The state of the internal communication sector

What’s the state of the internal communication sector? What’s the most popular channel, the role of line managers and future of the profession?

Today Gatehouse published its eighth annual State of the Sector study. It provides an interesting and valuable snapshot of internal communication.

Use it to benchmark and spark conversations in your team and organisation.

What do I think?
I’m not overly surprised by the results as they mirror conversations I have with clients, contacts and friends.

The lack of measurement capabilities and doubts over enterprise social network use sound familiar. It’s always useful to have stats to hand, so I hope you find this study helpful.

Do Tweet me @AllthingsIC or comment below to let me know what you think.

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The state of the internal communication sector

Lee Smith (pictured) is Gatehouse’s co-founder and is here to share the findings with readers of the All Things IC blog.

Lee SmithLee knows his onions about IC and I’ve known him for seven years. I was delighted to discover we were both being named Fellows of the Institute of Internal Communication last month.

Well done to the Gatehouse team for this study, I’ll hand you over to Lee…

State of the Sector study 2016

With a record number of responses from hundreds of practitioners and a diverse range of organisations around the world, our State of the Sector study provides a unique perspective on the state of our profession at the start of 2016.

SOTS 2016

According to the research, the most common home for IC within an organisation today is as part of an integrated corporate communication or corporate affairs function, a response chosen by a third of respondents.

Just one in five sit within HR, and this has remained static year-on-year. This may explain in part why less than half of respondents said they are involved in supporting employee engagement.

Of course, employee engagement is about much more than communication – but aspects of communication like strategic narrative, strong visible leadership and engaging managers are undeniably key drivers of engagement, so IC professionals have considerable influence in this area, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Once again, this research has shown that internal communication isn’t always planned in a rigorous or strategic way.

Less than half of those surveyed have a written annual communication plan and even fewer have key building blocks like a clearly documented channel framework (42%), longer term strategy (37%) or defined value proposition.


Strategic narrative, context and line of sight

Although helping employees understand the strategy is considered a top priority for most IC teams, many respondents admitted that they struggled to convey more than the ‘big picture’.

Understanding of vision and values was rated highest (64% positive) but just under half (49%) agreed that understanding of the overall strategy was good or very good.

Only 38% felt employees had a good understanding of the contribution they were making to the organisation’s strategy – suggesting that there is much more work required to connect frontline employees to the strategy and show where they fit.

Similarly, just over a quarter (27%) thought employees had a good understanding of why senior leaders made the decisions they do, a real issue when it comes to driving through change.

Building line manager capability


We’ve all heard talk of the ‘frozen middle’ or ‘cement layer’ and so it was no surprise that a lack of line manager communication skills was highlighted as the number one barrier to success (selected by 59%).

What was concerning, however, is that only a quarter of practitioners identify communication training for line managers as part of their responsibility.

This represents a significant gap in our professional repertoire – line managers are a vital part of the internal communication and employee engagement mix and, as IC professionals, we have to play a part in tackling this by providing the knowledge, skills, tools, support and content this vital group needs to be effective.

Interestingly, although the research showed that most organisations have dedicated channels for this audience, they are mainly one-way – focused on cascading information, rather than stimulating a conversation.

Enterprise social networks (ESNs)
Our channel-focused research suggests that, while ESNs like Yammer, Chatter and Jive are now far more widely available than in previous years, so far their impact on organisational communication has been fairly muted.

Nearly three-quarters confessed that adoption levels are quite low – and 83% said that usage was concentrated in pockets around the organisation.

This echoes what we have found in audit after audit over the past 12-18 months – these tools (ESNs) may now be available to large numbers of employees, but it seems that few are actively using them.


Other headlines

  • Printed employee magazines are now used by just 40% of communicators, but interestingly they are seen as an effective channel by nearly 70% of those who have one.
  • Print appears to be in terminal decline.
  • Video is on the rise. It’s the second most used content delivery method, next to the intranet and seen as one of the most effective channels.

Measurement & evaluation
Although it was good to see that only a very small proportion of respondents (12%) now say they don’t measure their communication activities in any way, a much healthier result than in previous years, it was surprising to discover that just 38% provide their stakeholder with regular activity reports.

In the absence of a formal way of demonstrating the value of internal communication, most respondents recognise that their measurement is neither structured nor systematic.

It also appears as largely metric-based – focused more on output than outcomes. Perhaps most depressing here is the fact that employee engagement surveys remain the most frequently cited method used to measure impact (used by 65% of respondents).

Not only are these big set-piece surveys rarely owned by the IC team, but typically the number of questions directly relating to communication can be counted on one hand!

Once again, it is clear that as professionals we need to raise the bar when it comes to measurement and evaluation.

Final words
So, what does all this tell us about the state of internal communication in 2016? On the plus side, we have seen some real improvements.

Professional confidence is improving – an impressive 76% now believe that the IC team is viewed by senior leaders as trusted advisors, and 70% said those at the top value what they do. Even more (79%) felt internal communication had a clear purpose within their organisation.

These are all positive signs and suggest that the professional inferiority complex we have suffered from in the past may at last be consigned to history.

However, there are once again some worrying and ominous signs, which suggest that our industry remains a relatively immature discipline despite its recent progress. As well as answering many questions, this research study has posed a number of its own.

Find out more
Find out more and download the whole report via Gatehouse’s website.


SOTS16 Gatehouse

Further reading on the All Things IC blog

Where’s internal communication headed?

Found this article useful? Why not share it on.

Post author: Lee Smith

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 February 2016.


  1. Kevin Ruck says:

    Very interesting and valuable report, thanks for sharing Rachel.

  2. Stephen Welch says:

    I agree with Kevin, this is great research. As a member of the Market Research Society, I am happy to endorse it’s findings – the quality and analysis of the data is robust and the findings are very insightful (unlike other sector surveys I have seen recently). Well done Lee and Rachel for becoming Fellows, you both deserve it as you certainly “know your onions about IC”

  3. Angela Sinickas says:

    This is a really good piece of research Rachel and Lee. I would like to do something similar in the US to see if there are any differences this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it is something we can collaborate on? Well done on becoming Fellows.

  4. andrew harvey says:

    Great report. VMA group’s annual state of the IC profession survey results are out soon which gives even more insights into the state of our profession. Hopwfully demonstrating tha we know our onions too!

  5. I’m looking forward to reading it Andrew, interested to see the similarities/differences, Rachel.

  6. Thanks Kevin, I thought so too. Always useful to have updated stats to hand, Rachel.

  7. Great post, I’m going to have to share this one with our followers. Especially like the stats on barriers around building line manager capability.

  8. Chuck Gose says:

    Great report. Dissappointed with lack of mention of digital signage which we at Stratacache have seen significant growth in over last year. Would be good to host webinar on results on ICology. Up for being on show Lee/Rachel?

  9. Rich Baker says:

    Andrew will be presenting VMA report at our IOIC summit on Friday. Tockets still available.

  10. alan says:

    All internal communicators and agencies should read this report. It sets the scene for what we need to do. Well done Rachel and Lee for becoming Fellows – awesome news!

  11. Thank you very much Alan, and for your support around wonky comms this week, Rachel

  12. John Townsend says:

    Very interesting stats, thanks for sharing. It’s a great overview and nice to have the infographics to spell it all out too. It Definitely got me thinking more about doing more comms training for managers in particular – this is undoubtedly a bit of a blind spot in the IC world.

  13. Thank you John, and congratulations on your award last week.

  14. Heather says:

    I agree with John. This report really helps you focus on what really matters. Since reading it I have refocussed my efforts on enabling our managers to communicate.

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