Why aren’t we called Internal PR?

Today I attended my second CIPR Council meeting at CIPR HQ in Russell Square in my role as Chairwoman for CIPR Inside. I haven’t talked much about my role here (I plan to do more of that soon) but today we had some interesting discussion about the PR industry – what is wrong with the image and how we can change it.

After some discussion around some recent high profile cases, the conversation was starting to really consider what the challenges are for PR’s in today’s world. As the blurring of the lines between internal and external is on our agenda I wanted to know if they saw this as something that was on their radar too.

What was interesting was the discussion that followed, and I subsequently took to Twitter, around why we have communication in our departments and titles. Someone also suggested we should just be internal PR rather than internal communications.

Well, you certainly didn’t like that….

This just reinforces the reputation that PR has. The fact a group of people so closely linked to the industry don’t want to be associated with it speaks volumes.

What surprised me in the room was the conversation around management consultants and their role in the PR space. There was a fear that they could step into the shoes of a PR person  because they can “speak the language of the board”. This is not something I think any person in the world of communication should worry about – they should simply develop themselves and adapt to be able to do the same. I don’t see any value in worrying about something that is in your circle of influence (to quote Stephen Covey). Learning the language of business is one thing every internal communicator has to do and I thought the same of my colleagues focussing on the external side.

So when I took to Twitter again to ask what the perceptions were of PR and how we differed. It was lovely to see such succinct reasons for why we shouldn’t be called internal PR and why what we do is so different…

So with the debate no doubt far from over, we closed the discussion  to look at how we can improve PR’s reputation and the overall industry. There were lots of ideas around working with universities to make sure the courses are really fit for purpose as well as just getting on with the job and doing what we do well, ensuring that over time that old reputation will disappear.

With internal comms suffering similar challenges around its purpose, where it adds value and one of my biggest challenges which is the different levels you can have IC operating at in different organisation – we are all in this together to improve the perception of all communication disciplines.

But I can’t see myself ever being in “Internal PR”…

Those blurred lines

blurred-lines4Last week I co-hosted the Sequel aspic event on the blurred lines between internal and external communication. I was joined by Mairi Doyle, Director of Internal Communication for Bupa and about 30 comms professionals.

The topic seems to be everywhere at the moment as we explore the role communications plays in business and whether there is still a need to differentiate between internal and external communication.

There were no real surprises in the room and no great differences of opinion but some good discussions and a chance to reflect on our businesses and teams and how we work together.

Here were my top 10 takeaways from the morning:

  1. Structure the teams so they work together – not just physically but look at the reporting lines and see how you can bring the two together
  2. Shared objectives. The external comms person should have objectives linked to internal comms and vice versa
  3. Put as much importance in internal communication as the business does on external communication. Don’t make it ok for deadlines to be missed – you are representing all employees when you have a voice at a senior level
  4. Go social! But only if it is the right thing to do. For some companies it works and for others it doesn’t. That should be ok but at the moment we are too scared to not try it that it can be to the detriment of the business
  5. Employee engagement is not one persons job. It should be down to everyone and is the outcome of a variety of things. The minute it becomes one persons responsibility you’re giving everyone else an out
  6. CEOs are there to drive return for shareholders. When we get internal communication or employee engagement on their job descriptions the change will happen… I think we are still a long way away.
  7. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Employees talk everywhere so don’t let the fear at the top stop you from exploring new channels (read throwing sheep in the boardroom)
  8. Be commercial. If you are doing a photo shoot work with your external comms team to see if they need anything. It makes business sense and saves another department time and money
  9. Respect each others professions. I always say that internal communications is a specialist role and differs in skills from external comms. I say this with experience in media relations and also out of respect for those colleagues in that profession. The two are different and neither are the poor relation.
  10. Just work together! We should be able to sit down once a month with our external comms team and run through anything the other should be aware of. This shouldn’t be that hard, it’s just about working smarter.

PR and Internal Comms; the debate goes on…

At yesterday’s PR Academy summer drinks, CIPR president elect Stephen Waddington took to the stage to talk about social, digital and all things comms.

Unsurprisingly the debate about whether PR and Internal Comms are the same thing came up again. This debate has been running for a long time and as the lines between the two continue to blur it is no surprise it is a question that is being asked more at the moment.

Editorial management, listening and stakeholder understanding are all things that give PR a USP, according to the discussions last night. And I would have to say that I think is exactly what internal comms is about as well.

Our biggest issue with this debate is that the role of internal communications is so varied across industries and countries that it is impossible to compare the two. PR has a much longer history and therefore has evolved further… Until we can operate to the same level across more companies we will never be able to confirm or deny if it is the same.

Should it be more joined up? Absolutely! More so now than ever before. As social becomes more embedded in our culture people publicly talk about their company and what is happening, they are more informed and informed quicker than ever before. Just last week colleagues, including me, found out about a big change in senior leadership through the press! So let’s be more joined up but let’s also respect each others disciplines.

The essence of what we do is the same and the skills required to do the jobs are also very similar. But I am here to take everyone on the same journey. To make sure that people understand why we do what we do and help them be part of it.

I have always believed we communicate to inform and/or to change behaviour and this probably is the same for PR. I don’t think one is more important than the other but the subtle differences in audience needs and business objectives has to be respected on both sides… Internal Comms should not be the poor relation to PR nor should it be seen as not as important… All stakeholders require our attention, and those working to put money in the till and drive growth deserve the same, if not more attention than those people you want to sell too.