The Gatehouse Blog

Making internal communications ‘FaB’

One of the world’s largest broadcast companies was undergoing a restructure, with frequent negative press and a division outwardly lacking in enthusiasm. Internal Communications Manager Annie Tufton explains how she used the coined phrase ‘FaB’ to revive excitement, morale and engagement at the BBC.

The beginning of FaB

The BBC was undergoing a big restructure when I joined the Finance and Business division. My role reported to the CFO, but I also maintained a relationship with the central comms team. I worked on a variety of channels from the CFO’s speech writing, planning leadership workshops, to announcements and general newsletters.

Given that there were so many changes over a short period of time, it was a great opportunity to give the division a new brand identity.

Finance isn’t known for being the most exciting area of the BBC. However, they did do exciting things that had a great impact on the BBC, but it was difficult to make people feel that their jobs were just as important as someone who worked in Production, for example. Given that this department didn’t get a lot of the attention because they were considered ‘back office’, we needed to shake things up and lift up the spirit of the division. When we coined FaB, it basically changed everything. Our people were FaB, and senior managers were known as FaB Leaders.

The CFO used the phrase, “Thank you for being FaB. Thank you for being so FaBulous, and thank you for representing exactly what I expect Finance and Business to be…” It just changed everything once we started using that language. Everyone had a little spring in their step whenever they said it. We created a really fun logo, and it was all started at the conference. All FaB people were invited to the FaB conference!

The FAB conference

Besides a new name and brand for the conference, we had a new strategy for this all-staff event. We didn’t want to put on another event where each area of the division gave an update on what they’ve achieved over the year. We didn’t want to fill up the day with PowerPoint presentations and endless speeches with our goals for the next year. We did that all the time anyway, in team meetings, etc. We wanted to reward our people for all the great work they had done and give them a treat that they would remember, which would encourage them to work just as hard over the next year.

FaB was the first step in the right direction. We’d had some bad news within the BBC, and there were a lot of negative things to talk about, but there were also a number of people that were working hard every day, and not feeling great about it. So we turned the focus onto our people. We created a FaB conference programme that promoted the successes of our people and that gave news about what how you could get involved with activities in the division. The FaB logo was dropped in anywhere and everywhere and our people began identifying with it right away.

As this conference was going to be very different to the usual ‘sit down and talk about what the business has achieved’ affair, we focused on the ‘thank you’ bit; thank you for being FaB. What you don’t get every day is a thank you. What you don’t get every day is recognition for how hard you’re working. We decided this is going to be a day of reward for everybody.

We asked one of our BBC celebrities to host the 8-hour conference; a correspondent called Steph McGovern from BBC Breakfast. She was very fun and was able to add an element of humour to the conference. Another way we picked up some excitement in the audience was by starting the conference with an interview with the Director General, who was George Entwistle at the time.

Setting a FaB scene

Imagine, it’s 9 am and you’ve walked into this big room that ’s completely dark. It feels like an evening event. The room is branded top to bottom in black, white and hot pink and you’ve got these bright LED lights shining at you that spell out FaB. You’ve got a programme and a little card at your seat that says, “Thank you for being FaB.”

We also invited paparazzi-like photographers to come in and take pictures of everyone as they entered the door against a step-and-repeat background. These are finance people, they were shy at first and ran far from the camera, but by lunchtime, they were queuing up to have their picture taken in front of the branded wall; they were so excited. The energy in the room had gotten so high. They kept approaching the photographer, “Will you take a picture of me with my team?”

Finishing off with the FaBbies

After lunch, we introduced the FaB Leadership team which were our ten new directors who were now heading up the division following the restructure. One by one, we asked them to come on stage and speak for 60 seconds about themselves. There was a big timer behind them. There was countdown music. At the end of the 60 seconds, the microphone turned off, a big bright red light shone on them, and their time was up.

This was the most comical part of the day. Again, these were mostly serious people who weren’t used to letting their hair down at this type of event. They got up on stage each showed off their personality with a bit of humility and inspiration. Some came up to the stage and spoke about their personal lives, pet peeves and love for the BBC. Others described their roles and talked about their teams. But each of them threw in their own style and tried to speak beyond the 60 seconds, which was not allowed.

Following that session, we had our keynote speaker, Dave Fishwick from the Bank of Dave who shared his inspiring story about giving back to the people in his community. He was real and funny and has to be one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever seen. The audience truly learned something from him whilst laughing the whole way through.

At the end of the day, we had the awards… the FaBbies of course! This is where we changed the whole set and everyone took a short break to pick up a beverage. We turned down the lights, dropped a disco ball in the middle of the room and threw on the spotlights. Our CFO, celebrity host and awards host took time to change into glamourous evening gowns and black ties.

There were five awards to give away, all based on five categories that were aligned to our values. The criteria to win each award was aligned to the behaviours we had identified with these values. We underwent a formal nomination process and as this was our first ever awards ceremony, winning was a big deal. To make it really special, when someone won an award, we would play a 45-second video of team members speaking about the winner. For example, if I was winning the award, when the host said ‘And the winner is…’ a video would start playing of all my colleagues and manager saying lovely things about me and that’s when I would realise that I would be receiving the award. It was really emotional and sweet.

After the FaBbies, we all stuck around for drinks and more pictures. People didn’t want to leave so everyone stayed until the lights went off and we were forced out. The conference was just brilliant. You can’t recreate that feeling. We had one opportunity and we absolutely nailed it. I was so privileged to be a part of FaB and the team that helped make this conference come to life.

The importance of FaB

At this point in the BBC, we needed everyone to know that they were special. It was about awarding them for being great at what they are and for sticking with the BBC throughout a difficult time. They walked into the room at 9am feeling, “Oh, another conference. Where’s my coffee?” and leaving the room elated and on cloud nine.

Post-conference, we gained higher engagement and higher morale. We followed up with the FaB theme, people changed their signatures on their emails to include the new branding and they put up their little pink card that said ‘Thank you for being FaB’. The FaB Leaders network continued on and the FaB Women’s Network was also started.

BIOGRAPHY – ANNIE TUFTON

Annie graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in corporate communications, and a second degree in Spanish. She has also worked as an Internal Communications Manager at HSBC and ASOS.