In this blog I have previously written extensively about the future of internal communications and where it should sit within an organisation for maximum effectiveness. (See The Future of Internal Comms. Is there one? and Internal comms – Poor relation no more? among others.)
I found myself revisiting this debate recently from a slightly different angle as I tried to articulate the differences between marketing communications and internal communications as technical specialisms. In Poor relation no more? I anticipated that “…there is going to be an ever greater blurring of the lines between internal and external comms…” and that the success of an organisation will increasingly depend on the advocacy of its employees so “ … it is more critical than ever to ensure that internal and external messaging is aligned and consistent…”.
Despite this blurring and need for close alignment, I am not predicting that one specialism will be subsumed by the other any time soon. In February, Accredited Business Communicator Shel Holtz explained his belief that “no organizational communication is as important as employee communication.” Holtz’s article listed 11 good reasons to keep employee communications as a distinct function, separate from external communication functions. These were:
- Employees almost always become a second-class audience when PR is responsible for communicating to them
- Employees are an equal audience to other, with distinct communication needs
- The models and metrics for employee communications are different
- While the annual Edelman Trust Barometer consistently confirms that CEOs are among the least credible spokesperson outside the organisation, employees do actually want to hear from their business leader
- Employee communicators are best suited to facilitate multi-directional communication
- It’s usually not a good idea for employees to learn company news from secondary sources
- Establishing channels for employee knowledge and information sharing is not an external communicator’s strong point
- Most external communicators are unfamiliar with a lot of internal communication channels and tactics
- Companies that communicate effectively with employees are four times more likely to have higher engagement levels
- Strategic employee communications accounts for multiple internal networks and channels that are not even on the PR function’s radar
- Internal communications is the organisational central nervous system; when it works well, it makes the external communications job easier.
Holtz most convincingly articulates the case for maintaining a discrete internal comms function. The truth is, you can always tell when an external comms specialist has written an internal comms piece and vice versa. The skill sets may be similar but the mind sets are very different and it’s one of those situations where you just can’t fake the real thing.
Obviously, close collaboration between all comms functions is essential to ensure that the messaging is aligned and consistent and that both internal and external functions are achieving optimal results. In addition to the desirable day-to-day collaboration, there are undoubtedly areas where internal comms can learn from marketing comms to gain more credibility with the C-suite. Likewise, there are other areas where marketing comms can and should be tapping into internal comms’ particular areas of expertise. In my follow-on post I’ll be suggesting four areas where internal and marketing comms can learn from each other.