In this special State of the Sector 2018 ChuckChat, we've invited back co-founder and director at Gatehouse, Simon Wright, to discuss this year's results and insights from the report. Gatehouse’s Yearly State of the Sector Report is the definitive IC and employee engagement industry benchmarking survey. 

 

CG: Welcome back to Chuck Chats Simon.  

SW: Lovely to be back Chuck.

CG: And the last chat was talking about the 2018 State of the Sector Survey and NOW we have it available for people to dig into.

But before we get to that, Gatehouse went through a bit of a change since then. Now you’re part of Gallagher Communication.

What has that been like and what does it mean for IC?

SW: The past few months since we last spoke have been all change…  We were delighted to join Gallagher, and in particular join Gallagher Communications as an extension of their IC capability.  

For us, the exciting piece is about the opportunity to grow and expand.  While we always had global capability through our network, we now have a truly global reach, with offices throughout the world and new comms teams being formed to help support us.

I think it is great news for the industry as a whole. If a company like Gallagher, which is a Fortune 500, is looking at companies like Gatehouseit means the industry is really starting to mature and get taken seriously.

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CG: Well congratulations on joining Gallagher but let’s get to the 2018 State of the Sector. I’m still working through and digesting all of the results but you’ve had a bit more time looking at it.

Let’s start with the good news from this year’s report. Give me a top 3. Or 4.

SW: Firstly, let me start by thank you and ICology for your support and help in making this the biggest State of the Sector to date. As the anniversary edition, we were delighted with the number of respondentsaround 200 more than 2017.

That’s my first highlight...the fact that more people are engaging with industry insights.

But from the data itself, we are also seeing the function becoming more stable with leaders (around 3/4) seeing the relationship with their comms folk as being core.

We’re also seeing the stabilization of print as a channel and the rise of videomeaning the death nail that had been forecast for print hasn’t happened. We are now, however, seeing video as an important tool of choice.

CG: I’m glad you mentioned print. I was just at a chemical company in upstate New York this week and got to sort through various print newsletters they create for their employees. So many great stories with great images that I think people wouldn’t have “clicked on” otherwise if they were on an intranet somewhere.

SW: Totally agreeprint is alive and well. When used properly, is a core and important part of the channel mix.

CG: And you mentioned video, too. I think most, if not all, communicators recognize the power of video in theory, but some seem to still be a bit hesitant or reluctant in practice.

Do you see this?

SW: I think things are changing rapidly. The demographic of our audience is one that consumes video as the medium of choiceand that’s how they want to be communicated with in their professional lives too. The number of video requests we receive are on the rise.

I predict this medium will dominate over most others if not all others in the next few years.

CG: You mentioned the increase of participants in the report. And I saw some interesting commentary about that on Twitter. It went something like “well yeah that dropped but there were more North American participants this year.” And while that’s true, do you think this increase in communicators from the US, Canada, and Mexico skewed the results or do we have a more well-rounded view?

SW: Hahawell yes, many more respondents from across the pond. We will be stripping out the North American data and running a specific State of the Sector report just on the American/Canadian responses later this year.

When we looked at certain questions (such as IC planning) and cut it by European and North America, the results are dramatically different. North America seems to be much further behind Europe in terms of strategic planning.  

So in a sense the results are skewed but they are also more rounded because we have a proper perspective of the North American/European landscape.  

The task of course is to engage with South America, Middle East, India, Asia and Australia for next year’s report to get a truly global view.

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CG: Maybe we’re just better doers than planners. ;)  

One of the other differences in geography was a clear alignment between internal and external comms, with North America coming in lower at 49%. Do you think this speaks to the lack of planning?

SW: Lol - yes maybe!! It’s an interesting question you raise Chuck.

There are a lot of consistencies across the North American resultswhich suggest the profession is driving forward in a very positive way, albeit a few steps behind where we are in Europe.  

I think the planning point is one which will quickly change as North American communicators become more involved with the leaders of their organisationswhich is what happened in the UK.  As we see leaders rely more heavily on their IC people, the the IC team needs to quickly professionalise and operate in a similar capacity as other support functions, providing clear strategies, ROI and other evaluation activities.

CG: Or you could look at it this way. The US has only been around since 1776 and Canada since 1867, so you guys have a couple hundred years head start on us. Give us some time to catch up!

SW: Haha - yep! When you look at it that way, we’re not very far forward at all!!!

CG: There’s one stat in particular that was frustrating for me last year and it’s just as frustrating this year. In 2017, only 50% said they have a written annual internal communications plan. And the number is 50% in 2018. Kudos to the half that have a plan but what the hell is going on with those that don’t?!

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SW: I know!  

I can’t imagine walking into a Marketing team and them not having a plan, nor a Finance dept. But it seems to be ok in IC to ignore the basics. That question always leaves me with my head in my hands...and it’s even worse when 1 in 5 admit to doing no planning at all...

CG: I was going to touch on that one too. It’s a shame we have communicators who aren’t empowered to take their role seriously or at least not even recognizing the potential value they can deliver.

A few of the other stats that jump out are that only 41% have a channel framework, that includes measurement, and 34% prepare some sort of dashboard based on activities and impact.

Where are we failing these communicators? Or are they failing themselves?

