Defending our Turf… or leapfrogging into leadership

With all the talk about a convergence of internal and external communication, there’s a lot of reason for IC folk to feel beleaguered, to feel a need to “defend our turf.”

So says Mike Klein, Principal of Changing The Terms, a Netherlands-based consultancy focused on internal communications.

A dual US-UK citizen with an MBA from London Business School, Mike has worked with top global organisations including Cargill, Shell, easyJet, Maersk and Avery Dennison, and is the Europe-Middle East-North Africa chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

He’s here to share his views on the blurring, the opportunities and leadership. I’m curious to know what you think, you’re welcome to comment below or you can find him on Twitter @mklein818.

I’ll hand you over…

Defending our Turf…or leapfrogging into leadership

In this “blurring of the lines”, there is also a great deal of opportunity for internal communicators to take their deep and solid understanding of internal audience dynamics, and to integrate it into broader communication strategies and roles.

Ultimately the case for people with deep IC grounding for leapfrogging into the key prizes in the worlds of communication leadership – the most exalted senior communicator roles and leadership positions, is becoming increasingly credible.

But can IC folk move credibly and quickly into these opportunities? And what are the essentials that they need to thrive?

I’m not an expert on IC career mobility – I am quite happy as an IC consultant who also does a fair amount of work on external messaging. But I have worked with enough senior in-house and agency communicators to have a sense of what IC folk would need to make the leap.

1)   Vocabulary

External communication and public relations have their own vocabularies, one that is often distinct from what is used in internal communication. While few students explicitly study internal communication as an academic subject, public relations is a popular major and that means there are models and words that are used much more commonly in the PR world than ours. IC folk need to learn the PR vocabulary.

2)   Comfort with data

Companies are very willing to invest in commercial data gathering, and consequently, external comms folk often have more data familiarity than IC folks – who often struggle to get access to analytical tools, and, when available, find that the measures they offer are frequently of peripheral value.

3)   Connections

When I worked in politics, I was often advised to “have as many friends to the right of you as you do to the left of you.” It was sound advice, and applies to the IC/PR divide as well. It’s easy for IC folk to conspire and commiserate with each other.

But cross-functional friendships present great opportunities for sanity checking and cross-fertilisation, and also can turbocharge one’s professional networks.

4)   Global awareness

Even if you plan to stay in IC, recognising that organisations don’t exist in a vacuum is critical. They are creatures of their dominant national cultures and the same time, win through understanding of global trends and local tastes.

These four are all substantial opportunities. Cultivating all of them takes time. There are nonetheless ways to accelerate the process;

One I recommend particularly is to join a multi-disciplinary professional association.

As the EMENA Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), I acknowledge it’s a bit self-serving to say this. But being in a professional organisation that is welcoming to internal communicators while offering knowledge and networks that go beyond a narrow IC remit is a pathway to getting the words, numbers and connections to build a wider career path.

IABC isn’t the only organisation that offers such pathways – CIPR in the UK is excellent as well. But IABC is the only player that offers this opportunity on a global basis.

A case in point takes place on 10-12 February 2019, when we host our first ever EMENACOMM regional conference in Bahrain.

Sure, Bahrain’s a plane ride away. But what’s on offer is an opportunity to spend several days with an unprecedented diversity of speakers and communicators – crossing disciplines, cultures and geographies. In short, it offers one opportunity to seize these opportunities simultaneously.

To register, visit

What we bring to the table

The most important thing, in any case, is to recognise that what we IC folk bring to the table is unique – the understanding we have of internal dynamics and their impact on how they enable their organisations to deliver.

This understanding alone won’t get us to the C-suite. But it can be a great launchpad to leapfrog those who lack it,  if the other needed understandings are in place. And the road to those understandings could very well go through Bahrain.

Post author: Mike Klein.

Changing The Terms is a co-sponsor of the Gorilla Games internal communication essay contest.

Thank you Mike.

Further reading about internal communication via All Things IC:

First published on the All Things IC blog 29 November 2018.


  1. Mike Klein says:

    And thank you, Rachel! Few things would make me happier than to see IC folk taking a greater number of senior comms leadership roles in the coming years

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