I am a psychologist, working as a professor of marketing while my research and academic orientation is mainly focused on public relations. In all of these fields, my respective colleagues consider internal communication a part of their domain. Psychologists in the area of organizational behavior study and teach organizational communication. I have continuous discussions with my colleagues in marketing who don’t believe in internal communication, only in internal marketing. Other professors, further down the hall, think internal communication is simply a tool used in human resources management.

When we asked practitioners (in a Delphi study of the leaders of European associations on internal communication conducted by Tkalac Verčič, Verčič & Sriramesh, 2012) where does internal communication belong, they revealed a host of areas such as human resources, change management, organization development, public relations, marketing and general management, corporate human resources, corporate strategy, and corporate communication. The study also revealed nomenclature issues that reflect my point – the area has been described as internal communication, internal communications, or employee engagement, but also as internal marketing, internal public relations, business communications, employee communications, employee relations, relations with internal publics, corporate communications, leadership communications and management communications.

Internal communication is surely not the only field of study with such issues, so why is this even worth mentioning? Well, I believe that an area of practice (and subsequently – study) that doesn’t have firm roots in a more established area of practice, experiences various growing pains. Like a kid without a family, it goes from hand to hand and no one really takes good care of it. What does an internal communication specialist need to know? Mary Welch offers an interesting framework in recent issue of Public Relations Review, but this topic needs to be explored further. How do you specialize for this area of practice? Is it something that you need specific skills for, specific theories, specific tools? Or is it just something you do when it was added to your original job with a marketing/human resources/journalist background.

Practitioners that work in the field of internal communication have pressing everyday issues to deal with, and are probably less concerned with the position of their discipline in various business school or communication department curricula. So, even though academic programs in business and communication studies often follow where practice leads, in this case I believe that approach is wrong. Someone needs to become accountable for internal communications. If professors of marketing or human resource management consider this their domain, they should introduce internal communications as a mandatory course into their curricula. If on the other hand public relations specialists see this as a logical extension of their work – why are there so few courses on internal communications in public relations programs? In spite of certain positive examples (Ruck and Yaxley describe significant improvements in education and training, such as postgraduate programs at Kingston University in London, specialists’ certificate offered by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations of a Masters qualification in internal communication management by the University of Central Lancashire), that is not enough. For example neither the Report of the PRSA 1999 Commission on PR Education (A Port of Entry) or the more recent Report of the Commission on Public Relations Education (Standards for a Master’s Degree in Public Relations, 2012) mention internal communication as a significant area of study.

So, until someone finally adopts internal communications (and by someone I mean public relations academics) it will be everybody’s baby and that, in fact, means – nobody’s baby.

Dr. Ana Tkalac is professor of economics and business, University of Zagreb.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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