

In one sense they have gone by extremely quickly, with the new reality fast becoming routine: dressing up in suit and tie everyday, using English for work as well as small talk, dealing with colleagues literally across the globe, the quirky habits inherent in any large organisation, and the pride of working for one of Denmark’s best-known and most prestigious companies.

But in another sense, two years are indeed a long time. l’ve changed positions 2-3 times, worked for 4-5 different managers, grown immensely in my knowledge of the business and and industry and expanded my network within it. It is my longest full-time employment ever. My current position is, I suspect, one that many would envy, and I could not imagine a better job at this stage in my life.

Flashback, two years ago. Ten months of unemployment starting to take their toll. Frustration. Doubt. Lack of self-confidence. Before that, a fairly interesting first job with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but with certain uncertainties, and ending with termination.

While I do believe that your job is not everything, it is still a tremendously important factor in defining your identity. Too important? I’m not sure, but I can definitely feel the difference. If nothing else, then in people’s reaction.

When I would explain that I worked for a church, some people might say “Hmm, that’s interesting,” whereas others’ reactions were more like “Really? Why?” or “That must be tough.” Being unemployed garnered less disbelief, but no less sympathy, although even that quickly becomes tiring. In the end, you almost don’t feel like going out at all and having to tell people “Yeah, it’s kinda tough, but I’m managing alright,” especially since that reply becomes less and less credible over time.

Now, however, the reaction is quite different. Often it’s a more or less thinly veiled jealousy, which is understandable, but I have also found that the company I work for is one that many Danes like having an opinion about. Mostly positive, mind you, but definitely curious. I cannot count the times people have asked: “So have things changed a lot since Mr Moller passed away?” (Answer: Not really). On the other hand, I also regularly find myself talking enthusiastically about container shipping and the virtues of Maersk Line to audiences with varying degrees of interest. My loyalty to the company surprises even myself sometimes.

That last fact might be the cause for some healthy concern, but it cannot conceal the reality that, for now, I am in a good place in my career with no intentions of leaving anytime soon.