AB Thinks  →  6th August 2019

From the outside in

I recently made the move from a social media agency to an internal communications one. From what I hear, this is a relatively unusual move. There are some (read: many) working in social that still don’t know what internal comms is. And there are no doubt some in internal comms that don’t feel I’m qualified to advise at a senior level without years of IC experience (it’s worth noting that the latter is merely a hunch; everyone is far too nice to say this to my face).

I’ve spent much of my first month at AB debating the similarities and differences between my old industry and my new one. To me, this feels like a consequence of the inevitable ‘navel-gazing’ that is common to every area of specialism – and us comms people are the worst for it.

I was attracted to internal communications for all the same reasons I was attracted to the world of social. I’m inspired by doing great work. Not ‘best practice’ work. Not ‘ticked the boxes’ work. Work that passes the pub conversation test. Work that does something meaningful. Work that makes people smile, or think, or act.

In my opinion, IC teams are uniquely positioned to deliver this sort of work. We’re all expecting more of the brands and businesses we interact with. This makes those working there a company’s most valuable influencers. Today, many of the best external campaigns are the ones built from the inside out – this is only made possible if your workforce is fully engaged, and on-board with your mission. If your external image doesn’t match with your internal realities, you’ll very quickly get found out.

So, the opportunity is huge, and the risks of bad IC more apparent. But I’ve already noticed some unhelpful narratives within this world. Narratives that I think can make the job less fun, less fulfilling. IC’s ‘lack of confidence’, its ‘minimal budgets’ its ‘problem with measurement’ are all debated endlessly.

I strongly believe it’s our job, collectively, to move beyond these narratives. To start focusing on the work, and to start understanding overcoming these barriers as part of this work – an interesting, challenging and ultimately rewarding part of our professional development.

When I first started working in social, pretty much every client was what we called ‘TV-first’. Budgets were owned by the big network agencies. They’d make a global TV ad via their global TV agency (sometimes good, sometimes terrible – the local client often had no control) and their global media agency would tell them what their TV buy would get them. It would then be up to the PR team and any other smaller, local agencies to fight for the scraps. Social slowly became a ‘tick box’ – something the exec team wanted to show they were doing but didn’t really understand.

In the early days, the briefs were uninspiring and the budgets tiny. Personally, I loved the challenge of showing just how much better things could be. Over the years, we were able to build a business case for social media as an insights tool, a customer service hub, an incredibly effective broadcast channel. And slowly but surely, we gained trust, we got in front of key stakeholders, and we won bigger and bigger budgets. I believe this can (and will) happen in IC.

As Head of Client Services, I’m in what you’d call a ‘commercial’ role, and throughout my career, I’ve always been a ‘commercial’ person. It’s not something I studied for, or ever decided to be. I’ve just always wanted to do great work, and to me that has always meant finding a way to overcome barriers, to ‘sell’ to people in a language they understand.

I’ve spoken to a few IC professionals who absolutely hate this side of things. Many feel held back by the rest of the business not understanding their worth, or undermining the function by insisting on ‘top-down’ content. I’ve come to think that reframing this challenge is the way to move things forward. Perhaps seeing stakeholder management as a part of the creative process can break down some of the silos we’ve, unknowingly, helped to create.

In essence, building IC’s profile is all about telling the right stories to the right people – and who better to do that than us, right?

This article first appeared on the IoIC blogs page.