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What is Internal Communication in Public Relations?

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson once said, ‘clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of the clients.’

This may go against everything you were ever taught about putting the ‘customer first’. But his advice is spot on. Think about it. Your employees are on the front line, interacting with customers and representing your brand. If they’re not happy, your customers won’t be happy. Neither will your bottom line.

So, how do you make your workforce happy? Pay and conditions are important. But making them feel valued, informed and listened to is key. And this is where internal comms PR comes in.

Internal communication in public relations

Internal communications is a branch of public relations that deals with communication within a business or organisation. It’s a form of PR. A form that happens internally. And it’s used to inform, engage and motivate employees and ensure everyone in the organisation is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

Internal communications PR should be part of your overall PR strategy and should reflect your brand promise, values and business goals in exactly the same way as your external communications. Just like your external PR strategy, the consistency of your message, the frequency of your message and the channel you use are key to your success.

Unfortunately, too many businesses or organisations spend time and money trying to educate and excite consumers about their brand and forget to do the same with their own workforce. This is a mistake. If your own people don’t know what’s going on and aren’t motivated about it, how can you expect your customers to get on board?

Which is why internal communications in public relations is so important.

The benefits of an internal communications PR strategy

When employees are informed and feel engaged, they’re more productive, provide better customer service, come up with more ideas and are more likely to want to stay working for the business.

Every disengaged employee, on the other hand, can cost an organisation more than £5,000 in annual profits according to Aon Hewitt who produce an annual Trends in Global Employee Engagement study which demonstrates the links between employee engagement and successful organisations. Interestingly, a 1% increase in a company’s employee engagement translates into an almost 1% increase in sales.

And that’s not the only benefit.

1. Making employees brand ambassadors

When your employees are informed, engaged and know what’s going on in the company, they become an enthusiastic sales force. When people feel valued and proud of the company they work for they quickly become brand ambassadors, happy to share company news or product information on their social networks. What company is doing this well? Software giant Adobe. Their Employee Advocacy programme has proved highly successful.

But this has to happen organically through genuine employee engagement and good internal communications. You cannot instruct an employee to share a news release via their personal Facebook page or tell them what to write in a tweet from a personal account. True brand ambassadors are happy to share on social without being asked because they actually believe in the product or service and in the company’s values. Read more: Turn Teams from Worker Bees to Brand Ambassadors.

2. Increasing retention and loyalty

A quick turnover of talent is a drain on companies, both financially and creatively. But how often do employees join a company, quickly feel unheard and undervalued and leave within two years? And that’s especially true of Millennials.

Employees are attracted to companies that are transparent, honest, communicative and focus on their wants and needs. A well thought through internal comms PR programme keeps employees engaged and committed to the business in the long-term. Read more: Six Golden Rules of Internal Comms.

3. Managing a crisis

When a business faces a crisis, whether that’s a takeover, impending redundancies, financial mismanagement, a product recall or bad boss behaviour, an established internal communications PR system really comes into its own.

No employee should hear bad company news from an external source. And nothing is more stressful for staff than hearing rumours and gossip circulating the office. It can quickly lead to misunderstandings and confusion. The internal comms team needs to ensure that critical company information reaches employees before anyone else and that the message is clear and consistent. Remember the KFC chicken shortage crisis? The management team used internal comms to keep franchises updated daily, who in turn kept customers informed.

Failure to engage results in low morale and a lack of trust. Be transparent about what’s happened, what’s happening next, and what’s been said or is going to be said to the media. Read more: Delivering Bad News in the Workplace.

Types of internal comms

We’ve established why internal comms PR is important. Now let’s look at the various types of public relations internal communications channels you should be using in order to achieve your goals.

1. Intranet

A company’s intranet is a private, secured network where employees can communicate, collaborate and manage tasks. Think of it as an online staff canteen, a digital central hub of the organisation. And because all team members have access to the intranet, it’s the perfect internal public relations tool.

Use the company intranet for sharing important information about the business, including changes at board level, product launches, marketing campaigns, new policies or any crisis.

But it shouldn’t be one-way information. The company intranet should also be used by employees to give feedback and ask questions, whether that’s technical, procedural or general queries about company policies. Which companies have a well-designed intranet? Find out the 2020 winners here.

2. Enewsletter

Who doesn’t love a company enewsletter dropping into their inbox? Turns out, we all do. Because email is still one of the easiest and most successful internal comms tools around.

But no-one wants to read something bland and boring and stuffed with corporate speak. No. Your internal enewsletter should be fun, exciting and informative. In fact, it should be just like any other email campaign you send out. Don’t scrimp on the effort just because it’s going to staff.

  • Start with an eye-catching open-me subject line. Don’t assume your teams will engage with your newsletter out of a sense of obligation.
  • Share information about staff: introduce new hires, profile existing staff members and their achievements or do an in-depth interview with a member of staff and their role in the company. This is useful for fostering inter-departmental understanding.
  • Share stories about company successes including awards, latest advertising campaigns, charity work in the community or efforts around sustainability.
  • Create conversations by asking specific questions and give your team an opportunity to reply.
  • Be creative with images, videos or even memes.
  • Include links to external sites or the company website for further reading, such as industry white papers, press releases, news coverage or the latest advertising campaign.

