Should the CIPR be interested in internal communications?

I had an interesting email over the weekend from one of our members questioning why we needed to have a group dedicated to internal communications and employee engagement.

Clearly I believe we should for all sorts of good reasons (for example, the value of integration, reaching beyond the IC profession to work with partners like HR, the increasingly blurred boundaries between internal and external comms, etc, etc).

But would value other views?


  1. Scott,

    The fact that you’ve had an email from a fellow CIPR member questioning the need for a separate internal communication and employee group is alarming.

    Firstly, research clearly shows that internal communication is a distinct discipline and not only that, it will be, according to the European Communication Monitor 2009, “the second important discipline next year, right behind corporate communication”.

    Secondly, internal communication is vital for organisations to undertake change successfully and the record generally on change management is not good. Change is communication. Invest in strategic internal communication that is grounded in informed employee voice and change management will improve dramatically.

    Thirdly, internal communication is inextricably linked to employee engagement. And employee engagement leads to better organisational performance and better customer service.

    In my experience, communicating with employees is different from communicating with other stakeholders. Some principles are the same, but employees demand more information, more honesty and expect a far greater say in what goes on. If employees are an organisation’s greatest asset, then communicating with them as adults is not an extra job, it is the job.

    However, many organisations are not doing enough on internal communication. Research conducted in the UK in 2006 showed that only 32 per cent of employees feel that they are both fully/fairly well informed and also have opportunities for upward feedback.

    A dedicated group that pushes the internal communication and employee engagement agenda, as CIPR Inside does, and builds bridges to other professional groups is an enlightened group that leads the way for groups within CIPR.


  2. Your question is like asking whether the Football Hall of Fame should only honour strikers and centre forwards, and consign defenders and midfielders to the ash heap of history.

    While I think CIPR should uncouple internal communication from “employee engagement” because of the oft-misused nature of the latter term, internal communication has and will continue to become increasingly crucial to effective strategic delivery in the business world. Indeed, its significance may well have eclipsed that of traditional press relations. CIPR has been fairly progressive about this and should continue to be so.

    Mike Klein

  3. Mark Applin says:

    One of the great things about CIPR Inside is the manner in which we can start the process of blurring the lines of internal and external communication. But right now, internal comms has to play catch-up. For many internal communicators, that reality is manifest in the structure of where comms sits in organisations (too far away, too little influence), or the amount of budget deployed, the tiny headcounts of the comms teams themselves.

    Yes, ultimately, there will be one version of the ‘truth’ of what that brand is about – inside and outside the organisation. The internet will make that transparent.

    In the interim, our primary role should be to showcase the powerful results of creating a ying/yang between the two disciplines.

    I’m absolutely in favour of being cross functional where possible. But we have a duty to represent our colleagues and employees with the same zest and vigour that marketeers have for their customer.

    • I’ve been involved with internal comms for quite some time in one capacity or another Mark, and have to reflect that there are ceratain recurring themes which your comments highlight including:

      – the sphere of influence
      – distance from the top table
      – IC apparently being in its infancy and having to catch up

      Latterly, some are interpreting the drive for “joined up” comms between the HR and Marketing etc communities as a need for a unified approach to both sets of stakeholders.

      What I particularly like about Kevin’s comments here are that they recognise the uniqueness of IC. They recognise that, in the main, we’ve moved on from notions of internal marketing.

      In many respects the internal audience is much more demanding and if you also factor in the need for IC professionals to work with the prevailing hierarchy and culture while seeking to influence it, the IC professional’s role is uniquely challenging.

      I agree with your point about zest and vigour, but again, it’ takes a special skill to do this in a sincere, authentic, objective and non-patronising way.

      Clearly there are many benefits to be gained from catering for all of the communication functions which influence stakeholder perceptions within a single “body”, like CIPR. Each function has unique challenges as well as unique perspectives and approaches to contribute to the mix.

      To my mind, however, we need to stop making excuses for Internal Comms. There are exceptions where IC is still seen as a “safe newsroom”, “message management function”, “channel jockeys”, “agency managers”, “purveyors of internal PR” or the “management mouthpiece”. But there are plenty of well respected IC units and increasingly, IC doesn’t have to play catch up anymore when recognised professionals are in situ whether, to use Mike’s analogy, they score goals or keep clean sheets.

