How did you start your career and what led you to internal communication (IC)? The path is often a varied one, but a popular route for comms pros is from journalistic backgrounds, as I did. When I heard that British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) broadcast journalist Mike Ramsden had made the move, I got in touch with him to ask him to share his thoughts on both roles, highlighting the similarities and differences.
It’s important to note that there’s no ‘correct route’ to IC, and I think the variety of backgrounds and experience you discover in comms teams adds to the richness. Regular readers will know that I’m an advocate of high standards in comms teams and particularly for IC pros to create and be given opportunities to develop themselves professionally. People often search my blog looking for comms career advice and it’s a topic I regularly write about.
If you’re looking for more information, see my posts tagged career and check out the good work underway by CIPR Inside on career pathways. I’ve listed additional reading at the foot of this article and my resources page lists courses and recommended reads if you’re looking to know more about internal communication.
Mike (pictured) was a broadcast journalist with BBC News, presenting and reporting on TV, radio and online since 1995. He made the switch to internal communication 18 months ago, becoming Head of Content and Production at Direct Line Group. Here are Mike’s thoughts…
The one truth about internal communication
A year and a half ago, I left a career in broadcast journalism for a job in internal communication. It was a huge change. The language of business was unfamiliar, and I was outside my comfort zone. But I guessed that would be the case, and prepared myself to learn a new trade, at the heart of a business going through profound change.
I asked lots of questions. I read around the subject. I tried to apply some universal truths about communicating.
After a few weeks, the job started to make sense. I saw where my experience in journalism could improve the way people communicated inside the business. I’ve learnt a lot, but I’m going to talk about one truth that I kept returning to, and it applies as much to internal communication as it does to journalism:
Start with the needs of the audience.
I began my job by trying to understand the people who were receiving the messages I was writing. The majority were highly-skilled communicators in call centres, making the complex understandable, in a highly regulated environment, with every aspect of their performance on the phone measured, reviewed and rated. A difficult job.
I watched, listened and discussed their needs. It became obvious there was little time in their working day for messages that took a lot of effort to comprehend. That sounded familiar – it was the same as a news audience.
What’s the point in writing something, if the person you’re writing it for won’t read it? If a message is full of jargon, complex language, and stuffy phrasing, people will turn off. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching TV or reading the company intranet. They still have the control of the on/off button.
But it’s not just how you write, it’s what you write, and the way you choose to communicate.
In a busy working day, bombarded with pieces of information, what does the audience of employees really need to know?
A TV news bulletin doesn’t contain everything that’s happened that day – an editor has made a judgment on what they think is most relevant to the people who watch. So I applied that principle to internal communication.
There were some difficult conversations with people who passionately believed their well-meant fact sheet should merit a poster campaign and a message from the chief executive. But did it really matter to the audience? Did it need to contain every single piece of information related to the topic? In short, was it relevant, timely and easy to understand?
If not, no point in sending out the message.
Those editorial decisions produce benefits. Suppose a fact sheet takes five minutes to digest. Some of the more conscientious employees read right through to the end, taking ten minutes. Now suppose that fact sheet can be summed up in seven seconds; “Snow is forecast. Speak to your manager if you think it might be a problem getting to work”. An editorial decision has saved thousands of people a few minutes. Good for business, right?
Of course, there are many other similarities between the disciplines. Both work well when the framework of storytelling is at the heart of their messaging. Both are in the process of being transformed by social media.
What really surprised me was how much overlap there is. Sure, they have different audiences. But both those audiences have their own needs. And that’s a good place to start.
Post author: Mike Ramsden
Thank you for your article Mike. Some sage advice there and the crossover is clear to see. I particularly like your description of the editorial decision process and can see how that adds real value. Want to comment on what Mike has written? You’re welcome to below, or tweet me @AllthingsIC.
Continuing professional development
A couple of people have asked me recently whether I recommend continuing professional development (CPD). This is on-the-job learning and speaking from personal experience, I’ve just completed the first year of the two-year scheme from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). It allows you to accrue CPD points for a wide range of activities such as attending events, webinars and reading appropriate books.
You need to accrue 60 points each year of the two-year initiative and you work towards becoming an accredited practitioner. Members are also able to access on-demand webinars, which are worth five points each and are packed full of information. This is invaluable if you’re looking to develop yourself professionally in your own time. Read more info about the scheme.
I read in the annual review from the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) the other week that they will be introducing CPD too. I welcome this news, which I think underlines the recognition in the comms community that alongside courses and qualifications, IC pros are keen to continuously learn and constantly improve.
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Guest article archive