A message to CEOs about the power of an integrated communications strategy

As part of our aim to build a really useful resource and collaborative outlet through this website and our wider CIPR Inside group for professionals working in or studying internal communication, we’re inviting posts from professionals and students on topics relevant to our profession and to their experience. We hope you find it useful, and we would love to hear from you if you have a piece to share.

Today, we welcome Rebecca Pain @rebeccapain from theblueballroom. Rebecca is passionate about integrated communication and she shares her views here…

A message to CEOs about the power of an integrated communications strategyRebecca Pain

– from Rebecca Pain, theblueballroom
www.theblueballroom.com – Better Business Inside and Out.

When people talk about integrated communications, they most often mean PR integrated with marketing, or social media, or internal communications integrated with digital. Less often in my experience do they mean internal and external communications integrating fully, despite professionals in the industry having said for years that this really ought to be a mainstay for the sake of a business’s success.

However, scratch the surface, and there is evidence of change. I can only speak from the agency side, but it seems that communications professionals are blazing a trail to encourage more formal joined-up thinking. Communicators have advised for a long time that businesses align their internal and external messages, tell employees news before they go ‘public’, feed customer
insights back to the business, and so on. But now, there is or should be more of a sense of urgency thanks to the digital age. This might be why we find more PR and marketing agencies offering internal communications services. How in depth these new offerings are will vary, and whether they are yet truly integrated or a new and separate product offering by those agencies remains to be seen. But, change is underway.

There is a myriad of reasons why fully integrated communications is the way to go.

Firstly, and possibly for a big brand the most compelling case for a joined up strategic approach is the need for integrity in an increasingly transparent age. Aligning external messaging with genuine in-house values and communicating these to employees across the board, not just in customer service, can build pride in the brand and create ambassadors across the team. With the rise of social media and the ensuing lack of control brands have over public opinion, this is crucial to the survival of businesses, and can also mitigate risk of a reputation crisis. Any brand that has experienced the wrath of a whistle blowing employee at odds with the company’s PR messaging should get this one. Essentially, what you do inside your business can directly affect your reputation, and vice versa. Many companies fear social media for this reason. It’s best to embrace social media, so long as you do so genuinely, and trust your team with it, but leaders should also use it where possible to keep employees in the picture, as well as to communicate to
their external publics.

Add to this the potential for listening to customer feedback, and you have the second great reason for an integrated approach – service and product improvement. Due to the democratisation of audiences and workplaces through social media, customers can more than
ever vote with their feet. A glance at stories around the recent food safety issues illustrates this sort of crisis perfectly. Better still, thanks to listening software and even basic social media monitoring, we can learn from customers about their needs, their concerns about service, the opinion of a company. In this era of low trust and austerity, it is more important than ever
to equip and motivate employees to communicate effectively with customers, and to lead employees well so that they know what to do or who to ask for help when difficult situations arise. They should know how and what to communicate – in other words, this requires a strategic blend of internal and external communication, and engaged employees.

Finally there is the genuine case for saving time and money by synchronising internal and external communications. By doing this, there is less of a need for extra briefing time, less scope for confusion and mismatched messages, and more opportunities for innovation.

A great example of where this has worked is at Vodafone, described in The Times: “Vodafone’s approach to communicating internally and externally with stakeholders is an investment in its future. It’s principle of ´open and transparent´ communication builds trust and loyalty with customers and employees. It also builds credibility with other stakeholders for its responsible stance on business issues. This ultimately makes it a more profitable company.”

By taking all your different audiences into account in this way, a joined up approach brings greater credibility, consistency and value to a business’s communications. All audiences – employees, customers, shareholders, partners and suppliers – are important stakeholders in a business – so adopting an integrated approach makes sense on these and many other levels. If businesses get it right, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.


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