SW: I think this is an area where as IC professionals, we all need to take personal responsibility. There is no real excuse and if the capability isn’t there, then there are plenty of organisations / training /support available.  If the issue is a perceived lack of need, then that’s more worrying.

CG: We need to get back to finding some good news. This is getting a bit depressing. Share some more with us.

SW: Okand one for the North American audience too...the rise in providing communication training and coaching increased by a massive 24%a huge leap. Led, in part, to the inclusion of the North American folk where this type of focus is much more the norm than other areas might be. So delighted with that leapespecially as line manager skills are still one of the main barriers to success.

CG: Whewthanks for that. I needed it.

I want to jump to the continuation of this Office 365 effect. It seems like it’s got a hold on comms and isn’t letting go.

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SW: Yepit’s here for keeps. We won’t be seeing the back of it anytime soon - and if anything, it will simply become even more ingrained in organizations.

The Office 365 Effect is driving the agenda, so it would be foolhardy to ignore it as Yammer / Skype / SharePoint and anything else that Microsoft chooses to bundle together,are going to become our tools of choice...whether we like it or not!

Bearing in mind Microsoft’s recent acquisition of LinkedIn, we can guess what other types of ESN or collaboration tools will emerge in the coming months.  

And we can be certain that things won’t be launched in nicely controlled ways, but IT teams will simply turn the capability on, and leave the organisation to learn what to do with itjust as has happened with Yammer, etc.

CG: Real talk here. Do you think communicators are truly choosing to use Sharepoint and Yammer, #1 and #2 on the list of social channels used, or are they being given a choice of one, meaning they don’t really get to choose?

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SW: There is no choice. That’s why we’ve not seen any significant increase in other technologies like Workplace. Why spend money on something else, when you can have Yammer or Sharepoint available for free.  The channels for IC in 2018 and beyond are less and less at the request of the IC team, but increasingly brought in by the IT team.

CG: When you mention Sharepoint to some communicators, you can see them twitch a little bit.

And you mentioned Workplace by Facebook. When it was first announced a few years back, I really thought Facebook would have a shot. And maybe they do. But the same reason I thought they’d do well is also the same reason I don’t like itit’s just like Facebook, a platform I’m already a bit tired of.

SW: It’s a good point. Workplace is popular in the pilot organisations that took it, but it is just another tool. And a very expensive one at that. So I can’t see it becoming a significant contender by any means.The survey data also shows this to be true. Just 6% of respondents are using itputting it in last place on the ESN lists.

CG: Last place behind Google +. Yikes.

SW: I know! That must be a lonely place...

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CG: While on the topic of internal social, I do think there’s some hope there.

People like to share, have conversations, acknowledge and so forth. But only a third of communicators feel that adoption has been good or excellent. And I wonder if that’s because only 10% of respondents strongly agree that their social channels have a clear purpose. If the purpose isn’t defined, what’s the average employee supposed to think?

SW: I think you’re right Chuck, but it also because these channels are just appearing.

For example, Yammer isn’t great, but it’s in more organisations than last year.  So the rankings fall accordingly.  As Yammer becomes the most popular ESN, the satisfaction falls. I think it’s a combination of having a weak tool with a lack of purpose and next to no governance.

CG: There’s another topic that I want to focus on related to the 2018 reportmobile apps. The adoption is still lower, compared to other digital channels like email and intranets, but it seems to be where the interest in future investment is. 73% said they expect to increase the usage of mobile apps in 2018. FINALLY!

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SW: HmmI’m more sceptical.  

I have been tricked into hearing stats about future growth and declaring next year is the year...but then nothing changes. I actually think dedicated apps aren’t going to increase.

But what we will see is the core tools being mobile enabled. I would expect that the number of tools and channels will decrease, but their ability to operate seamlessly on devices will increase.  

CG: This is where I think is the disconnect between communicators and employees.

Communicators will say things like “our employees would never download an app on their phone” or “they would never share on an app.” But when given the opportunity, that’s exactly what people will do. Some point to the BYOD debate, and this was also significant differentiator between North America and Europe, right?

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SW: You’re right in calling out the fact that IC folk regularly predict the habits of their people and are often incorrect!  

When we conduct Audits for clients, we often ask the question whether people will use their personal device for company information.The answer is, more often than not, yes.  

What we haven’t seen though, is the BYOD boom. (Another incorrect prediction from the pastI must stop making them!)  When we look at stats for the past five years, 2018 (43%) is the same as in 2015, 2016 and lower than 2017 (46%)only higher than in 2014 (38%).

I’ve no idea why, but BYOD still hasn’t really happened.

CG: So when can we expect the North American report to be published?

SW: The aim is for April/May. We’re really looking forward to doing it too. It’s the first time we will have seen a North American exclusive cut.

CG: And what’s your final takeaway or reason why communicators should check out the 2018 State of the Sector report?

SW: State of the Sector is a must read I think for every IC personno matter where you are based in the world. To hear about what your profession is doing, the challenges and the opportunities, is critical to helping our industry grow and evolve.

We love producing it and we hope you enjoy reading it!

CG: Thanks again Simon for the great work you and the team do for the industry. I’ve appreciated the past 10 years of effort and look forward to the next 10 years.

SW: And thanks for all your support too, Chuck!