The reality of working in Internal Communication

Internal Communicators are “working blind and failing to demonstrate our value. Insight, measurement and evaluation is often rudimentary, and we remain focused on output rather than outcomes.”

Does that sound familiar to you? It’s one of the findings from this year’s State of the Sector Survey from Gatehouse. Every year it provides insight to help IC pros benchmark against each other and know what’s happening. This year’s survey had 820 responses from around the globe.

Today I have a guest post by Lee Smith, Director at Gatehouse to bring us up to speed on the latest findings. If you’ve attended my How to be a Comms Consultant Masterclasses or Strategic Internal Communication Masterclasses, you’ll know how I use the data to inform my work.

This is a long read, so grab a cup of tea or coffee. If you’re studying at the moment, this will be a valuable read for you.

I’m going to give you lots of resources at the end where you can read more about the issues highlighted in the survey via my blog. There’s significantly more responses this year, which is encouraging, but I’m wary of drawing comparisons to the numbers year-on-year.

It’s not a hugely positive read, but it’s reflective of how IC pros view the world today. If you want the TLDR version (too long, didn’t read), my summary is this:

Steady progress is being made in the IC world, but we’ve more work to do before the true value of internal communication is unlocked.

My solution? You need to be providing clarity in your internal comms. Too often I observe the fact the basics are missing – from defining what internal communication is, to who is responsible, how it works, the value it adds and the risks of not doing it. Add measurement, reputation management and insights gained from understanding its place in the wider context of organisational communication (including external), and you’re on the right tracks.

I’ve written it before and will no doubt write it for at least another 10 years on my blog… internal communication is too important to be left to one team, one department or one person. It is everyone’s responsibility. Internal Communication is not telling people what to do, it’s creating a shared understanding and meaning. Only then can employees align themselves to the company’s goals and purpose.

Right, I’m stepping off my soapbox and digging into the survey.

Ready? Let’s go…

Lee and his Co-Director Simon Wright have spent the past few weeks running preview sessions and talking through the headline results with communicators from around the world.

Lee and I caught up to allow him to catch his breath and update All Things IC’s readers with the findings and what they mean.

Reflecting on the state of internal comms

We’ve just published the findings of our 11th State of the Sector survey, now the biggest annual study of its kind in the internal communication space.

When we launched this research back in 2008, there was a distinct absence of insight into the fundamentals of internal communication – bread and butter stuff like channels, messaging, structure, budgets and professional priorities and challenges. (Yes! I was trying to do my postgraduate diploma in Internal Communication Management in 2008 and the lack of data was evident. It made writing my assignments super tricky! – Rachel).

As former in-house communicators, we were keen to plug this gap and provide some useful regular benchmarking for practitioners – hence State of the Sector was born. In the decade since then many similar surveys have emerged, but ours has grown to become the definitive study in the space, eagerly awaited each year by insight hungry communicators.

And what a fascinating journey it has been!

As in previous years, the results paint a picture of a profession in the throes of its adolescence.

We’re maturing, but at different speeds in different parts of the world.

This year we have called out six areas for improvement:

  1. We’re planning poor and obsessed with the short term. Generally speaking, we’re far too reactive and too focused on the here and now. Many of us don’t align what we do to the organisation’s strategy and we lack long term perspective and robust planning.
  2. We’re working blind and failing to demonstrate our value. Insight, measurement and evaluation is often rudimentary, and we remain focused on output rather than outcomes.
  3. We still haven’t won over senior leaders. There remains work to be done to win that coveted seat at the table. Despite rising confidence, we’re still not involved in business decisions or in change – and when we are we’re late to the party.
  4. We’ve all but surrendered the battle against poor line manager communication. Many communicators have hoisted the white flag and simply given up when it comes to improving line manager communication, despite this being named the single biggest blocker of success over the last decade.
  5. We’re beginning to realise digital isn’t the answer. There’s no doubt digital channels have failed to deliver on the promise of a few years ago – in fact they are making our jobs tougher and creating more internal noise and bandwidth issues for employees. Also, the harsh reality is that inside many large organisations, technology simply isn’t fit for purpose.
  6. We’re simply not investing enough. Incredibly, the very biggest organisations are earmarking a ‘chocolate bar budget’ to communicating with their employees – less than GB£1 per employee per month! We’re spending roughly the equivalent of a Mars bar when we know that it costs in the region of GB£35k – the price of a luxury car – to recruit and onboard a new employee.

(Does this resonate with you? Have you won over senior leaders? What’s your budget per employee? – Rachel)

These are, for us the areas where we should be focusing our professional energy, creativity and resources over the next 12 months and beyond.

Of course, there are positives to celebrate too:

  • Professional confidence is on the rise– 75% of us now say we have a clearly articulated purpose, 72% of us say IC is seen as a key driver of employee engagement, and 7 in 10 of us think leaders understand the value we bring and see us as trusted advisors. That level of self believe has got to be a good thing, even if it is built on shaky foundations!
  • This year has seen an increase in use of key planning tools like a 12 month tactical communication plan, channel framework, audience profiles and longer term strategies – so the direction of travel in this vitally important area is positive, albeit from a low start.
  • Communicators appear to be taking action to shelter employees from increased ‘organisational noise’ by streamlining and consolidating channels. They are also awake to the fact that digital is not always the answer and, in fact, can make the situation more challenging – which is no doubt one of the reasons we have seen a reduction in the use of some digital tools. Face-to-face channels are widely used and considered to be highly effective by the vast majority of communicators.

As an agency that works with many world leading organisations and practitioners, we see incredible examples every day of how and where internal communicators add value and make a difference.

When we’re operating at the top of our game we can move mountains and there are examples all around of excellence, great planning, enabling strategy, creativity, demonstrating value and influencing at the top level.

So there are many reasons to be cheerful.  Nevertheless, we hope that by shining the light on our collective areas for improvement, State of the Sector serves a useful purpose by pinpointing where we need to focus our attention and what we need to do to continue to evolve.

Thank you Lee. What do you think of the findings?

It’s clear there’s still a lack of understanding between outputs and outcomes – lots of measurement happening of the former, rather than the latter.

There are some areas in the survey which are alarming. I disagree we’re surrendered against the “battle of line manager communication” – all of the conversations I have in my Masterclasses and in bespoke sessions with teams reveal IC pros are working hard to equip their managers with tools, training and techniques to be better communicators.

Search terms for my All Things IC blog reveal readers are looking for information daily to help them work with their leaders. I dislike the battle mentality/language too, my view is that we need to be working in partnership with them, but that’s a whole other blog post!

Further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to help team leaders communicate.

I want to unpick some of these topics further in future blog posts. But I’m going to highlight some of the noteworthy areas below.

You can download the whole report via the Gatehouse website. You can also watch the findings via the IABC webinar:

2019 State of the Sector Report from IABC on Vimeo.

Here are some of the highlights…


Further reading via the All Things IC blog

Post author: Lee Smith.

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What do you think about what you’ve read? As ever, you’re welcome to comment below, or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Thank you for stopping by,




First published on the All Things IC blog 26 February 2019.

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