The Gatehouse Blog

Behind the curtain – Internal communications at O2

Our ‘Behind the Curtain’ series offers a glimpse of the inner workings of an organisation. This time, we’re taking a sneak peek at the internal communications of O2, and how Senior Communications Manager, Joe McMann, is helping innovate from the inside.

My title is a bit unusual. At Telefonica UK, I’m the Senior Communications Manager in charge of Business Narrative and Insight. After two years at O2, a restructure saw me move into this newer role, in a newly created strategy and planning team. The idea was my team would sit across the whole of Corporate Affairs – external, internal and public affairs – and ensure that our internal communications are as best planned and strategic as they can be. As a team, we make sure that we have one business narrative that we all talk about, and that we focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Developing a bird’s-eye view

Our new strategy and planning team looks across the whole of Corporate Affairs. The idea of the restructure was to create a more integrated team. When we looked at areas for improvement, we thought something we could improve is how we work together, joining everything up. My title may sound niche, but I’m a generalist. I operate across three different communications groups: our internal communications, external (PR and media), and the government stakeholders as well. My team must switch tracks pretty quickly. The benefit my team brings is that higher level helicopter view. When you’re down in the weeds working, hopping from project to project, it’s quite hard to lift your head up.

My team has the advantage of a bird’s-eye view. It helps scan the horizon, checking to see if we have any potential car crashes in terms of too many messages and events, or releases coming out at the same time. Basically asking ourselves, is there a better way of combining messages for greater impact?

I think what we’re all finding in communications now is that message curation and trying to control the consistency of the messaging going out is just part of our battle

As a team, we make sure that we have one business narrative that we all talk about and that we focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

How we use data and insights

Metrics and insight are critical to what we do. On the data side, our collection of information was more about performance over structure. At first, there can be a perception that there’s a problem that needs fixing, which is why we want to see the data. But that really isn’t the case at all. We perform really well. We win awards and our coverage is great. The data simply allows us to gain better insights into what’s working, what’s not, where we can make those marginal gains that will help us get even better. It also makes it easier to report our impact back to the business.

We use insights and data to bolster our own reputation, but also to have better conversations with our stakeholders. Insights become evidence to back up assertions that the team is making. For example, when my team started to set the objectives for our end of year results in February, we were able to not just look at the measurements and the outcomes, but also contribute to discussions around messaging. We had been focusing quite closely on desired behaviours around that time, and we had started getting some feedback from the business; I was able to feed that into the messaging and make sure that we were focusing on the areas our key stakeholders wanted to hear about.

So, I was able to really drill into how our key messages were landing, both internally and externally, and what impact they had on our engagement levels, on belief and motivation, and on our key performance indicators.

Coming full circle

Right now, we are focusing on the role our leaders are playing in the communications space, rather than just focusing on awareness. While raising awareness is necessary and good, driving belief and understanding is our ultimate goal. Trust and advocacy come off the back of that; ultimately, people are going out there and saying great things about O2 to their friends and family, so you’re getting that real halo effect of trusted people within your network saying good things about the brand.

Biography: Joe McCann 
Joe McCann held various roles in customer communications and press relations until joining British Airways’s internal communication team in 2014, where he worked in channels, then strategic campaigns. After completing a Masters in Internal Communications, he joined O2 in 2017 and became interim Head of Internal Comms, until September 2018, when he moved into his current role.