Leaf through The Lanexchange, a Lane Co. publication, and you feel like you're reading a magazine, not an employee newsletter. There's a table of contents, lots of pictures, columns, departments, and small articles. And, it's all in a four-color package. In the past, the Lane publication had a newspaper feel, but the company set out to change this a few months ago.

"When we were looking at industry publications, they looked more polished," says Lane Management's marketing director, Jared Miller. "As Lane Co. continues to grow, I felt that was the direction in which we needed to go. We needed something that showed our professionalism and how polished we were as a company."

Newsletters spread the word about community life and highlight innovative programs.
Lane Co., Shea Properties, and The Bozzuto Group Newsletters spread the word about community life and highlight innovative programs.

Atlanta-based Lane isn't the only company seeking to look more polished for its employees. Recently, multifamily firms like The Bozzuto Group in Greenbelt, Md., and AvalonBay Communities in Alexandria, Va., revamped their in-house communications. Not only can these newsletters create excitement among employees, who see themselves, their properties, and their groups featured, but they can also foster culture and promote the company to the outside world.

Varying Motivations Different companies possess different motivations for doing internal newsletters. "Our [two] newsletters are in response to our associates requesting more information about our company, including where we're going and what we're doing," says Jen Piccotti, quality manager for Shea Properties, a multifamily firm based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. "All the information supports and points to our top company goals."

At Bozzuto, the quarterly newsletters not only share information and spread the company culture, they also have another, more individual purpose. "It allows everybody to know what's going on a much bigger scale," says Val Covarrubias, corporate communications director for Bozzuto. "It lets the individual star. Each group has so much going on, and it's fun to be able to include lots of photos so people recognize their friends and associates between companies as well."

The Lane newsletters, which come out every three months, help the company not only internally, but externally as well. "It keeps our clients and individual partners in the loop as far as what were doing," Miller says. "It's a great marketing piece, considering we're a third-party manager and always looking for joint venture opportunities. It gives others in the industry a good idea of what Lane's capabilities are."

Regardless of the purpose, many internal newsletters seem to have a similar recipe. There's recognition of award winners and employees who've reached milestones, information about what's going on in each division, lists of deals, pictures of properties and renderings of those in development, training announcements, a letter from the CEO or a senior executive, a piece on a rising star, and lists of training opportunities. The point is to distribute useful and entertaining information throughout the corporate chain.

When the editors of these newsletters succeed, they usually know pretty quickly. "We've gotten really wonderful feedback, like people saying they didn't know that a policy existed or they didn't know that someone was doing that," says Ellen Bjork, AvalonBay's senior communication manager. "People may see pictures of associates in other offices that they talk to on the phone but never see."

Return on Investment While newsletters can certainly boost morale, it's often difficult to quantify what they bring to an organization. And they aren't cheap to produce. Lane Co. sends out 1,000 copies of its newsletter with every printing. So, each issue runs about $7,000 to $12,000, depending on size.

If a company follows AvalonBay's lead and does an online newsletter those costs disappear, but someone still has to put the newsletter together. "Newsletters are always deceptive," Bjork says. "You want to make them look simple, but they always take longer to put together than most people think. It takes a number of weeks to generate the ideas and get the interest and information, do the source reviews, get the pictures taken, and get them back."

Part of the time expended in doing these newsletters is incorporating everyone in the organization. But Covarrubias says that's essential. "Having a representative from each group involved will help you decide what's most important," she says. "There are some interesting items that we've put in that I wouldn't be aware of unless they were coming directly from each company [in The Bozzuto Group]. That really lets us capture the flavor of each company."

Covarrubias tries hard to give each group in the company an equal shot at publicity, whether it's giving each division a prime location or developing a lead story. "We try to pick a story for the front that includes a lot of the groups or something that's as far-reaching as possible," she says.

But articles only tell part of the story. Bjork thinks it's also important to be concise. "In the age of the Internet ... you really need to keep it short and relevant," Bjork says. "If it's not relevant, don't put it in."

And don't forget the pictures. "I think being able to see photos, whether it's an associate or projects, is a lot of fun for people," Covarrubias says.