Chuck: Welcome to Chuck Chats Charlotte!
Charlotte: Thanks, great to be here.
Chuck: I really enjoy doing these chats with people I’ve never met before because I truly have no idea what direction they will take.
Charlotte: Do you interview many Brits?
Charlotte: It certainly looks that way. Raring to get started!
Chuck: Where does your passion for internal comms come from?
Charlotte: I started my career in traditional advertising working for massive global ad agencies like BBH (famous for Levi and Audi).
I became fascinated with how they always, without exception, forgot the internal employee audience in their campaigns. A new brand positioning would be carefully and expensively rolled out to the consumer audience with the internal audience totally disregarded.
When I moved to Woodreed (where I now work) I saw the chance to fuse my love of brand with my increasing interest in the role of the employee in delivering an overall brand experience.
I’ve got a great anecdote if you want to hear it?
Chuck: Nobody loves anecdotes more than me.
Charlotte: Okay, so naming no names, I was working for a global auto manufacturer who had spent a fortune repositioning their brand.
Key to the repositioning was a new tone of voice which had a snappy acronym or rather, mnemonic—‘IHIPPO’.
I was sitting in an all business area, all agencies meeting where it was being bandied about.
The non-agency people, the actual employees sat there utterly confused until one says—IHIPPO? You RHINO?!
The non-marketing employees had been left out of the mix entirely.
How can you hope to deliver a joined-up brand experience without communicating to your employees?
But companies do it all the time.
So there … there’s a job to be done and I am on a mission to do it!
Chuck: Before we get too far along in this conversation, what is, or better yet, who is Woodreed?
Charlotte: Sure, Woodreed is a specialist ad agency.
We use all the techniques, methodologies, insight and creativity that traditional ad agencies use to engage customers, but we use them to engage employees.
People are still people when they come to work, they don’t switch their brains to rational robot mode. They still respond to the same stimuli.
Chuck: So what you’re saying is the employees are people, too?!
Charlotte: Haha, yep!
Chuck: “Marketing” seems to be a four-letter word for internal communicators, but I’ve long thought there are so many lessons to be learned from and shared by marketing to improve employee communications.
Charlotte: We are so alike in our thinking.
The great thing about working agency side is that I get to work with so many different organisations, gaining so much insight into their challenges.
But the issues are largely the same.
The silos between marketing and IC for one. IC always seeming to be the afterthought.
There are clear differences and barriers for why IC isn’t always perfect, but there is so much IC can learn from marketing.
Marketing is a mature discipline and the budget they have available means they have insights we can learn from.
"We use all the techniques, methodologies, insight and creativity that traditional ad agencies use to engage customers, but we use them to engage employees."
Chuck: Also marketers rely on data, and I wouldn’t say the same for internal communicators.
Charlotte: It’s hard to get at, but not impossible to use some of the ways marketers derive insights for IC…
I’ve got another anecdote on that one…
Chuck: Go for it.
Charlotte: OK, so this time a global logistics firm came to talk to us with a problem.
They had just launched their new employee benefits scheme.
Super scheme all fabulous.
So they’d launched to their UK employee audience with a take up of less than 1% - shocker!
We asked to see the communications used to promote the scheme.
They said, “Sure,” and got out the posters and flyers and so on.
“We were lucky,” they said, “that the employee benefits company let us use all their material.”
It was so generic, they had literally written the company name in pen.
It was always going to fail. So we went back to the start.
We took time to understand the audience, gathered simple data—age, length of service, first language, gender, and so on.
We found out a large percent didn’t have English as a first language, so the complicated posters were not hitting home, nor were they trusted as they didn’t ‘look’ like they’d come from their organization.
So we created a new campaign using real employees as the stars with endorsements from the shop floor, as it were. We used their own branding and created a line manager kit to ensure the right messages were cascaded—and voila take up increased.
Chuck: This is the type of value internal communicators should be providing to companies —challenging the status quo, doing the right thing, making it personal and relevant to employees—and not just trolling out the same garbage year after year, campaign after campaign.
"There is so much IC can learn from marketing."
Drew McMillan, he’s doing great stuff in the UK. He’s got a quote about IC I really love: ‘Islands of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity.”
I think it sums it up perfectly.
Chuck: I love that line so much.
And there’s a lesson in there, too. Not everything you do is going to be brilliant. There’s going to be some mediocrity. So don’t waste your time with the mediocre stuff. Spend it with the brilliant stuff.
Charlotte: Or keep it simple but do it brilliantly.
Another insight is that people start so many things and then they run out of steam.
Employees are such a hard audience. You don’t get too many chances to impress them before they disengage.
IC is definitely the harder job (compared to marketing, in my view). I think they are legends.
Chuck: Oh, without a doubt IC is a greater challenge.
Take it back to your idea of audiences earlier. When you’re a marketer, you might have a few interactions a week or month with your target audiences. In internal comms, your audience interaction is daily, even multiple times a day.
But that also makes it amazing.
"Employees are such a hard audience. You don’t get too many chances to impress them before they disengage."
Charlotte: I am working with another automotive manufacturer at the moment on their global internal comms. Trying to gain insight into their global employee audience is a major challenge, not to mention getting insight into their retailer network too.
Technology can help though.
We’re always looking at new ways to get conversation and feedback going when you can’t physically pop over and have a chat.
Chuck: That’s for sure.
Some audiences are trickier than ever.
But for those who do have remote workers or employees without ready access to communications, what are some of the more creative tactics you’ve seen?
Charlotte: We’re lucky to be in the smartphone era, aren’t we?
Increasingly workers are happy to receive information on their personal phones.
We ran a really simple SMS campaign with one client that asked people if they’d seen one of the core behaviours demonstrated that day. All they had to answer was a simple yes or no. It kept the behaviours front of mind.
As we said earlier, it doesn’t have to be outrageously brilliant, sometimes simple ideas work really well.
"Everyone can write but not everyone can write effectively."
Chuck: Thinking back through all of your work with internal communicators, what’s one thing you see them doing that you just wish they’d stop?
Charlotte: Oh gosh where to start!
One of my biggest bugbears is the number of different people bashing out comms.
Everyone can write but not everyone can write effectively.
Apart from the long, unwieldy comms that get created where the real message is buried down in page three, where no one has the time or inclination to get to, the big issue is the lack of a consistent tone of voice.
It’s tons of different voices all shouting out. Or worse a variety of corporate robots issuing dictats.
Tone of voice is proven to drive trust. It’s why brands invest millions in making their marketing sing from the same hymn sheet. We need to do this inside to get the same kind of trust.
Chuck: Totally agree. I don’t think many pay close enough attention to that when sharing information with employees. . . who as we learned earlier are people, too.
"Tone of voice is proven to drive trust."
Charlotte: And it’s really not rocket science.
But again, time is a factor. You’ve got to work out what your voice is and then train people to use it, monitor quality, and so on. It can and should be mandatory. Oh, where is my magic wand!
Chuck: Charlotte, thanks for being on Chuck Chats and sharing your ideas. Let’s wrap this up emoji-style. Share your thoughts on the future of IC using only emojis.
Charlotte: 👀👃👆 (I know the only way is up!!)