  4. CIPR need to get clear on what they stand for and educate their members.
    I think the problem arises from the label “Public Relations” and I guess the comment comes from someone who is wedded to the concept that “public” is all about external stakeholders.
    If we could focus more on the “relations” part then members would be more enlightened on they key aspects of corporate reputation.
    Internal communicators would advocate reputation (and brand) is built from the inside out. For those that don’t subscribe to that thought, I would imagine they would at least acknowledge these points: the professionals that create corporate communications are employees; the key disciplines within corporate comms like social media, CSR, stakeholder management, crisis management, community relations have a significantly large internal element; the most effective comunications stratgeies have employees at the heart. So why wouldn’t the Chartered Institute for our profession (and therefore its members) not acknowledge the significant importance of employee comms?
    As Euan semple would say that’s obvious isn’t it?
    Indeed it is. What may be less obvious to the folks like the commentator that live in a bubble, is the world is converging, and that progressive corporate comunicators no longer exist in a paralell universe to the rest of the world.
    Rather than ask whether the CIPR should represent internal comms maybe the commentator’s employers should ask why he is fit to represent their company?

  5. When Sean’s email dropped into my inbox, I understood the question to be about whether the CIPR should be dealing with IC and I believe it shouldn’t, for two reasons:

    (1) I’ve always advocated that internal communications and public relations are separate functions. A respectful distance is needed between the two publicly because often they represent the interests of different stakeholders and can have conflicting views in how information is communicated. Although, we all know, that it’s essential IC and PR staff of the same businesss work together to keep messages joined up.

    (2) The Institute of Internal Communications!

    Although, both professions should continue to take a healthy interest in each other and its members should continue to exchange views and ideas.

    • thanks for the challenge Ali.
      Picking up on your points
      (1) “Public relations and internal communications are separate functions” In some world’s this is the case. But when you unpick the competencies required in both disciplines – stakeholder management, project management, messaging, measurement, media etc. the professions are converging.
      (2) “A respectful distance is needed between the two publicly because often they represent the interests of different stakeholders and can have conflicting views in how information is communicated” In a world where audience lines are converging I’m not sure this view can be substantiated. It’s obvious to most that functions can no longer claim to be representative of separate stakeholders interests. i.e. large proportion of employees are customers, shareholders, local communities, local councillors. How do you deal with this schitzophrenic approach when it’s the same audience?
      (3) “IoIC” It is far better for any profession to have multiple organisations that represent their interests. So here’s hoping IABC, CIPR and IoIC can continue to be forward thinking and retain membership. On a side, there are many more CIPR members with an interest in IC than there are members of IoIC. So that’s why CIPR Inside must continue to represent their members needs though our events and qualifications agenda. The CIPR accreditated diploma’s and certificates in IC are market leading. Why would anyone not want that to continue?

  6. Adam Hibbert says:

    I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Ali’s challenge, though Sean’s riposte is pragmatic and plausible, for now.

    To my mind, Ian’s point about the different intensity of the employee relationship is not just a matter of quantity – it tips over into quality, by which I mean that IC is founded on a fundamentally different human relationship. The two disciplines only appear connected because in its early days, all the precedent IC had to draw on was that established by PR. The methods of PR didn’t fit the IC task, exactly, but they were a lot better than nothing.

    As the IC profession matures, it seems to me to be growing out of the methods it grabbed off the shelves of media production, PR, marketing, HR, etc – as our methods mature, IC is becoming a unique domain, toolset and skillset, in its own right, with less and less in common with its cousin (despite those blurred ‘audience’ boundaries).

    So the question above becomes something like whether or not the Bar Council should concern itself with the proceedings of the Law Society. In the end, probably not, though as Sean points out, it makes sense while IC is still fledging.

  7. Yes, I agree Adam, internal communication is emerging as a unique domain and about time too. We need a strong group to support this and to increase the tempo for the sake of organisations and employees.

    What links media relations, public affairs, crisis communication, issues management, social media and internal communication is communication theory and relationship theory. The application of theory may depend on the stakeholder group, but essentially the core principles are the same. These are basically understanding the way people trust an organisation and identify with it.

    The danger in having silo institutes for different communication disciplines is that the voice of the overall profession gets dissipated and other larger institutes encroach on the territory.


  8. Adam,
    Interesting input,a s always. Can you explain wat is unique about the practice of IC? and why divergence, rather than convergence of skill sets?

  9. Often the differences are the motivations and values behind the intended communication and the tone of the communication. While the desired outcome might be the same. For instance, for internal communications activities to be successful they need to have integrity.

    I agree comms professionals do use the same backbone (theory and models etc) when plying their trade; however, how they are applied and the reasons they are applied might be different.

    Somewhat controversially, perhaps, I believe that internal commuincators and PR/press staff tend to have different values (even personalities). I made a conscious decision early on in my career to specialise in IC rather than PR as I felt my personal values were more closely match to IC.

