Lately I can’t seem to get away from the subject of internal communications planning. Last month, Dianne Parrish posted a comment noting it as an important element in an integrated marketing plan, and just recently the light bulb went on that I actually have to create one! I’m working on my capstone project for West Virginia University’s IMC Program, and one of our tasks is to build an internal communications plan for our client, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In a practice run last week, my classmates and I shared various plan tactics from our research and real-world experiences.
But first, what is internal communications?
Internal communications is the strategic process of gaining employee support for your external branding efforts and marketing campaigns. How often do we see advertising from companies making promises about their brand, products or services, only to have a different experience when we do give them our business? If you’re not sure, just turn on the TV for a few minutes, and when you see an ad from a company in your area, pay them a visit and see if the message is the same. The goal of internal communications is to make sure that it is.
In Forbes, Lippincott partner John Marshall states that, “The old model of focusing primarily on the external message and media at best leaves the team disconnected, and at worst dismissive or cynical.” When marketers remember to include an internal communications plan in their marketing campaigns, they are connecting employees at every level within the organization with the message or central idea that is being distributed to external audiences. The result should be a team who is well-informed, trained, and motivated about their role in achieving business and communications objectives.
When I had corporate marketing jobs, a couple of my roles involved promoting the company in the community and with our B2B clients’ employees. It’s one thing to develop and send out creative pieces from a back office (which I also loved), but it’s another level of responsibility to make face-to-face representations about the company you work for. In one experience, I had been cultivating a relationship with an HR representative at a large company who had the power to send us a periodic stream of potentially valuable customers. When she finally started sending them over, guess what happened? They received excellent service! (Exhale.)
What a great experience. But that’s not how it always goes. Unfortunately, coworkers aren’t usually as enthusiastic as the marketing department is about what marketing is doing. This 3-minute video sheds some light on why they aren’t. (I’ll admit that me and some marketing coworkers been guilty of having this attitude in the past – except for the millions part, unfortunately.)
So how do we develop an internal communications plan?
The first step is to develop a strategy that ties the internal messaging to the external campaign. “It’s just a matter of reshaping some of the external content so it will resonate internally,” notes Sondi Bruner.
Dennis O’Connell is my capstone professor at West Virginia and 40-year advertising veteran from the ranks of DDB. He adds, “Be sure that your internal campaign is inextricably integrated with your external communication. For example, does the company have a brand standards toolkit? Is there a tagline or any specific copy points that could be carried over internally? If so, consider using them to theme your tactics.”
If that doesn’t give you an epiphany, think brand pillars or core values – statements that help influence the internal company culture while directing performance standards. An excellent example of core values is The Methodist Hospital System’s I CARE values – Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence. Methodist continues to make Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list and is a US News Nationally Ranked Hospital and #1 in Texas. While I do realize that hospitals are rated on a number of critical factors, this is an organization that understands the connection between internal motivation and outward-facing results.
But it doesn’t stop there. An internal communications plan doesn’t float with just words and phrases. The marketing communications team will need to work with senior management and department heads to establish internal channels (if they don’t already exist) and coordinate events. Size, location(s) and resources will dictate which of these tools/tactics can be used at your organization.
Internal Newsletter or Blog. Sometimes the easiest motivator is to keep people informed. Employee newsletters usually serve multiple purposes, but don’t forget that they can also be used to promote branding and marketing campaigns.
Internal Social Networks. Last month, David Schwartz wrote a great article about the power of social media in building employee relations. Some companies also create a social environment with internal networks like Yammer and Snapcomms. Can anyone share their corporate experience with these channels?
Sales Conferences and Marketing Conferences. Notice I didn’t say Sales and Marketing Conferences. I’ve been to sales events and felt like I was in Inception when the dreamer’s environment realizes that I don’t belong. I’ve been to marketing conferences and felt reinvigorated with all the best practices and fresh ideas. Both are effective for large, national companies who need to maintain a consistent brand and performance level across various divisions and branches.
Teambuilding/Training Events. Coordinate localized events to include front line employees, customer service, and other departments who are often neglected when it comes to fun, motivating activities. One idea to overcome the challenge of gathering employees during business hours is to host the event on a federal holiday like Columbus Day. Employees at many private companies may not expect this day off, and customers won’t panic to learn that the business is closed for the day.
Digital/Interactive Capabilities. YouTube videos, webinars, and town-hall meetings/video-conferences are cost-effective ways to distribute information and rally employees before a branding or promotional campaign.
What other internal communications tactics have you implemented or experienced at your company (past or present)?