3. Events

Employee events cover all kinds of activities. But ultimately, they all have the same goal: to engage employees, to show people they’re valued, to instil the company’s culture and to retain talent. So what kind of events are we talking about?

  • Team building events like Tough Mudder Or something altogether less muddy like an Escape Room.
  • New product pop-up stalls in a reception area or canteen where staff can get their hands on new product samples before the product hits the stores.
  • Informal breakfast briefings where companies share important updates and ideas with staff (instead of after-hour events which some people won’t be able to attend).
  • Awards ceremonies for recognising and rewarding the hard work of teams and individuals.

In fact, it’s been shown that recognition and reward programmes can have the greatest impact on employee engagement. Which companies are doing this well? Online retailer Shop Direct, won first place in the Employee Recognition and Reward category of the UK Employee Experience Awards in 2018 after they increased the number of awards they hand out annually from 8 to 1,000. During the same period, they saw a 17% increase in employee engagement.

4. Focus groups

Focus groups, comprising six to 12 employees are a good way to keep employees informed and to get immediate feedback. And you get a broad range of opinions when team members are chosen from different departments and different job roles. In other words, not just members of the management team but people from the shop floor too. Focus groups are especially useful around change management such as the introduction of flexible working or a merger with another office or company.

Employing a neutral moderator to run the focus group is recommend so management members don’t takeover or thwart the discussion. They can prepare a post meeting report too, which outlines the findings.

5. Surveys

Another way to get quick employee feedback is through surveys. Something like a pulse survey with just a couple of questions gives you an immediate snapshot of your employee’s views on a particular topic or the mood of the company as a whole.

6. Suggestion box

Not quite a box and a slip of paper, although that would work well too, but something online where employees can make suggestions. These can be made anonymously, or staff can put their name to them. Who’s doing this well? Grocery store Waitrose did this by creating a section of the Waitrose website for employees to submit ideas. These suggestions were then liked and commented on by other team members from across the business. One of the suggestions around till roll use led to a saving of £160k.

The power of two-way communication

The most important element of PR in internal communications is that it’s a two-way street. Systems must be in place which encourage feedback on a regular basis whether that’s monthly, weekly or even daily information gatherings. And it must be easy to do too, from surveys to suggestion boxes. Or even daily huddles. (Huddles are 15-30-minute stand-up meetings at the beginning of a day or a shift where a manager shares news and important information but also asks staff to provide feedback and give input on the information they receive.) Even something as simple as an open-door policy shows employees that their opinions matter and are welcome, and it fosters a sense of trust in the workplace.

And it’s vital that staff understand that sharing their opinions in a constructive way will not affect their standing in the business or organisation.

The steps towards better internal communications PR

Internal communications PR shouldn’t be an afterthought. It needs to be an integral part of your overall PR strategy.

1. Take stock of where you are now

Is internal comms happening? If so, is it effective? What tools are being used? Is information coming from the top downwards? Or is it a two-way communication? Before any new internal comms systems are introduced, consult your employees and ask them what they’d like to see. What information do they need? How often?

2. Think about measurable outcomes

What’s the aim of your internal comms PR activity? To keep staff up-to-date so they’ll share more on social? Staff retention? Greater productivity? Business growth? Or an overall improvement in staff morale? Be clear on the end goal and the ways in which success will be measured.

3. Who’s going to oversee the activity?

Any internal comms PR activity will usually be carried out by an internal comms team. If a newsletter is being sent to a customer, it makes sense for the same team to send a newsletter to all the staff too. So this is an activity that may sit in the PR or marketing department. Or perhaps it may sit more happily in the HR department. And if a new intranet system is being put into place, the IT department will certainly be involved although content will come from the comms teams.

Decide who’s managing your internal comms PR but note that any internal comms activity needs a buy-in from management at the highest level. Open door policies, huddles, asking for (and acting on) feedback are all activities that need to be supported by senior team members.

4. Understand the tools available

If you’re not using an intranet system already, find out what’s available. Or if you already have one, does it offer the features, functionality and the user experience you want?

How about enewsletters? What are you using? Is it the best option for sending out internal newsletters?

5. Ensure it’s inclusive

Your communications have to reach everybody in the company, whether they’re remote workers, people on the shop floor or someone sitting at a desk 9-5. And that’s important when you think about the channels you use. Do staff members working in a retail unit or a warehouse have as much access to a computer screen as other people? Probably not. Huddles, text messages or actual old-school printed newsletters for coffee room pinboards are all alternative options.

Internal comms is an integral part of public relations activity

Internal comms is already happening in your business from ‘water cooler’ moments, to office gossip to private WhatsApp groups.

But a structured and clear internal comms PR effort will reduce misinformation and duplication, it will ensure staff members get behind the organisation, and it will give you a productive, engaged and happy workforce.

And that means any external PR activity is much more likely to succeed too.

Need advice on your internal comms PR strategy? Get in touch with PR Superstar.

Want to join the PR revolution? Call me now on +44 (0)77604 70309

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