Wanted: Strategist, Fire Fighter, Diplomat…

… Oh, And Must Be Good Storyteller!

When writing to customers or staff, the principles and theory for great communications are the same. But the practicalities are quite different.

Marketers have scoping, planning and delivering campaigns down to a fine art. They work to clear objectives. The responsibilities between the client the agency are clearly defined. And they can tightly target their messages to each audience group.

In contrast, the strategies for successful internal communications and managing the brand can be complex. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

Internal communicators need to be all things to all people. You only need to look at extracts from a couple of recent job ads to see what I mean “… must have had exposure to conflicting situations… the ability to navigate your way around… good at handling difficult people… manage internal stakeholders… have a strong commercial focus…”

When you come right down to it, internal communication is internal marketing.  Just like marketing, internal communications pull together all the strands that reflect your brand’s tone of voice but it’s your brand as employer who is talking. And like any brand manager, the internal communicator works hard to create a strong positive emotional attachment between the brand and its audience.

Your People Are Your Top Brand Ambassadors

As you are well aware, a brand isn’t something physical that you can touch. It’s character. It’s integrity. People instantly recognise what a brand is. Think of it along the lines of your company’s reputation.

Now think about who in your organisation brings your brand to life? It is of course the people who work for you.

Each time a customer talks to a member of your team, they leave with a lasting impression of your brand. For this reason, I believe your team is arguably your most important asset. The employer who doesn’t recognise this, and fails to keep their team informed about what’s happening, when and why is missing a trick.

All companies communicate with their workforce. Some do it consciously, with great deliberation, thought and planning. Others do it haphazardly – almost by chance, without much thought or consideration.

Culture Cascades From The Top

An organisation’s culture has a huge bearing on its internal communications. And the culture stems from the senior team. To have any chance of success, internal communication needs to be championed from the top.  If not, messages will be blocked half way down the organisation – before they even get to your team.

In an ideal world, every senior team would recognise this. In companies that do, people are well informed. They understand the business and what it’s about. They know what to expect from their employer – and they know what is expected of them. People are generally motivated and loyal. As such, they are the best brand ambassadors you can wish for.

The chief executive who appoints a senior communication specialist, and invites their input at strategy meetings, will be further rewarded with a coherent integrated approach to their communications.

There are countless benefits from having one person responsible for all a brand’s communications – internal, marketing, press office and corporate affairs. They are plain for all to see especially when a business finds itself dealing with a crisis and going through major strategic change.

These situations test the most seasoned PR professional. A good, clear and decisive strategy for communicating such news to staff and customers can save a brand’s reputation, its market value – and confidence generally among its influential stakeholders.

Where senior teams only pay lip service to internal communication, it’s a quite different story.

We’re One Team, With Many Faces

The headache internal communicators suffer that marketers don’t is people’s desire for their business area to have its own visual identity. This poses major risks. It dilutes brand values and confuses people.

One solution is to create a look and feel for each division. That way people quickly grasp what part of the business is talking to them – and your one team, one brand stance is protected.

Having won the sub brand battle, your mind can then turn to other matters, such as delivering campaigns where stakeholders have conflicting objectives.

Strategist, Fire Fighter And Diplomat To The Rescue

By their very nature, complex projects can throw up conflicting objectives for communication campaigns.

An IT department introducing a new computer diary system will want to tell people something different to the sales director, who will want his sales team to understand what it means to them and their customers who want to make an appointment. A skilled communication specialist will address the concerns of both camps.

And the more complex or high profile the project, the more stakeholder interest it’ll attract which can result in a long list of people to consult when it comes to approving and signing off the materials. Something that external communication generally avoids.

Talking Sense

Unlike external communications, where creative teams are well versed in how to express the brand’s tone of voice, internal messages tend to be written by people from across the company – this can be a finance manager, IT analyst or legal adviser.

Just like customer communications, internal communications need to work hard to grab attention. But there’s little point in producing a glossy newsletter or guide, if the person reading it can’t understand what’s been written or why.

So another skill to add to the list for an internal communication manager is the ability to write. All to often, internal communications are full of clichés and jargon that can leave people feeling stupid.  Respect the intelligence of those who work for you. Write in a way that makes sense. Clearly explain what’s happening, why and what it means to them. Anything else is a waste of time and money because people won’t read it.

Size Really Doesn’t Matter

While it has a bearing, the size of your business isn’t your principal consideration when it comes to setting your internal communication strategy. What matters, is doing what you do, well.

I’ve seen global companies with operations across four time zones do it very well. On the other hand, I’ve seen small organisations with a team of 25 people working in the same office, doing it badly – or to be perfectly blunt, not talking to each other at all. And managers who micro manage, tend to make bad situations worse.

Different Strokes For Different Folks

Unlike marketing campaigns, where you can tightly target and research your audiences, there are few if any similarities among the people you work with.

They are different ages, at different stages of their career. They read different newspapers. They may work in different parts of the country – even in different parts of the world. In these cases, internal communication specialists need to factor in cultural differences, time zones and language too. And depending on their role and responsibilities, people’s interest and knowledge of the topic will vary too.

All they have in common is that they all happen to be paid by the same person – you.

To finish, here’s something to think about the next time you go to press the send button. It’s a word from the author Lawrence Clark: “Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.”