This guest blog post is written by Sean Williams in response to Dr. Ana Tkalac’s original post “Nobody’s Baby” and Ward White’s follow-up commentary.
Internal communication is frequently seen as of lesser value to organizations than external communication. IC professionals typically earn less, are at lower pay grades and struggle to transition to other PR disciplines. IC is seen, particularly by more quantitative executive managers as “nice to have,” a nonessential and nonstrategic department. Getting past these preconceptions is very hard work.
IC pros often reinforce these misconceptions by, well, being nonstrategic, non quantitative, and generally ignorant. This isn’t an active choice, mind, it’s a reflection of expectations on the part of PR leadership. IC can be a very tactical effort to SOS (send out stuff) rather than act as a source of workforce intelligence through research, a source of communication expertise to leaders and managers, and a source of influence on communication strategies.
These latter three strategies certainly affect the ability of the organization to attain objectives, and some of the research the IPR offers supports that contention. Employee engagement may or may not drive performance, though it seems from the research by Gallup, Towers Watson, The Hay Group and others that it might be correlated to it. This lack of a firm quantitative causality results in the c-suite simply not believing in these data, dismissing it as irrelevant in their particular industry, or objecting to it on the basis of lack of quantitative consideration of other influences on performance.
As regards the PR education piece, Kent State University’s online Master’s in Journalism/Mass Communication, in which I teach, includes an outstanding internal comms class created by the UK’s Heather Yaxley that delves quite deeply into organizational development literature. Here are the course objectives:
• Assess and apply a range of theoretical concepts and models to real life organizational situations
• Examine relevant psychological, management and other theories that underpin internal communications principles
• Critically examine approaches to engaging internal stakeholders (including management, employees and partner organizations) through internal communications activities
• Produce and measure the effectiveness of a variety of internal communication materials (including utilizing social media techniques)
• Develop an internal communications strategic plan to address a real life scenario (including undertaking formative research)
• Determine the impact of contemporary developments on the management of internal communications
PR grad students are surprised by the breadth and depth of this material. It’s a long, long way from the “babies and bowling scores” that characterized internal communication even at the start of my career in comms in the early 90’s.
Two things need to happen, urgently, in PR education:
First, PR students need to understand the role of communication (PR) broadly in organizations. They need to see PR not as a media relations or social media exercise, let alone a mere “party-planning” function. Internal communication needs to take an early part in the curriculum so that students understand its importance (and frequently superior ability to influence the course of an organization.)
Second, graduate education should offer concentration in internal comms, drawing from organizational development, knowledge management and information architecture, business management and finance. Modern internal communicators should be EXPERTS in how communication works in human systems, conversant in the ability to research, measure and evaluate its impact, and able to understand organizational performance, risk, and management in the context of communication tools, tactics and activities.
Sean Williams is an adjunct professor of public relations at Kent State University, a member of the IPR Measurement Commission and chair of the PRSA Employee Communications Section. You can follow him on twitter at @commammo.