The Agency Business:Making sure employees are in the loop about firm activities

To be meaningful, staff communications should be habitual and formal, but that doesn't mean they have to be boring. Erica Iacono finds some engaging ways for firms to keep employees informed

To be meaningful, staff communications should be habitual and formal, but that doesn't mean they have to be boring. Erica Iacono finds some engaging ways for firms to keep employees informed

PR is all about communication: communication with the media, communication with the public, and communication with clients. And for many firms, it doesn't end there. Making sure staffers are well-informed of all agency activity is as much a priority as developing and executing a well-crafted campaign.

At Makovsky & Co., one method for doing so is a monthly staff meeting. "We pay very careful attention to employee activity and morale," says president Ken Makovksy.

The first part of meetings informs the company's nearly 40 employees about routine company business, such as client wins and highlights from the different practices, as well as the celebration of birthdays and recognition of outstanding employees. Makovsky says that the second portion of the meeting involves a Q&A session with a guest speaker; past ones have included editors from Fortune, Business Week, and The New York Times.

Ted Birkhahn, partner and senior director at Peppercom, says the agency started a companywide newsletter, PepperCompass, a little more than a year ago. "We realized we needed a more regular and formal communications structure within the agency," he says. The newsletter combines information about the agency, such as account wins, along with more lighthearted information, like profiles of employees. A recent issue even featured pictures of staff members from 20 years ago.

Although the firm has monthly staff meetings in the New York office, during which the London and San Francisco offices are patched through, Birkhahn says the newsletter supplements those talks. "Staff meetings are good for communicating certain information, but not everything," he says. "Now we don't feel forced to jam everything under the sun into staff meetings. It makes [them] more efficient."

Alan Taylor Communications also uses newsletters. Its monthly PRogress includes tips on pitching, clips, personnel announcements, and upcoming events, says Erin Weinberg, managing partner. In addition, the agency also sends a newsletter on Fridays, titled Closing Bell, which details new account wins and new business opportunities. Communication to employees is especially important, Weinberg says, given the recent opening of an office in Charlotte, NC, late last year. "Keeping them as part of the team has been something we've been very aware of," she says. "It's important that, at the end of the day, it's still one agency."

In addition to newsletters, some firms use an intranet to communicate important information. Fred Cook, president and CEO of GolinHarris, said the agency's internal site has a section called CEO Corner, in which employees can post questions anonymously. "That's a good way to get any kind of question," he says. "I try to address them all in a way so the answers will be meaningful." A few months ago, the agency started an internal blog, called Golinnovation, building on this year's agencywide theme of innovation.

Updated by a team across several offices, the blog has separate sections: Golinnovation celebrates good ideas from within the agency, Big Ideas features good marketing concepts from other agencies, and Inspiration addresses ways to foster brainstorming.

Within the past year, Chandler Chicco Agency has become more diligent about employee communications, says Amanda Cote. "We found that only a handful of people always knew what was going on," she says. "We wanted to make sure we had a better knowledge-management system in place."

One of those methods is the C3 (Culture, Communications, and Channels) Broadcast, an e-mail that is sent out each Monday. The newsletter comprises different sections dedicated to company news, media hits, team highlights, pictures and write-ups of new employees, and Celebrity Spotlight, a section that details celebrity sightings in the neighborhood near the agency's New York City office. Cote says the success of C3 Broadcast - nearly 95% of employees read it - led to the development of the agency's intranet.

One thing to keep in mind when communicating with employees is to make sure it's a two-way street, says Cook. "It's not just one-way communications. I also want to inspire a grassroots level of involvement. If it's just information going from me to the organization, it's not nearly as effective."

"You can send newsletters out until you're blue in the face," he adds, "but unless you get someone responding to them and acting on them, it doesn't make a difference."

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Effective employee communications

  • Distribute information in an easy-to-read format - e-mail or intranet

  • Make such communications as newsletters or staff meetings consistent, whether it's every week or every month

  • Develop communication vehicles that allow room for employee feedback
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