The Gatehouse Blog

The past and future at the Institute of Internal Communication

Jen Sproul, CEO of the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) sits down with us to discuss how the IoIC started 70 years ago and where she thinks our profession is heading.

How has the IoIC evolved in the last 70 years?

The IoIC first came to fruition in 1949 when it was known as The British Association of Industrial Editors (BAIE). The organisation was originally formed to raise the profile and professionalism of the industrial editors’ industry and, with 50 founding members, the role of the association was to edit in-house journals. The group was comprised of editors, production managers, welfare officers and even sports club managers.

At the time of founding there were around 119 in-house journals, most of which were directed at blue collar workers. Two of these journals still exist today; Soldier, for the British Army and the John Lewis Gazette. The goal of the journals was to keep the workforce connected, engaged and motivated, playing an important role for the industrial life of the country.

Moving forward, within the BAIE there was much debate and discussion concerning the journals’ frequency, style, production, their titles, how women were featured in magazines and why they were not always represented. Eventually, these members came together and conducted a piece of research on the state of their work. The survey results concluded they were “cheerfully amateur” as a profession. Even today, Gatehouse’s 2019 State of the Sector report shows that despite significant improvements, internal communication still has some way to go in improving our level of professionalism.

The BAIE acted upon the research thinking, “that’s not good enough. We need to give a level of skill, a level of professionalism, a level of profile to the actual ethics that go into producing an in-house journal.” It was important to them to bring professionalism to the task of producing and editing in-house journals, as this was the biggest medium for connecting with employees at the time.

Fast-forward to the early ‘80s and there was a big debate around changing the name of the organisation. Eventually, they settled on ‘Communicators in Business’, which everyone felt was a fair representation of their role. The Communicators in Business members were struggling to determine how their role had shifted, and I believe it was the skill set needed that had in fact shifted. The nation had moved from a very industry-driven economy to a service-driven economy and that’s when we saw technology start to have a greater impact. The role was now about how you create a community with space for collaboration and conversations, as opposed to informing the skill and craft of creating house print journals. The ‘how’ was the biggest evolutionary change and the organisation started to think more about campaigning and persuading.

In the ‘00s, we obviously saw the rise of social media, but engagement also became a key issue. Engagement as a term has been around for a lot longer, but it became an organisational issue with the Macleod Report, which came out in 2009. Essentially, this report stated that UK organisations are poor at engagement but if you get it right, this will lead to better productivity. This led to organisations taking employee engagement more seriously and we started to see the ‘The Four Enablers’ of strategic narrative, manager engagement, the employee voice and acting with integrity, being used to assess the effectiveness of their approach.

” The Communicators in Business members were struggling to determine how their role had shifted, and I believe it was the skillset needed that had in fact shifted. The nation had moved from a very industry-driven economy to a service-driven economy and that’s when we saw technology start to have a greater impact.”

Where did you start your career and what brought you to the IoIC?

My background is not as an internal communicator; my education background is business and marketing and because of this, I’ve always had more of a business approach.

My early professional career started in the publishing industry, which has many correlations with internal communication although I also found myself in sales, marketing and in other junior roles. This experience really gave me a sense of resilience as a young person to go into a room and pitch to people. That type of interrogation helped me develop a level of self-sustainability.

I then started to work in the membership bodies sector because, believe it or not, running an institution or an association is a professional skill and area itself. I ended up at the Market Research Society, where we were championing the importance of evidence-based decision making. By the time I left the Market Research Society, I was the strategic marketing director.

At the time, the IoIC board was looking for someone with a membership bodies background and not an internal communication background, which was a perfect fit for me. I’ve now been at the IoIC for around three years where I have been able to bring many lessons with me from early on in my career.

What does the future hold for the internal communication profession?

We are currently in an interesting and fascinating time in the internal communication profession. I love reading and looking at the different trends and challenges we are facing as communicators; the future of work is going through an evolution and that will have an impact on how internal communication takes place in all organisations. If you look at the trends of the future of work, there are certain areas that I would look at, technology being at the forefront.

However, the human impact will always be important. As humans, our brains are unique machines, unlike anything else on this planet. For example, the Royal Society of Arts are conducting some interesting research on the future of work, examining trends and conducting studies around what the future might look like. The impact of technology for us on communication channels is going to shift all the time. But then there’s also the impact of technology on how it’s going to change the way businesses manufacture and operate, potentially reducing the human element. As an industry it is important that we are able to respond to the challenges technological advances will bring as well as understand how the changing world of work will affect our people and therefore communication and creation of human relationships which give people a sense of purpose, connectivity and engagement.


Biography: Jen Sproul

Jen Sproul is the CEO of the Institute of Internal Communication, the only independent professional body solely dedicated to internal communication. Prior to joining IoIC, Jennifer had worked for 12 years at the Market Research Society, most recently as business development and marketing director.