When planning an internal communications strategy, there may be all sorts to consider… short-term and long-term; tactical and strategic; business as usual (e.g. magazines; editorial pipelines) and project communications – but there are some common threads that run through all of them.
1. Think about your audience
• Every message has an intended recipient – at times multiple audiences will get the same message, but with a different angle and call to action. Before you send anything out, consider whether your communication needs to be tailored to different stakeholder groups
2. Don’t communicate for communication’s sake – always have a purpose
• Nothing puts people off more than when they don’t understand why they’ve been sent something – always have a clear justification for pushing the figurative ‘send’ button. If it lacks context and meaning, then you will impact your reputation and that of the function
3. Be clear about the message
• Don’t use 50 words when you can use 10 – and speak plainly – your audience will thank you for it. People have limited time and attention spans – if there’s a call to action, don’t bury it in paragraph or slide 10 – make sure you grab them as early as possible and leave them in no doubt as to what you want to tell them and what they need to do.
4. Be creative
• Creativity takes many different forms – it might even be as simple as using an existing channel in a different way. The point is not to fall into a rut – as difficult as it may be, try to approach each new communications challenge with a fresh mindset.
5. Repetition, repetition, repetition (multi-channel approach)
• People consume information in different way – what I mean is that people have preferences. Some people prefer print, others online while a different group want to hear it face-to-face. People may say, ‘I’ve seen that already!’, but this is infinitely preferable to ‘I didn’t hear about that!’
6. Be diligent, but flexible
• Things change – project milestones shift; diaries become clogged – be prepared but know that change is a constant and often strikes at the last minute. Adaptability is probably one of the communicator’s greatest strengths and something our stakeholders rely on, and more often than not, take for granted.
7. Don’t be afraid to challenge
• There will inevitably be times when you are required to communicate something even though you know it’s not the right thing to do – it may be a timing, channel or audience issue, but don’t be afraid to push back – you will be respected for it providing you have a solid reason. Remember, you act as the organisation’s information ‘filter’ – you should know instinctively whether it’s the right thing to do or not.
When writing effective internal communications messages a lot has been suggested about how to write effectively. However, somewhere along the way common sense seems to have fled the room and a respect for the fundamentals has gone with it. To help, I’ve written a few tips that focuses the spotlight on the basics:
1. Leave everything you were taught about creative writing at the door!
• As a communicator, it is not your job to write elaborate prose, but to get to the nub of the issue – your readers will thank you for it. Think and write like a journalist.
2. Identify the key messages first
• Be clear on what you want to tell your readers. Don’t bury your key message/s at the bottom of an article or email. People have limited time and attention spans – make sure you grab them as early as possible and leave them in no doubt as to what you want to tell them. You are helping to shape their reality – make the most of the opportunity.
3. Be coherent and structured
• After you have identified what you want to tell your readers, now you must think about ‘how’ to present the information editorially.
• Remember, a headline summarises an introduction and an introduction summarises the article. The logic is that a reader should only have to read a headline and introduction (or subject header and first line of an email) to know 90% of what they need to, and importantly, what you want from them or want them to do.
4. Be direct
• Don’t beat about the bush – even with sensitive messages – never preface your piece with paragraphs of background information. Tell people what they want to know – put yourself in their shoes. Think about your credibility as the messenger – the easier you make it for your readers to understand what you’re saying, the better it will serve you and your reputation. Also, if you’re writing on behalf of someone, it will advance their reputation as a thoughtful and considerate communicator who tells people what they want to know.
5. Use Plain English
• The power of simplicity is never more apparent than when it comes to your editorial. Use words that everyone will understand – your job may involve making sense of technical information for readers. It’s an incredibly useful skill to have and one that will set you apart in job searches.
As communicators, we all have ‘stakeholders’ that need to be managed, ranging from the most senior to the most junior. You have to be able to connect and have credibility with all types of people and groups within an organisation. It can really help you gain the respect you want by having strategies in place to get people on side – in our roles, we don’t’ have ‘direct’ power, but our position can, if handled properly, make us disproportionately influential.
Ultimately, you want people to be your advocate – over the years, I’ve come up with a simple process to both identify and manage stakeholders:
1. Identify the people and / or group who you going to be working most closely with
2. Rank them according to how important they are to the success of your project or job and not according to their seniority. For example, the CEO’s secretary is someone who may not be senior, but if you don’t treat them with respect, that door will remain shut
3. Understand how you want them to ‘feel’, e.g., confident that you are capable of delivering an effective strategy
4. Think about what you want them to ‘know’, e.g. how and when to deliver the new team brief you’re implementing
5. Be clear on what you want them to ‘do’, e.g. chair your monthly change agents session
6. Next, consider the practical elements – what do they need from you to do what you need them to do?
7. Don’t forget to do your risk assessment – what would prevent them from doing what you need, and what would the fallout be if you don’t provide them with what they need?
Remember, some people will never be your number one fan – focus your attention on those you know you can get on side. Sometimes you have to limit the damage someone can do – which is just another form of stakeholder management.