    • WOW, controversy indeed Ali.
      I think you are saying the difference between IC and PR is tone of voice and intent.
      You are implying that ICOs have more integrity than PROs and that PR activities don’t require integrity to be succesful.
      And your hypothesis is that divergence of the two professions is based on values and personalities.
      I am speechless.

  10. Adam Hibbert says:

    Sean, I can’t claim to have this all perfectly theorised (by any means!), but to Kevin’s note, it’s about the fundamental difference between identifying *with* the organisation, and actually *being* the organisation.

    The nature of the underlying relationship is fundamentally shifted by this difference, so the practices appropriate to mediating the two sets of relationships are therefore quite different. The internal relationship is more intense, more holistic – completely implicated in the very sinews of the organisation. So the emerging IC skillset requires a very practical grasp of the factors involved in, eg, leadership, change management and organisational design.

    Divergence because, as we better understand the failures of, for example, the internal marketing mindset, and adjust our practice to model these internal relationships more sympathetically, IC practice builds away in a somewhat different direction from evolving external practice.

  11. Adam, I enthusiastically support your premise.

    Ps can we stop talking about the IC function as a new discipline. It’s been around for decades – since late 80s in UK and even earlier in the US.

    • Perhaps I am showing my age but I think you’ll find late 50s? in the UK.

      • In 1942, Alexander Heron wrote “Sharing Information with Employees”, in which he presented his experiences of many years as a director of industrial relations with various companies. The book provided one of the earliest statements of goals, attitudes, and criteria necessary for successful employee communication.

        Heron’s thinking was “Communication is a line function; it is a two-way sharing of information; it is not a persuasion or propaganda campaign; it requires the freedom and opportunity to ask questions, get answers and exchange ideas.”

  12. Adam,

    I understand the point you are making. Many students on the CIPR Internal Communication courses we run who have come from a wider PR background say that it is often harder to communicate with employees than journalists.

    So, I agree that communicating with employees compared to the media or regulators/government has a different dimension. I think we have to be more fulsome in the information provided and provide more opportunities for involving employees. I am as concerned about an internal marketing mindset as you are. Internal communication is not like”selling” a product, it’s about informing, supporting and providing opportunities for employee voice that are taken seriously.

    However, people working in media relations, issues management, crisis communication and public affairs also have to have a practical grasp of the factors you list and their relationship with stakeholders can be very intense. If it’s just a matter of degree then I think we are saying the principles are really very common.

  13. Adam Hibbert says:

    Kevin, that’s the crux, isn’t it? Is it a matter of degree, or something qualitatively different?

    In idle moments I’ve caught myself wondering if IC shouldn’t be drawing less on the communication disciplines and more on the methods of marriage guidance counselling …

    • Adam,

      I know what you mean…but isn’t marriage guidance also based on communication and relationship theory?

      • Adam Hibbert says:

        Perhaps, Kevin, but how well do you think marriage guidance would work if it followed the model that the husband hires the counsellor to make sure the wife has heard his view of the world?

  14. Mark Applin says:

    I think Adam makes a good point about the practical nature of IC.

    In fact IC often (in my world at least) extends beyond the dimensions of leadership and change and into execution and delivery.

    So the skills and personalities needed are of necessity different, although a body of shared best practice underpins both roles.

    If PR is about reputation, perception and positioning, IC perhaps delves into the delivery and execution of those promises at a more operational level. It glues image, operational reality and commerciality together in quite a unique way.

  15. Loving this debate but can we briefly get back to the original argument? Should CIPR butt out of IC?

    My argument is no. Why? because there are IC practitioners that are members of the Chartered Institute that are at the forefront of thought leadership in this discipline. It doesn’t matter why they chose to join CIPR, I guess it is a combination of factors like wanting to be part of a professional institute that has Chartered status, with market leading accredited qualifications in the subject. As Kevin says – no more silos please!

    Hopefully that’s enough on that one?

    Now back to the more interesting debate….

    Kevin, I dont get the concept of employees are more difficult to communicate with than journalists. Some journalists are bloody difficult to communicate with, some employees are straightforward. Guess what – most journalists are employees!

    I would like to think that the convergence of the archaic disciplines will come through the principles of engagement rather than simply communications.

    We all know that ‘PR’ has a bad image (and rightly so in some quarters) but I have seen far more sophisticated stakeholder engagement practices run by ‘PR’ departments over a decade ago than I have ever seen since in ‘IC functions’ especially with NGOs and Trade Unions.

    If we consider the concept of stakeholder engagement, there are close external stakeholders that have just as much interest and impact in building a brand than some employees.

    Just as the boundaries between audiences and media are blurred, so are the boundaries between organisations. Increased M&A activity demonstrates that, never mind the issues faced by super brands like BP and Toyota who are coming unstuck through their outsourcing practices.

