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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

Internal Communication Is The First Step In A Successful PR Campaign

By Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

A n often misunderstood part of the marketing mix, public relations is much more than sending out news releases and pitching stories to the industry or consumer press.

The PR umbrella covers a multitude of activities, all of which involve communicating specific messages to various target audiences — both internal and external. Too often, companies and organizations forget that some of their largest, most important and most influential constituents are on the inside — their employees, board members or association members.

Public relations programs create awareness and support among a company’s or organization’s target audiences for its products, services, mission, philosophy and approach to doing business. It helps build credibility that advertising cannot. It helps manage risk and establishes reputations that drive sales. But it is only the image that employees and other company insiders themselves have of their company or organization that can be properly presented and secured in the public consciousness. Therefore, a regular flow of information to employees, board members or association members is required for a successful public relations effort. It only stands to reason that until all of the internal players are singing off the same song sheet, any external effort is going to fall far short of the goal – no matter how much money you throw at it.

Whether it’s designed for a for-profit business or for a nonprofit trade organization, a solid internal public relations program can improve loyalty and help retain valuable employees and members. Here are some tried-and-true steps in establishing an essential internal public relations program that will enhance your external PR:

Survey The Landscape: The internal PR plan cannot be created in a vacuum. The process should begin by gaining insight from a variety of sources. From one-on-one executive interviews to employee surveys or focus groups, every level of the organization must provide input. A word of caution here, however: Nothing kills morale and the potential for good PR more quickly than asking for input and then ignoring it. If you collect the data, you must use them to address key issues and develop a plan that communicates issues to every level of the organization.

Develop A Core Communications Document: Based on the research gathered in step one, this document will serve as the guideline for all future communications. It outlines the organization’s priorities and goals, the key messages to be used in all communications, the desired employee or member behaviors, and other foundational concepts. It is critical that the content of the document is consistent with the external message used for the media, stockholders and other target audiences.

Get Senior Management On Board: Any company initiative will die on the vine without the support of senior management. Without their support and involvement, the initiative is likely to fail. The executive team also needs to understand its role in supporting and communicating the internal PR plan to everyone in the organization.

Engage Middle Management: Research shows that middle managers are some of the most influential members of any organization. By making them an integral part of the ongoing information loop, they will become active supporters of the company’s PR efforts and make sure others are on board. The most effective internal PR plan includes regular communication with mid-level managers. The plan gives them the proper training and communications tools and makes them the primary communications channel.

Have A Dialogue With Employees, Not A Monologue: Internal PR will take hold much more quickly if employees play a role in it. Employees who feel they’ve had a voice typically serve as the most passionate company ambassadors, both internally and externally. Provide a forum that allows employees to ask honest questions — and receive honest answers, share good ideas — then see them implemented, and express their concerns —then have them addressed candidly.

Determine The Right Communications Channels: Less is more when it comes to a company’s communications channels. Strip away the unnecessary levels of management and communicate directly wherever possible. One of the worst things that can happen is when employees learn of a new program or change within their own company from the media.

Measure And Report Results: A good internal PR program is ongoing. Results should be measured and shared with employees to continuously reinforce the message. Progress may be visually reported through graphs or charts
at each of the company’s locations, and through an Intranet system, through CEO messages and manager discussions.

Stay The Course: Effective communication is a matter of discipline and the day-to-day conversations that address questions and issues candidly. Use the communications channels initially put in place to keep the information flowing and continue the dialogue. By doing so on a regular basis, employees will be able to put major company changes, announcements, events and news in the proper context.
March/April 2007