Ask the guru – communicating strategy

*updated 25.06.15*


Next Thursday, 25 June, is our second Ask the Guru event in Manchester. We’ll be discussing communicating strategy and drawing upon the experiences of our three gurus. Advita Patel, one of the CIPR Inside committee members and Internal Communication lead at Manchester Airports Group is one of the team organising the event and she spoke to the gurus to share some of their insights with us ahead of the event.

*Hannah Thoresby, Creative Director at H&H, will be joining as a guru, replacing Julie as she’s unwell. Hannah will share her insights from her experience of working with many organisations to develop strategic narratives and drive engagement.

Over to Advita:

We’ve all read numerous books, papers and reports on the importance of implementing an internal communications strategy but how do we ensure it’s embedded within the business? How do we get leadership buy-in and support? Is it really necessary? In our second northern based ‘Ask The Guru’ event in Manchester, we will be asking three communication professionals to share their experiences and thoughts on how they effectively communicate strategy in a way that can not only engage colleagues but also other stakeholders.

Ahead of the event on 25 June at Manchester Business School we’ve spoken to the speakers to find out more about them and their backgrounds:


Jon Bonnick Communications Director at BAE Systems started his career in 1978 as a sponsored undergraduate

Jon Bonnick

Jon Bonnick

apprentice at British Aerospace. His experience within communications has spanned over 25 years where he has enjoyed a variety roles covering both internal and external communications.





Julie Ackley profile photo- May 2015

Julie Ackley

Julie Ackley Senior Communications Business Partner at Barclays has held various Internal Comms roles for 15 years starting in Corporate TV for Royal Bank of Scotland. Julie took a short career break when she became a mum and during this time she freelanced as a wedding and portrait photographer.




Liam FitzPatrick

Liam FitzPatrick

Liam FitzPatrick specialises in helping organisations explain change to their staff, in developing communications functions and advising on data and metrics.  Liam has worked in civil engineering, food and hospitality, energy, government, manufacturing, NGOs, pharmaceuticals, and transportation as well as the HE sector.  He lectures, has served as an external examiner, is the past Chair of the education and development committee of the CIPR where he is also a Fellow and Chartered Practitioner. In 2014 Kogan Page published his book Internal Communications; a manual for practitioners.


What do you love about Internal Communications?

Jon: The fact that you are at the heart of everything that is important to your business and you are in a position to have an impact on the outcome.

Julie: It’s all just ‘story telling’ – and I love stories. Whether that’s reading to my little boy, capturing photos that re-tell the events of a special day, or helping people to understand why this new product is the best thing since sliced bread!

Liam: For me it’s about being at the centre of things; having to get your mind around complex business strategy and knowing how different audiences will react.  But you still can’t beat that feeling when a video, a poster, a website or an event turns out right!

What’s your biggest frustration about Internal Communications?

Jon: People in leadership positions who don’t take communications seriously. The number of times I’ve heard people say ‘don’t worry, I’ll wing it! Secondly, people who do not appreciate that Communications is a professional skill. I’m often approached for a career chat by someone who ‘fancies doing a bit of comms’

Julie: That the benefits of great Internal Comms is taking so long to be embedded in corporate understanding – we will eventually be as essential as HR and Marketing. It’s just taking a while.

Liam:  It’s when I can’t get a reading on the staff at the start of a programme.  Too often someone asks us to rock up and tell them how to communicate something and just assumes that we don’t have to do any groundwork.  What we do as a profession involves a little bit of thinking and a lot of audience insight!

What advice would you give to someone starting their career?

Jon: If you want a career in comms you must be 100% committed. It’s not as easy as it looks and often the consequences of getting it wrong can be far reaching so you can’t be half-hearted about it.

Julie: Understand the power of social media and peer to peer communications – this is a digital age and people are interacting differently. Leaders no longer have the right to talk unless they are also prepared to listen.

Liam:  Don’t read the blogs and nonsense that you read purporting to offer amazing insight into the next big thing!  I’m old enough to have seen several of these ‘game changers’ fail to live up to their hype.  Instead stick to the basics every time – know your audiences better than anyone else and keep asking what does your organisation need them to do well or do differently.  If you understand these you can usually work out the rest.

Could you give a brief overview of what you’ll be talking about on 25 June?

Jon: Some thoughts and experiences from my 25 years in Comms, reaching out to 13,000 people on 25 sites, changing with the times within the constraints of the company IT, communications behaviours what’s new and what’s unchanged.

Julie: The importance of having a clear strategy for your IC team and how you ‘approach’ each project. Challenging the traditional goals of ‘engaged’ and ‘inspired’ vs. ‘active’ and ‘inspiring’

The power (and difficulty) of setting clear objectives you will achieve rather than a list of tasks you will complete and how you can work across your Communications functions to create a narrative that works inside and out – ie colleagues, customers and media.

Liam:  It’s about having a structured and practical approach.  90% of what we do is actually straightforward once you have answered some basic questions about how strategy translates into an individual ‘to do’ list and why deep understanding of your audiences puts you ahead of the game

Why do you think people should attend this event?

Jon: I hope the refreshments are good!! Seriously, I’d like there to be an element of two way exchange where other people can add their experiences to the discussion so that all internal comms practitioners can take something away from it.

Julie: To network, share ideas and challenge traditional thinking – and selfishly because I want to learn how to be better at my job and I hope there are people who can come and help me!

Liam: I’m hoping that there is a bit of a debate.  Too often people rock up at these things and nod politely even when they know nonsense is being spoken.  Let’s hope there’s a bit of “yeah, but how do you do that in practice…?”


Thank you to Advita, Jon, Julie and Liam , we’re looking forward to a fantastic event and some lively discussion.



As the guru events are designed to be small, informal discussion events where everyone can ask questions and share ideas.

cipr cpd 5 points cmyk 300dpi

This event is just £15 for members (£20 for non-members) and attending will earn you 5CPD points to help you gain or retain your Accredited Practitioner Status.


You can book your ticket here.


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