Internal Communications – are PRs up to the job?

This blog was originally published by the Public Relations Consultants Association.

Apparently Internal Communications is consistently reported as one of the biggest worries of Comms Directors. And where once IC was a backwater in which to park your career, a stint worrying about employees is now an essential box to tick on the way to the top job in PR.

But some PR Agencies seem slow to catch up.

Although most UK consultancies claim to offer IC services, most in-house practitioners would raise an eyebrow at the advice and support that is available. A trawl around websites of PRCA members brings up phrases like ‘selecting channels’ or ‘internal PR’ and the implication that explaining change is just a matter of slick messaging and spin.

That’s not to say that there are not some beacons of excellence out there.

The firms that have twigged that PR and media relations are not synonymous are talking about employee engagement and the impact that committed staff have on business performance.We’re people who understand people so we should be good at this stuff. But the problem for agencies is that IC doesn’t always suit the business model.

Our core skill is in providing a bridge between audiences.

Old school PRs made a living explaining to executives how the press thought and vice versa; all based on experience of how the media worked and operated.

With internal audiences, consultancies struggle to have a deep insight into how staff in different companies see the world. An in-house team, working properly, should know what their colleagues think and how they will react to a particular set of messages. The internal communications team should understand what works for their people and what is likely to disengage them.

Selling advice from a remote consultancy office isn’t so easy when the client knows the lie of the land better than you. Applying the consulting practices of old PR means a lost opportunity.

So where can consultancies add value?

At the operational level, producing materials and writing content, it is hard to beat the regiment of very good freelancers out there.

It is at the strategic level that we can make the most difference; IC gives us the chance to show that we have more to add to the success of organisations. When consultants are able to come onsite for long enough to learn what is really happening on the ground and combine that with specialist knowledge of how to get leaders to lead, how to involve employees in developing solutions or how crises play out inside organisations, there is the scope for real added value. Value that comes from getting people working more effectively, from people proud to speak up on behalf of their employer and a willingness to deliver the reputational promise.