How marketing can help give employee communications programs an overhaul

employee communications marketing
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A lot of my work, lately, has focused on helping to rescue sucky internal employee communications programs. The general reasons for the almost perpetual suckiness of internal communications is the abject neglect of most of the programs.

This can take the form of budgetary neglect: just because you hired someone to manage it, doesn’t mean it’s solved. These folks need budget for design, programming, research, consultants and more.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, organizations turfed the communications function out of the C-suite, in an effort to flatten the organization. That they also flattened the efficacy of their communications teams by sending them off to marketing, operations or HR, is something we are still paying for. This is functional neglect; your communications team needs access to your leaders if anything helpful is going to happen.

Beyond budget, communicators also suffer from resource neglect. Just like other functions, they need great technology (or at least great technologists who can keep the crappy stuff running); they need measurement tools, project managers, legal opinions, access to strategic information and ongoing training.

In my experience, when the subject of sucky internal communications comes up, marketers can be particularly cruel about the whole thing. Which is an easy stance to take when you’re not quite as neglected. Sometimes, though, marketing is just as culpable in the neglect of employee communications as everyone else. Depending on where you stand, here are a few ideas about how marketing leaders can solve the suckiness.

Take the Employee Communications Remit Seriously

If employee communications is within your span of control, as it often is, then you need to take it as seriously as you do the rest of the marketing function.

  • Hire the very best (not the very cheapest) people to get it done.
  • Understand the connection between great employee communications and great workplaces, then understand the connection between great workplaces and great performance. Here’s a great HBR piece on that.
  • If your communicators are dotted line reports to other parts of the organization (or to you), make sure the person on the other end of that line is also taking it seriously, and that your leadership teams are connected and aligned on the role and its mandate.
  • Don’t make this someone’s hobby job or side-hustle, and please, oh please, resist the urge to throw your employee communicators at your non-employee audiences – if you need help communicating with customers or regulators, go get the resources.
  • Revenue’s siren song is also hard to resist, and I know it’s the KPI most marketers are under the gun to deliver. That doesn’t mean you get to syphon your employee communications budget and talent into revenue-generating activities. Go ahead and update the marketing tech stack, but don’t do it at the expense of the internal stack.
  • Support your communicators in their daily struggle to cut through the organizational noise and create a bit of signal.
  • Fight for the resources they need from outside the marketing organization – technical, project, legal, HR, whatever it takes.

Support Employee Communications Even if it’s not Your Job

If we accept that employee engagement and satisfaction are success factors for overall performance, then there’s a pretty strong business case for marketers to help out, even if they really don’t have to. Here are some ways to show the love.

  • Help your employee communicators measure their work. It wasn’t so long ago that marketing struggled with the whole measurement thing, and you know how to get that started. A little help designing a KPI program and sourcing some tools will go a long way.
  • Connect your employee communicators to your outsourcing network. This gives them access to proven freelancers and agencies who know the brand.
  • Give them great content they can share internally. Stuff like market insights, new creative, product awards, and coming product launches are golden for your employee communications people. Plus, the rest of the organization might like to know what you’re up to.
  • Give them the brand assets they need – style guides, templates, access to people who can help them create their own (on brand) assets will keep internal and external branding tightly aligned.
  • Include them in your technology licenses. You probably have room for one more on your Adobe suite, the social media software, Survey Monkey, stock photo accounts and more.

Employee communications don’t have to suck, and in great organizations, the chances are, they don’t. Certainly marketers are not the only ones who need to take this function seriously, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

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Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams is the President of Candler Chase Inc., a consulting firm specializing in employee communications and branding. She is a survivor of more than 20 years in the telecom, financial services and technology sectors, and can often be found blogging about brands and speaking at conferences. She keeps meaning to write a book.