While much attention has been focused on integrating external communication efforts, internal communication can sometimes be a lower priority, which can impact employee engagement. True integration is even more difficult in organizations with multiple offices regionally and globally.
We conducted in-depth interviews with 28 communication executives working in such settings to determine whether or not integrated communication is a priority from an internal communication perspective and to identify best practices. The full report was recently published by Public Relations Review.
We found that some level of integration is occurring through the use of shared editorial calendars and routine meetings between internal and external communicators, and joint meetings with communicators at the central office and those embedded in the lines of business. However, functional silos still appear to be a barrier to effective implementation of integrated marketing communication. As a communications manager who oversees internal communication with franchisees described:
HR …They are the one group that I absolutely never coordinate with just because they are a completely separate beast. However, there has been a huge push, and I think this was ongoing before I got here but there’s a huge push to make sure that PR, franchisee comm., that’s me, and marketing are on the same page (Neill & Jiang, 2017, p. 7).
One primary way employers in some complex organizations that have regional and global offices appear to be addressing this issue is by placing internal communication under either a marketing or corporate communication executive. Dual oversight of external and internal communication by a senior executive from corporate communication or marketing appears to be a good way to achieve IMC and reduce functional silos.
Based on these findings, we offer the first two recommendations:
1) External and internal communication should report to one senior communication officer (That officer could be a CCO or CMO, a VP of communication or marketing or equivalent position).
2) Complex organizations with regional and global offices should offer opportunities for true collaboration such as routine meetings among internal and external communicators assigned to lines of business or offices outside of the centralized headquarters.
These reporting relationships often result in internal communicators coordinating communication efforts side-by-side in collaboration with external communicators such as social media, media relations and government affairs. The advantages of this relationship were the opportunities to be informed about what was being communicated externally and for both internal and external teams to coordinate consistent timing and messaging.
At the same time, the executives we spoke to also pointed out some dangers associated with integrated marketing communication such as employees becoming an afterthought and not as much a priority when considered among other stakeholders in larger campaigns.
When external communicators such as corporate communication or marketing manage internal communication or communicators in the lines of business assume both internal and external responsibilities, internal communication becomes a lower priority, is reduced to a tactical discipline, and can even be placed on the back-burner when more pressing concerns like social media and media relations arise.
For internal communication to serve a strategic role, it needs to be considered equal to other communication disciplines such as social media and media relations. These findings lead to our third recommendation:
3) The most senior internal communication officer should be at an equal reporting relationship level to colleagues who manage areas such as media relations or social media.
Due to these concerns, internal communicators should look to ways to increase their power and influence. They should conduct routine research such as culture and engagement surveys and focus groups to be able to more effectively convey the needs and concerns of employees. This leads to our fourth recommendation:
4) Internal communicators should pursue more strategic roles such as research and internal boundary spanning as a way to increase their power and influence.
One sign of a more strategic role for internal communication we found in our study is the routine use of surveys to assess the company or organization’s performance related to core values, engagement and culture. While the trend was reported in a previous qualitative study (Neill, 2015), it was more prevalent in the companies and organizations included in this study. These finding lead to our final recommendation:
5) Employers should look for ways to embed their core values in the culture, such as including employees in the process of creating and updating the values, as well as including core values in employees’ annual performance reviews.
Integrated communication is essential for companies and organizations to communicate consistent messages to their stakeholders, which can result in perceptions of integrity and transparency. However, for internal communication to serve a strategic role and ensure that employees are not overlooked, internal communicators need to be treated as equals among their peers in media relations, social media and other external communication disciplines.
Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor University. Follow her on Twitter @neillpr.
Hua Jiang, Ph.D., is an associate professor in Department of Public Relations, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Follow her on Twitter @HuaJiangSU.