All posts by Don Sanford

About Don Sanford

Don Sanford is a Senior Consultant and Partner at Smith. Contact the author directly

Smith Bits

Q: How can I make this 24-page enrollment guide easier to review?

Make Your PDF “Interactive” And Improve Its Use

“I just need to jam in one more comment … no make that two … okay a paragraph or two … alright a few pages … but it’s all good stuff the employee needs to know.”  

Sound familiar? By the time we are done talking ourselves into an expanded benefits enrollment guide it has become so long, that if you printed it off, it would be a thick enough wad of paper to serve as a replacement leg on that broken couch.

It was Mark Twain who said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Thus, poking fun at how we drone on and on and how difficult it is to edit our messages to make them sharp and succinct. Editing is a fine art that has become lost on many.

Still, when it comes to benefits information, it’s just not that easy. There is a lot of information that a person might need and could be critical in helping him or her make a decision that later has financial impact on their lives. Not every employee needs all of the information, but it still needs to be there for the ones who do. What should you do?

Your best bet is to organize the material so it is easy to navigate.  This isn’t Shakespeare you are editing, so it doesn’t need to be flowing prose that someone will study from beginning to end. Rather, your goal is to make it accurate, engaging and well-organized – and especially easy to find specific information. Most readers are hunting for a nugget of content and couldn’t care less about the other 23 pages of “mission critical” stuff you have jammed into the guide. If they can find it fast and with ease, you will win them over.

Layer Your Documents With Helpful Information

One of the niftier improvements by Adobe in recent years is the ability to create links within a pdf. The feature makes “wandering” to the information you want much easier and less frustrating.

Want to jump to the section on dental benefits? … easy peasy … just click here. Want to jump to the section on how to enroll? … fine and dandy … click on this link here. You can structure the contents of the pdf to create an experience much like you would have with a website … only all the links, jumping and content are contained in that one document. And … get this … it doesn’t cost anything more for this feature. It’s already built into the pdf software. It just takes a little planning on to set the document up to make it truly interactive.

So next time you create a bulky document that you absolutely, positively must send to all employees … make sure it is easy to find all those needed content nuggets. And, take the time to make it interactive so your readers can glide from section to section with ease. You may not satisfy Mark Twain, but you will empower your employees to experience a faster and better to interact with important content.

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Smith Bits

Q: What's long, folds neatly and is utterly unforgettable?

Just about every business communication campaign includes some form of a newsletter – a document that succinctly, accurately and generally (and sometimes fully) communicates who, what, when, where and why something important is happening. Most company newsletters are crafted as the central hub of a campaign to engage and inform audiences.

Sadly, these corporate publications often fail to engage their readers and most never achieve their goal of effectively delivering key messages. The content is usually rock solid . . . but the failure occurs almost immediately on the reader’s end.

Instead of seeing your carefully crafted assembly of useful information, they often see a boring, cautious and dated design. Before they even read one word, your precious communique (that went through 9 rounds of edits and painstaking reviews) slips right into the recycle bin.  

How can you blame readers when you realize your newsletter is competing with so much for their undivided attention?  (Let’s see, I can read this corporate newsletter or check out the new episode of Game of Thrones, Instagram, or maybe The Voice . . . hmm, I wonder who wins?)

What’s a communicator to do?  Fight back with some innovation.  One such approach is to rethink and reorganize the display of information to make it unique from a traditional publication.  If you have decided a print piece is needed that summarizes your messages, consider using an accordion-fold sheet of paper for your newsletter to create a new and different way of presenting the information.

Essentially a “dangler” newsletter (so called because it dangles when you hold it up and let it unravel) is a sheet of paper with four or more panels on one side that fold into each other.  Each panel can then have its own content, related of course to the general subject at hand.  With this approach you are now able to create content in bite-size, easy-to-digest chunks. And you increase engagement because you handed your reader something that truly stands out in a crowd.

So, the next time you huddle with leaders and managers to discuss the strategy about communicating a new issue . . . think about doing something different that your associates might actually read.  Try a dangler!

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