Category Archives: Internal Communications

Make it a thriller, not vanilla

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Richard Reed, one of the co-founders of Innocent Drinks, speak about his approach to business.

Innocent has been one of my favourite brands for some time. I think the tone of its communications is spot on, whether that’s its website, advertising, Twitter feed or product packaging. Next time you’re in your local supermarket, I dare you not to pick up an Innocent smoothie and smile at how basic details like ingredients and consumer contact information are described on the label. Down to earth and not too fussy, and it’s probably no coincidence that Richard Reed comes across the same way when he speaks.

But you don’t become a multi-millionaire entrepreneur on appearances alone. Richard’s talk last week was built around 10 ways to succeed in business, and there’s far more to his and the Innocent story than saying or writing things in a nice way. I’m not going to recount all 10 here, but there was one that struck me in particular – not least because it chimed with something else that inspired me a few days earlier.

“Chase beauty,” he said. In other words, don’t underestimate the power of making things beautiful in business. Take pride in the things you make and do. A very similar sentiment to one expressed by Tim Colman in his excellent guest blog post earlier this month, which I only caught up with last week: “Be brave – be better than alright.”

I don’t think many people set out to produce work that’s just OK – but if we’re honest, we’ve probably all had to settle for that more often than we’d like. Sometimes there’s no question that you need to be pragmatic in the circumstances you face. Deadline pressure, competing priorities, having to achieve consensus – all different ways that what we wanted to look, read or go to plan so brilliantly can end up being watered down.

I doubt Innocent would be the success story it is – the brand may not even have existed – if Richard Reed and his fellow founders had allowed the beauty of what they wanted to achieve to be eroded at the outset. For me, it’s a timely reminder not just to set the bar high when it comes to quality and creativity, but to keep the faith when the questions and challenges start coming or the clock is ticking.

So thanks to the wise words of Richard and Tim, I for one will be on my guard the next time that threatening streak of vanilla appears on the horizon.

A lesson in compassionate communications

Chances to look and learn about the work we do sometimes come from unexpected places and in unwelcome circumstances.

Earlier this week, my kids returned to devastating news at their school – a popular and long-serving teacher had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly during the Christmas holidays.

Nothing we do as communicators has to be handled with more care than the death of an employee. Those of you who’ve had the responsibility for communicating such dreadful news will know how heavily it weighs. And the school’s headteacher – whose list of people within its community to inform included staff, parents and children as young as four years old – hasn’t put a foot wrong.

Classes were told one by one during the course of the day, with special attention paid to those taught by the teacher who had passed away. Parents who had signed up to the school’s SMS alert system received a text message saying there was an important letter coming home with their children. At the final bell, the headteacher and staff were in the playground as their pupils emerged, many upset, to answer questions and help comfort people.

The headteacher’s letter to parents was word-perfect – the right balance of facts and compassion, including information about how the children will be supported professionally and psychologically at school and advice for parents on how to handle the circumstances at home. Subsequent letters have explained staffing arrangements, how the school is supporting the teacher’s family and how it will involve pupils in its plans to remember him. Getting technical for a moment, they have used the right communication channels in the right way at the right time.

I have a great deal of respect for good teachers at the best of times, but none more so than this week. Speaking as a parent and a professional, the way they are managing an extremely difficult situation is a lesson to behold.

2014: a plea, not a prediction

It’s that time when the web is awash with likely trends and themes for the year ahead.

I’m not one for too much crystal-ball gazing – and my track record for backing a winner at Aintree or Ascot, or being certain that Liverpool will finally win the league title again, suggests I’m not worth listening to anyway.

So I’m starting the year not with a prediction, but a plea. Can 2014 be when internal communications kicks business jargon into the long grass for good?

Melcrum’s SCM Awards evening last October was hugely enjoyable, as it always is, with people and teams in our field rightly recognised for their work. Sue Perkins, lately of The Great British Bake-Off fame, was a wonderfully funny host. But I have to admit wincing after one too many quizzical “I have no idea what that means” looks as she spoke about some of the entries.

Now admittedly, a lot of it was for comic effect – or at least you’d hope so. Because I think one of the most important things we do as internal communicators is to get under the skin of complex subjects and talk to people about them in language they’ll understand. For many in business, jargon is a comfort blanket and I think it’s down to us to show some tough love and know when it’s right to take it away.

That doesn’t just need skill – it requires courage. A survey of 1,000 executives published last year said barely any of them knew what the jargon they used meant, but most did so to make them “look more professional or intelligent”, or to “cement my position of authority”.

I think it’s down to us to help the people we support see that the reverse is true – the simpler you can make it, the better. That doesn’t mean it’ll sound unprofessional or stupid, or they’ll lack credibility. It’s just, well… normal. And the people on the receiving end will appreciate it.

So my challenge this year is to apply the Sue Perkins test frequently to what gets produced. Strive for the comms equivalent of a frothy peak – not a soggy bottom.