Last week, our team held an exciting event titled ‘Internal Comms: Meet the Experts’ at the Squire Patton Boggs Leed HQ. Our mission was to drive conversation about internal communications (IC) and corporate communications (CC) and the benefits of the IABC in the north – communication is as pertinent here as it is in London, yet this type of event is few-and-far between. At the heart of Leeds’ city centre, communication professionals gathered to network and listen to informed speakers in the elegant office space.
Our director, Georgia Halston, was joined by Richard Sutcliffe, Digital Workplace Consultant from Calls9, to introduce the evening and our speakers. Sutcliffe delighted in partaking in a northern-based internal communications event, summarising his introduction with: “I’m proud to be hosting this in the North.” Our speakers shared his passion for our Meet the Experts panel by raising a number of contemporary communication issues and offering the solutions they were able to forge.
Times Are Changing
Up first was Ken Armistead, Director of Corporate Communications at PPG EMEA. Armistead noted that for PPG, the lines between internal and external communications are blurring. This mixing of the two has increased the reach and speed of their news stories.
Over the last 20 years, the paint and surface technology brand has grown exponentially, and the company now operates in over 70 countries around the globe. Language barriers are difficult to overcome, and because the company works in 12 key languages, they require translators.
Armistead brought attention to the trajectory of PPG’s internal communications journey – initially, the company printed and issued quarterly newsletters to their staff. Unfortunately, the time taken to print, translate and deliver the magazine across EMEA meant a serious lag in information. New developments had to wait to be heard. To Armistead and the PPG team, it was obvious that times had changed; communication channels had evolved, and a new way of working could make translation quicker and reach more audiences.
“We had to move from the traditional ways to new ways.”
To allow news to remain immediate, PPG’s IC strategy leaned towards social media. Previously, staff had lengthy waiting periods before news reached them – now, PPG could share developments that would be sent directly to the news feeds of their colleagues. This move towards digital media increased the reach of these stories: “Colleagues see it, but also their friends and family see it.”
Howard Krais, President of IABC UK and Communications Manager of Johnson Matthey, led an inspired presentation on the importance of having a personal network that can increase your professional knowledge of IC. At the IABC, members become advocates for internal communications; its importance is tenfold. Krais shared his top tips for keeping IC strategies inspired.
For those struggling to find a relevant and contemporary IC strategy, Krais expressed the necessity of staying on top of business communication trends by attending events, mentoring sessions, webinars and regional conferences. This can “expand the impact” of communicators and keep their networking full of knowledge.
Communicators can listen better than anyone, Krais says, so, with regards to the content produced, it’s essential to put this skill to use. Communication professionals can learn what’s important to their colleagues in specific locations by simply listening to them.
Know Your Audience
The final speaker of the evening was Jess Archer, Internal Communications Manager at Network Rail. Archer raised an incredibly relevant and often overlooked issue: engagement with a remote workforce – an issue digitalisation alone cannot solve.
While digital media-based IC content is essential and relatively easy, Archer reminded us that communications professionals must remain creative for the “digitally disconnected.” Network Rail employ 36,000 people; Archer communicates to 6,000 of the staff; but 1,500 people within those numbers (25%) don’t have access to digital technology such as a mobile phone, a laptop or a desktop computer.
These statistics illustrate the importance of implementing a mixed-method IC strategy in order to fairly and openly target your company’s entire body of staff – Archer knows her audience prefer simple, visual communication methods that don’t rely heavily on tech. But she would not have known this had she not put herself directly in the shoes of Network Rail employees.
“IC is not a desk-based job. You have to simultaneously be the voice of our work force and voice of our senior leaders. You have to get to know the business and the people inside-out. When you do that, you get to understand their frustrations. Then, you can design your campaigns and communications to hit home.”
Day quickly turned to night as the presentation reached completion. To round off the evening, our host, Richard Sutcliffe, opened a Q&A session for audience members.
The open discussions, flowing wine and shared positive experiences of fellow northern IC leaders proved our event to be a success. We hope to have inspired our friends, colleagues and network while raising the possibility of similar events in future for the north.
We’d like to thank everyone who attended the event, our amazing line-up of speakers, Rich Sutcliffe and the team from Calls9 as well as our incredible hosts, Squire Patton Boggs.