When I joined a billion dollar engineering company as Corporate Affairs Manager, I found my CEO thought internal communication should mostly comprise propaganda and gloss. He was only interested in good news being communicated to employees. This approach meant that important and difficult issues were not shared with staff, even though the company was struggling as the economy turned down. It was a frustrating time because employees knew the communication wasn’t candid and therefore they tended to distrust communication from management.
This is an example of the way the communication role in organizations can be misunderstood and under-respected even at the highest levels. The role is more strategic, complex and sophisticated than others realize. They only see glimpses of the function, which tends to look easy because it largely deals with intangibles – the ‘soft issues’. And their attitudes can be influenced by disparaging remarks about our profession in the news media and television programs.
Widespread lack of understanding of your strategic role is a danger sign. If senior managers don’t appreciate what you are doing, they are likely to question your effectiveness. PR budgets and staff are easy to cut in tough times. I’ve seen it happen – I’ve seen whole PR departments closed. Therefore it is important to view decision makers and internal opinion leaders as key stakeholders. You can then conduct a stakeholder relations program directed at them. This approach is highly effective, whether your organization is large or small.
The approach applies also to PR firms and their clients. Determine key contacts and keep them in the loop through consultation and activity reports, especially those who authorize payments of your invoices!
Focus on internal stakeholders
- List and prioritize your key internal stakeholders. Prepare a systematic contact program with them. Not only managers but those who have widespread influence within the organization. Build meetings with those stakeholders into your calendar.
- Listening well is vital. Managers are more interested in their own pressing problems than hearing you talk about PR. Therefore interview managers to probe what their key problems are and then decide how communication can help them address those problems.
- Meet with relevant managers on a reasonably regular basis. This enables you to keep them informed of your activities (once you have listened to their problems). You can use the opportunity to ‘sell’ them on new campaigns and the value of your work. Ensure they understand why, how and what you expect to achieve in specific business terms.
- You need to justify your work by showing how it will support organizational objectives, rather than just creating more awareness as seen in press cuttings or ‘eyeballs’ in social media etc. Write a short summary of each new campaign, outlining the problem/opportunity, your proposed stratergy and actions, and why you believe your solution will work. Ideally you would consult relevant managers during the planning process for each campaign and in this way help them to feel involved.
- Although this type of contact program may be time consuming, it is a valuable investment of your time because it simultaneously helps you to probe and identify any misunderstandings and negativities from your stakeholders. You can act to solve any such problems.
- Capitalize on opportunities to brief internal groups on significant communication activities. You can arrange facilitated workshops on various aspects of issue management to bring managers to a deeper understanding of the strategic potential of communication.
Communicate the results
You don’t want your CEO or executive committee unaware of your campaign or asking about its outcomes. Almost universally, PR campaigns produce good results. Therefore it is in your interests to inform your identified internal stakeholders about what the campaign accomplished, especially the tangible results such as changed behavior, greater sales leads etc. If the results are mixed or difficult to quantify, explain the lessons you have learnt.
The communication role is invariably very busy – so busy you often lose track of how much work you have achieved. Because of this, it is vital to take the time every month to keep a record of your activities and write a summary or report. Circulate this to your boss and preferably to all members of upper management as well. This will give them a better idea of your strategic value.
When your work team produces an outstanding result, make sure to communicate widely about it. You may even wish to give an award to staff who made it happen. If you do so, ensure you communicate about it internally in traditional and social media. See if your CEO is available to make a presentation. This not only gives due praise and recognition to those who deserve it, but also educates everyone else on the nature of the communication and how your area came to be successful at what you do.
These initiatives will help you to increase awareness and understanding from key decision makers about the good value of your communication efforts.