PRVision.tv - Good comms begins at home

In the latest of our series of PRWeek video discussions, comms experts from L'Oreal and Westminster City Council focus on the importance and essentials of internal comms.

However distinct and remote from each other the public and private sectors appear to be, comms experts from both sides of the fence still agree on the importance of internal comms.

As Louise Terry, group director, internal and external comms, L'Oreal UK & Ireland, says: 'Employees are our first audience.'

As a discipline it may not grab the headlines, but getting internal comms right is essential when dealing with unexpected challenges during a crisis, she explains: 'L'Oreal is a hugely well known brand. It's in the press a lot and, of course, our employees know that. We can talk a lot about our values but when, perhaps, they read something different in the press it is very important that we talk to them about us being an ethical company, having integrity and how we do things in a certain way.'

In this sense, the complaints that the Advertising Standards Authority received about L'Oreal Paris ads in 2009, in which Cheryl Cole promoted a volumising shampoo while wearing hair extensions, were a turning point.

Terry recalls: 'We realised that our employees were going to be asked about this in the pub or outside work. We have spent a lot of effort since then on making sure that every time there is an issue that appears in the media regarding the safety of cosmetics, the ethics of cosmetics, animal testing - any issue that they could be asked about - they are equipped with very straightforward, honest answers.'

The issues may be different but in the public sector, internal comms is just as important in a crisis, says Alex Aiken, director of comms and strategy at Westminster City Council.

As he explains, any major crisis that affects central London involves Westminster as the local authority: 'We learned three lessons from our experience in the past year or so. One is honesty - there's no point in saying to colleagues that it's going to be all right when they can see on the television that it's not.'

He adds that you also need to give employees a sense of fairness and a sense of hope: 'This is where internal campaigns come in. In a time of cutbacks, you can say: we are also running this initiative. If you can help us reduce spending in non-essential areas then it's more likely that we can keep some of you in jobs. That's good for the public service and it's good for you.'

Both Aiken and Terry think that technology and digital media provide tools for effective internal comms but should not be a default choice.

Westminster does use an intranet and social media platforms but meetings play a role too.

Aiken says: 'Every member of staff - if asked - will say I want messages from my immediate manager. Big tick there - face-to-face comms. Supporting that is absolutely a cornerstone of what we do.'

Panellists

- Alex Aiken Director of comms and strategy, Westminster City Council

- Louise Terry Group director, internal and external comms, L'Oreal UK & Ireland

- Host Philip Smith, head of content solutions, PRWeek

Top internal comms tips

1. Have regular surveys - understand staff opinion

2. Act upon promises - make sure there is follow-up

3. Celebrate success - make your own stars and make sure they are seen to be rewarded

4. Variety is important

5. Avoid corporate speak, particularly if you have to deliver bad news

6. Contact must be regular - repeatedly engage with employees

Watch prvision.tv to see the show and hear about the power of video, internal comms in PR teams, competitions and incentives

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