How do you execute internal announcements that also reach out to external audiences?

When releasing internal messages always be prepared for them to reach external audiences and have a team on standby to answer questions from the media.

Jen Prosek, Managing partner, Prosek Partners

Alanson Van Fleet, SVP corporate communications, Wells Fargo

Paige Wesley, VP, marketing and comms, International Association of Business Communicators

James Whaley, SVP, communications and marketing, Siemens

Carreen Winters, EVP, corporate communications, MWW Group

Jen Prosek, managing partner, Prosek Partners
We live in a world of glass houses. If you don't want people to know you are up to something, just don't do it.

Being a transparent, best-in-class company means communicating - often over-communicating - with employees. But the irony is, despite all this communicating, there really is no such thing as internal comm-unications anymore and companies must assume any internal message will end up in the public domain.

In fact, firms are using internal comm-unications as an external strategy. Many clients know the internal communication will quickly reach the outside world - in some cases, actually replacing the need for official press releases.

This is not meant to be sneaky or underhanded, it's more of a new philosophy or way of thinking. Here's how it works:

  • Assume the internal communication is a form of releasing news externally. Make sure released messages - either internal or external - don't contradict each other. You should consider external releases to be "sidecars"- offering more context, information, references, and spokespeople.

  • Think of internal announcements as a way to amplify good news immediately via social media channels through employees.

    Remember, when internal news is sensitive, be ready with your holding statements and have spokespeople standing by. Monitor everything or your employees will know things first, and you will be left behind. Employees have become in many organizations the most important audience. Each one is an ambassador and an individual media outlet in his or her own right. Think of employees as the first and most important spokespeople in strategic communications.

Alanson Van Fleet, SVP corporate communications, Wells Fargo
In today's critical spotlight, the approach a company uses to communicate its efforts to be a responsible corporate citizen is increasingly important. This is particularly true if you are a big bank.

Success depends on having good programs and initiatives to communicate and on choosing storytelling approaches that resonate well with internal and external audiences. For Wells Fargo, this approach comes with an intentional twist.

Our CSR communications abide by the inside-out strategy of informing and involving internal audiences prior to publicly communicating newsworthy events. Occasionally, this approach results in unwanted leaks, but increasingly we plan and construct internal announcements as if they were headed to the newsroom across town.

Because Wells Fargo's philanthropic, environmental, and community development initiatives are strategically focused on community-based solutions, with relatively little emphasis on broad national programs, we adopt an additional dimension to the familiar inside-out formula.

Here's our inside-out, downside-up storytelling strategy. For example, earlier this year Wells Fargo launched a series of Neighborhood programs in nine metropolitan areas hit hard by the housing crisis. Funded through the Wells Fargo Foundation, these programs have provided $79 million in down payment assistance and financial education for potential first-time home-owners or people re-entering the market. From a PR perspective, communications took place inside-out, starting with internal announcements to key audiences to inform them and prepare them for questions that might come their way.

Media relations strategies were focused on local markets using grassroots PR and no national news releases.

This inside-out, downside-up approach reflects our company's community-solutions approach to CSR work.

The PR results for Neighborhood included 18 internal announcements covering local events and results, 665 news items across nine major metropolitan outlets, 138.1 million media impressions, 96% positive tone, and 4.7 million social media tracking impressions.

Paige Wesley, VP, marketing and comms, International Association of Business Communicators
I must have been a loud-mouthed kid. My mother always told me to think before I speak. That's a principle that professional communicators should have tattooed on their wrists. Written or verbal, our words have an impact far beyond the intended audience.

A colleague recently said that "Communications is the ability to respond to the differences and the variances." The added challenge is to have the foresight to anticipate audience reaction. Unless what you've written is embargoed, a communiqué to an internal audience should be as transparent as possible, allowing media, investors, and customers to read the same message.

Communicating is about writing a story that answers questions, invites dialogue, and is open to conversation.

There is no better vehicle to add to your communication mix than the social media release. Embedding links to videos and interviews and using infographics gives depth and context.

An excellent example of communicating through one platform to all audiences can be found when Petrobras, the leader in Brazil's oil sector, underwent a parliamentary investigation. The communications team launched a facts and data blog, reaching employees, the press, and Brazilian society. The blog included journalists' questions and the corresponding answers, corrected misinformation, and presented stories as they were originally published. Writing for diverse audiences can be a challenge, but using vehicles that engage every- one in a deeper, more clarifying way can open a dialogue and move us to a greater level of organizational respect and trust.

James Whaley, SVP, communications and marketing, Siemens
In this age of instant information sharing via social media channels, the line between internal and external communications is quickly fading away. The reality is that anything created for sharing inside the company stands a good chance of being shared outside as well.

From the perspective of the media, this is a positive change. After all, information shared with employees must be more interesting and relevant than what the company says in a press release, right?

Siemens pays very close attention to how communications are crafted. What is communicated to employees is honest, but not proprietary, and contains the same messaging as our external communications. In fact, we sometimes post our CEO's employee letters on his Facebook page to make sure that the outside world hears Siemens news directly from leaders. This creates not only transparency, but it helps build trust with employees who see that what we're saying to them isn't diff-erent from what we're saying externally. One thing we have changed in recent years is how we prepare for the certain dissemination of internal information outside the company. Through a comprehensive social media awareness program for employees, we are helping ensure that the company's most important ambassadors are aware of both the pitfalls and the opportunities in serving as de facto Siemens representatives online.

Our social media policy is binding for all employees, and a combination of informal video modules about social media at Siemens and a mandatory online training course are building up our employees' social media knowledge and confidence.

Carreen Winters, EVP corporate communications, MWW Group
Gone are the days when company management could tell employees one thing and reporters another. Now, it's not "if" internal announcements make news - it's when.

Social media gives the world an inside view of a company in real time. And everything that's said, read, and shared has an impact on reputation, which starts inside a company.

A recent MWW study found three out of four business leaders believe internal culture substantially drives corporate reputation. Despite this, only 5% believed their own organization's culture was strong enough to inoculate against crisis, leaving too many companies vulnerable. A strategic, transparent, and total stakeholder mindset to employee communications can go a long way to building a stronger culture, improving reputation, and driving business results. Three rules are:

  • Employees are the most important stakeholders. Employees are the universal touchpoint for everyone who matters to a company - customers, suppliers, partners, community members, even shareholders. Therefore, you must directly address the issues and rumors employees will inevitably need to address with their direct stakeholders.

  • Be strategic, not transactional. A strong culture requires sophisticated and frequent engagement with employees, so they feel valued, "in the know," and less likely to turn water cooler war stories into opinion pieces for The New York Times.

  • Put transparency first. The more trans-parent the culture, the less likely you'll be blindsided by leaks.
The Takeaway
  • When releasing internal messages always be prepared for them to reach external audiences and have a team on standby to answer questions from the media.

  • Identifying employees as your number one stakeholders and keeping them informed will mean fewer leaks to the outside world.

  • Transparency is crucial. Show employees and consumers that you are communicating the same messages externally and internally.

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