In my previous post The Yin and Yang of Corporate Messaging, I referenced Shel Holtz’s article that listed 11 good reasons to keep employee communications as a distinct function, separate from external communication functions. In this follow-on post, I highlight four areas where internal comms can learn from marketing comms to gain more credibility with the C-suite, and four areas where marketing comms can and should be tapping into internal comms particular areas of expertise.
What internal comms (IC) can learn from marketing comms (MC):
- Data analysis and audience segmentation
Years before IC recognised the inadequacy of a one-size-fits-all approach to employee comms, data analysis and audience segmentation were the bread and butter of marketers. Their awareness of and response to the customer insights that could be gained from the explosion of data as the world turned digital are key drivers behind organisations’ desire to get to grips with the big data phenomenon.
- Return on investment (ROI)/research-based measurement
While a C-suite’s obsession with ROI can be counter-productive, this is an area where, for too long, IC assigned it to the “too difficult” box. IC’s reluctance to get to grips with the complexities and subtleties of measuring hard-to-define outcomes such as employee engagement and change readiness is understandable. There’s no doubt, however, that the lack of hard metrics on how IC is helping the business to achieve strategic goals has impacted the function’s ability to move from the ‘nice-to-have’, into the ‘essential function’ category.
- The language of business
Most of a marketing department’s activity is assessed and evaluated in terminology used every day around the C-suite – brand exposure, product sales, profitability etc. The C-suite fully understands how marketing contributes to the success of the business. For too long IC’s objectives and contribution were insufficiently linked to the strategic objectives of the business. The same argument is happening all over again as HR and IC try to quantify the value of employee engagement in terms that the C-suite will buy into.
None of the IC training programmes has the stature and credibility of the Chartered Institute of Marketing or Professional Certified Marketer. It’s rare that the JD of a senior marketing role will not require a relevant qualification, whereas equivalent roles in IC do not yet have any globally recognised certifications. Even fairly senior IC roles are still being recruited from non IC backgrounds. New training programmes such as the IoIC Accreditation Framework are a big step in the right direction, but it’s going to take years to gain the professional status and stature of the CIM.
What marketing comms (MC) can learn from internal comms (IC):
- Employee engagement
Holtz correctly says that employees still want/need to hear from their senior leaders. IC practitioners know however that, without line managers’ support in a communication cascade, successfully aligning the workforce behind any strategic initiative is going to be almost impossible. Engaged employees are a company’s best advocates. The converse is also true and it’s the line managers who can turn a corporate message into a relevant, persuasive dialogue that will engage team members and also inform the direction of travel for a better outcome for all.
Employees’ knowledge of the business and of the personalities and reputation of their leaders means that they recognise spin and subtext even before a sentence has been completed. They are the hardest audience in the world because the expectations and pressures of today’s workplace have never been higher so the least they can expect from their leaders is honesty. IC practitioners know this and need to be able to hold the leaders to account.
- Substance over style
IC may be the one function where a communication that looks too ‘designed’ can work against the message. In times of headcount reductions and pressure to make savings, employees can resent any hint of time and money being spent needlessly. For IC, the message, the channel and the timing are all infinitely more important than the smart-looking design.
- Employees as brand advocates
IC practitioners are both members of the workforce and a touchstone for engaging the rest of the workforce. Day in and day out, the IC function is accessing and interrogating formal and informal networks and channels across the organisation to assess attitudes and responses to latest developments. It is IC who is best placed to mobilise the workforce as brand advocates, and it is IC who will first detect if there is anything going on that is constraining employee advocacy.
These are my four crossover learning opportunities between the internal and external comms functions. What do you think?