My first experience of internal comms was being the face of an internal poster campaign to promote resident satisfaction surveys at a local housing association. A Photoshop mock-up of a TIME magazine front page bore a photograph of me, holding a rainbow fan of colour-coded printed surveys with the headline 'TIME - to think about resident satisfaction'. A quick photo shoot courtesy of the marketing assistant and a blank office wall in my branded fleece and in no time at all my A3 laserjet printed face was plastered around the office; in the kitchen, by the photocopier and on finance department's door.
The posters served as a quick reminder to passing housing officers on their postal errands to encourage residents to fill out surveys for services provided by the housing association, from plumbing to income management, repairs and accessibility improvements.
My next stint at a national health charity saw a large internal comms team work on a number of projects that often lived and died in head office HQ (particularly after the regional offices closed), with the printed monthly newsletter just about getting to the pigeon holes of remote staff who used the office as a satellite. I believe moves to make the newsletter into a pdf were rejected by employees operating 'in the field' and whether or not the Royal Mail delivered the hard-copies to those unwilling to deal with inbox overload is another matter.
Working in agencies for the last five years has seen varying methods of internal comms. Generally, everyone works closely with similar roles and the only understanding that needs to be grasped relates to things like filling in time sheets, booking holiday, company away days and in-house training requirements. The focus of our efforts primarily goes onto client relations and external relations with media - monthly company face-to-face meetings iron out any wins and losses, promotions and departures, and then its quickly back to the cut and thrust of agency life. If you don't like it, make changes to make it work, or find the door.
But my work as a freelancer has opened my eyes to the importance of internal comms within organisations that look to practice PR in-house as an add-on to their core business objectives, both through becoming aware of how organisations act internally and externally. This relationship highlights how it's not just about the lines of communication open to colleagues to find out when the next summer away day is, but crucially, communicating the core values and beliefs of the organisation, how it places its people at its core, and of equal validity, what behaviour and conduct it expects of its employees. Because, nothing says crisis like having no documentation or practice of an internal culture which ends up bearing no relation to whatever external communications strategy is being fed to the media.
Good organisational PR starts with the employees. It doesn't matter what column inches you are grabbing with warm or established media titles and writers if you have 200 employees with no sense of cohesion or common understanding of their value, contributions or shared respect for their fellow workers. What is the point in investing in an all-singing-all-dancing media campaign if you do not invest in your people to have every reason to sing your praises? And no, getting staff to play the guitar and do stand-up in a team meeting won't solve the problem. Etsy, i'm looking at you.
People remember how you make them feel. If someone asks an employee what your organisation is like to work for, do you think they'll start with your amazing PR campaign in the Guardian, or the time when the HR department had no idea how to deal with harassment in the workplace?
I used to think internal comms was the poor cousin of external communications (less glamorous, slightly dull, and reinforcing brand identities at the expense of the individual, unless they were allowed to label their milk in the fridge), however, with organisations struggling to retain millennial work forces with a chasm of misinformation and lack of understanding between managers and this purpose, belief and value-driven generation, building the right foundations will ensure a stable and transparent organisational core.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a Guardian Masterclass with Mark Leruste, an exciting life coach who's developed corporate reverse mentoring scheme (and talks, workshops and coaching) that directly facilitates junior millennial staff providing advice to management teams to build a bridge and fix lines of communication. For more information, get in touch with Mark at http://www.markleruste.com. Also - make sure you check out his podcast The Unconventionalists.