    I’m up for the emerging skills of change management, leadership and OD. All sadly lacking in most IC functions that are scarily becoming even more focussed on execution and delivery (mainly newsletters and CEO blogs!)

    • Sean,

      Thanks for the challenge! It’s interesting to compare communication with journalists and communication with employees. I’m not sure it’s right to say that one is harder than another as “harder” is a bit of a loaded term. But this is what people say to me, so I am just highlighting it.

      There’s a good paper on the “senior communicator of the future” that identifies the following factors for all communicators:

      • There is urgent need to change PR and corporate communications from being a broadcast machine to building stronger relations with stakeholders.
      • Greater importance will be given to ethics, corporate social responsibility and sustainability
      • More and complex demands for communication are arising from ‘internal audiences’.
      • Culturally-sensitive communication needs to be operationalised in a changing world
      • Corporate communicators increasingly seek C-Level roles.
      • Proof of PR and corporate communication’s contributions to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realisation

      Interesting that it highlights the complexity of demands from “internal audiences” which is probably behind what we are discussing here.

      The paper concludes by saying that:

      …the future communicator will have more focus on relationship development, reputation management and the integration of communication strategy within the broader business strategy.

      It is the integration of all communication functions that underpins the importance of having one primary institute, the CIPR, that represents the overall profession.

      The full paper is available at:

  16. Just had to get involved in this one….. One thing I always say to students coming on the internal communication qualifications with us is that I think internal comms is MUCH harder than media relations. Thats based on having done both and been a journalist.

    Thing with media relations is that both you and the journo know that it is a kind of game – you both know the rules and you are both just doing your job. It is totally different with internal comms where your audiences are your colleagues and you are dealing with something that matters to them more than most stuff – their job and so their ability to pay the mortgage and at another level feeling a sense of self worth etc etc

  17. Adam Hibbert says:

    +1 Anne.

    Look at it through the lens of the stakeholder: with journalists, generally speaking, you have information that they want, some of which you’re very happy to give them, some less so. Sometimes, you have information they don’t think they need, but which you have to find a way to engage them with. As Anne says, it’s a relatively straightforward, professional game.

    With employees, it’s not about the information. It’s about the fundamental social relationships they’re embedded in, which determine their family’s welfare and future, which predetermine what they can and can’t accept as valid information, and which make resistance to the official line far more entrenched and sophisticated.

  18. Funny how everyone’s prejudices are showing.
    Some bullets to contemplate:
    *PR = public RELATIONS. (NOT media affairs or spin doctors)
    *Some say communications, communications, communications, I say relationships, relationships, relationships.
    *I dont subscribe to the thought that my colleagues are my audience. Surely this flies in the face of relationship building and takes IC back into the realms of broadcast comms.
    *I’m a big fan of Eric Berne’s TA and “games people play” – it would be niave to think employees and management don’t play games, most would recognise this as internal politics. Some would call this “just doing our job”
    *I’ve not seen a lot of IC comms plans focussed on people’s jobs, ability to pay the mortgage or feeling of self worth.
    *I hear a lot of IC pros claiming to be “holier than though” portraying themselves as operating on some higher level and enabling leadership and change. I don’t hear many business testimonials that reflect this.
    *I’ll keep my comments to bullets, I know you’ve all got newsletters and CEO blogs to get back to.

    • Adam Hibbert says:

      Sean, apologies if I’ve represented PR in a naive manner – I certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert. Nor would I claim to be operating on a higher level, either: it’s certainly the case that, as IC practice stands, it’s not substantially holier than straightforward vanity publishing for bosses. I hope this goes some way towards soothing the peevishness that’s creeping into this debate.

      Allow me a third way of stating the position: current corporate communications practice (in all its flavours) has a strong human relationships component, and a lot of technical craft and ‘persuasion science’ theory behind it. However, in IC, we’re beginning to see the limits of what that perspective can achieve in *our domain*.

      If we’re going to achieve good things like engagement within the organisation, I think we’ll need to move to a different footing – one in which, rather than persuading people to accept our leaders’ command and control decisions over their productive life, we instead build bridges from that default position to a new one, where participants in an organisation can take much more responsibility and ownership for the shared agenda, and leaders act more as political representatives of the community, not commanders.

      Kevin’s mention of Heron in this context is salutary. Heron’s concept of the ‘understanding unit’ is exactly the piece we’re missing – I’d love to start a facebook campaign (or suchlike) to pressure Stanford to re-release his book. It should be on all MBA / IC / PR reading lists. Any takers?

  19. Hey Adam
    Let’s switch this debate to the most recent post on schmoozing

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