Category Archives: Internal Communications

Internal communications – art or science?

Some posts I’ve been reading in recent days have got me thinking about an age-old question for internal communicators – is what we do art or science?

At the risk of getting splinters in an uncomfortable place, I’m going to say both – but not necessarily in equal measure.

The ‘science’ is important. I strongly believe that what we do has to be grounded in various degrees of process and theory. The models vary, but it’s vital to understand what your organisation is trying to achieve and how internal communications can support that. Who needs to know what, when and how, with a clear sense of why that’s important and the desired outcomes you’re looking for.

Measurement continues to be an essential element of the science side of our world. It’s gained weight with the wealth of metrics relating to digital data and that’s a good thing. But in all truth, any and all measurement is good and this is where theory and established practice helps, be it a particular engagement model, a sound way to structure a survey, or simply taking time to visit and talk to people in a factory, office, call centre or out in the field. You can’t beat front-line feedback.

Best of all, measurement is often how you can influence business leaders, many of whom think in numbers – be that financials, products sold and produced, or customer service levels. Connecting what you do to their metrics, and showing them the difference you make in language they understand, is critical for the credibility of communicators.

So what about the ‘art’ side of our profession? Ignore it at your peril. If your strategies and plans stay in your head or on a page, or have no life or energy, you’re not going to move off first base. I passionately believe that internal communications makes a real difference, and is at its best, when it creates an emotional connection with people.

Recently, I was leading a training session for our commercial teams and it closed with a video that my team had produced to summarise the course content. It made one participant cry and five or six more applauded when it ended. That meant more than the comments and scores on the feedback forms at the end of the course.

Creativity is key – be that ideas, campaigns, words or pictures. The art of internal communications is about making what you want or need to achieve compelling and engaging for the people you need to reach. With that, your theory becomes practice and your measurement will have meaning. The art brings the science to life. Without it, internal communications is, well, lifeless. There, I’ve jumped off the fence…

In truth, the best internal communications leaders, teams and people appreciate why the art and the science are important – and have the skills to deliver both for their organisations. That’s what makes our profession attractive, interesting and effective.

So are you more artist or scientist? Let me know what you think…


The power of plaudits

The Coca-Cola Enterprises team were out in force last night at the CIPR Inside Story Awards, and we were thrilled to go home with a win and a few highly commended gongs to our name.

It was a wonderful occasion – hats off to the CIPR organisers for putting on a night to remember. As someone who turns 40 today, there are few better places to spend the last day of your 30s than at the top of the Gherkin, with London twinkling below and good company and conversation all around.

It’s great that we now have several high-calibre awards dedicated to internal communications. You cannot underestimate the power of recognition for your efforts by your peers. All of us work hard and we’re often our most vocal critic. We want to do better. We know we can do better.

But sometimes, in the break-neck world we work in, it’s good to pause and take stock of the work we do and what others think of it. Award nights give us that chance. Internal communications often works in the wings but deserves its moment on centre stage. Grab it when it comes along.

So congratulations to everyone whose name was up in lights at the Gherkin last night, or on previous awards occasions. You rock. Be proud.

“Make me care” – the start of storytelling

Last Friday our team spent valuable time out of the office, away from the day-to-day, to talk about storytelling.

I’ll freely admit that come the end of most weeks, I feel knackered more than anything else. But on Friday I felt inspired – to see what we’d planned for a few weeks come to life, and the appetite our people have for using storytelling more in our communications, internal and external.

We talked a lot about the principles of storytelling – and you can read chapter and verse about them elsewhere. The line that will stay with me the longest from our work on Friday is this: “Make me care.” It’s from Andrew Stanton’s excellent TED talk on storytelling – and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you take 20 minutes of your time, because it’s worth every second. (But maybe not if you’re Scottish and your name’s McGregor…)

How much do your employees care about what they read or watch at work? Internal communications has to fight tooth and nail for their attention – so when you catch it, are you doing enough to keep it? I’ve long believed that the internal materials we produce compete most with what people read or watch in the outside world. So what can we learn from the papers, books and magazines on the news stand, the films we watch or the writing on the web? What is it that they do well, better or best?

I believe good storytelling is part of the answer. And there are opportunities in every organisation to find good stories. Inspirational leaders, great managers, passionate people on the front line, things that go right, things that go wrong. The challenge for communicators is to find the best way and moment to tell them. And in our organisation, there’s no doubt we can do more of it.

The other thing that will stay with me from Friday’s session is this: it isn’t easy. In a lot of cases, it requires courage and a cultural shift for some people to open up in the way you want. It’s one thing to say it’s time to take a different approach but another to actually do it. But when trust in organisations, industries and leaders is under more scrutiny, surely now’s the time to act.

We’ve set ourselves a few simple goals. We’re going to keep sharing great examples of storytelling as inspiration. We started our away day with these and it really set the tone. And we’re going to start, without fanfare, applying what we learned to what we can control – like using less jargon and reviewing our work against some simple guidelines that we’ll build from our discussion. It’s important to turn words into deeds.

So lots more to do, but the best thing is that we’re under way – and no-one needs to make our team care. They do. The prologue’s written and chapter one’s about to begin.