The Gatehouse Blog

7 reasons your internal comms sucks – And how to fix it

Freelance communications specialist Rachel Ifans talks about what she’s learnt during her career in internal communication and how the function can learn from journalism.

  1. You’re writing for your boss, not your audience

Whatever your business it is imperative you employ the old-skool rules of journalism. And number 1 in that rulebook is to KNOW YOUR READER.

Take a few minutes to think of your average reader – Who are they? What do they care about most? Draw a picture of them and stick it to the wall so that person is always in your head when writing. Or write a couple of sentences describing that person and get it tattooed on your inner arm. It doesn’t matter if you have more than one reader in the company – all you need is a representative.

Remember: your boss is your boss and even though he or she is often the one who signs off your communication, he or she is definitely NOT your intended reader. Cut the jargon. Cut the complexity. And cut the need to impress.

  1. It’s all so damn dreary

I am big on creative communications. It’s my job after all. There’s absolutely no reason for internal comms to be dull (unless of course you haven’t got the – ahem – right people in your teams).

There is no reason for it to be of lesser quality and production values than any professional journalism. Standards have to be high otherwise we can expect no respect from our audience. I worked for eight years in internal comms in a publishing company – my audience was around 1,000 other journalists. Now THAT is a tough crowd!

Remember: follow principles of good journalism and if you don’t know them, get someone on board who does.

  1. It’s not face to face

I was a journalist for many years before becoming an internal communications manager. I love to write. BUT too many of us are hiding behind our tools and technologies instead of striding out and actually talking – WITH OUR MOUTHS.

I worked for one CEO who was a social guy. He loved to walk the floors on a Friday, chatting to employees about this and that. A natural. His successor hated doing that but was good at structured Q&A sessions with staff and big all-company events and slide decks.

Remember: get to know your senior management and tailor your face-to-face comms to suit personalities. This human approach will reap rewards tenfold.

  1. You only report the good news

I don’t know any company that’s full of really dumb people who just swallow everything they’re told. Do you?

No, of course you don’t, because companies like that and humans like that do not exist. People really will notice if you’re rolling out good news after good, while there’s a recruitment freeze in place and the pot plants are surreptitiously being taken away.

Remember: it will make your senior management uneasy but it’s your job to PUSH BACK. The only way to have credibility in your comms is through honesty and that means reporting the good, the bad and the plain ugly.

  1. You’re only saying it once – three is the magic number

A rule I learnt early on in my internal comms career was that you need to tell people something THREE TIMES in order for it to sink in.

The people you’re communicating with are busy. They have a lot going on and can’t be expected to absorb everything that is communicated to them the first time they hear it.

Remember: for important messaging use a suite of three channels for each communication. Introducing a new Board Member, for example, could require an all-staff email from the CEO, followed by a news story on the intranet, followed by a vodcast or full interview in print. Or a meet-and-greet at the all-company Annual General Meeting.

  1. It’s a one-way street

The world has gone interactive and you’re a fool if you think internal comms is any different. Broadcast comms has a place but only when combined with two-way communication.

So, stand back and take stock of your strategy. Technology these days allows for virtual interaction via social intranets and webcasts, but don’t forget your human interaction too.

Remember: Don’t be afraid of two-way traffic. A healthy mix of broadcast, collaborative, small-scale and large-scale communication is what you need in your suite of comms channels.

  1. You’ve got separation anxiety

Nearly every big company I’ve worked for has had a problem with the Them and Us mentality. Management in the ivory tower who are completely separate to the people in the teams. This perception – and admittedly it is often more perception than fact – can decimate any good work you try to do in comms.

Fight separation anxiety NOW by:

  1. A) Being visible – make your management teams get out there and mingle
  2. B) Getting in amongst it – make it your business as Internal Comms Manager to get to know everybody
  3. C) Creating an open-door policy in the company both virtually and physically
  4. D) Listening to people – as Internal Comms Manager you need to know what matters to employees

BIOGRAPHY – Rachel Ifans

Rachel Ifans is a creative internal comms specialist with a long background in newsstand magazines and digital journalism. She is now helping comms teams around the UK find their creative spark.