The blurring lines between internal and external comms

As other parts of marketing come together, so must internal and external relations.

Historically, internal communications and public and media relations were not always aligned and often were located in separate departments. Sometimes, our caregivers first learned about important issues by reading the local newspaper. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then.

In some cases, internal communications is housed in human resources and media and PR often sits in marketing departments. Although many of the lines between marketing, communications, public relations, and digital communications are blurring, I’m going to focus on internal and external comms because I think we, as communicators, need to do a better job aligning the same messages to the public as we do to caregivers.

For example, Cleveland Clinic created its narrative a few years back. This stands as our "corporate story" and how we talk about ourselves as a healthcare system. It was created by doctors, nurses, leaders, board members, and included perspectives from key stakeholders and patients, as well. For some reason, however, this was viewed as a document to be used externally. Most likely, that occurred because the effort was led by the public relations team. We missed the opportunity to engage our employees and help them embrace our story, build them as ambassadors, or ask them to help us share it.

Today, we’re on a communication transitional journey. We started with a deep commitment to improving the focus on the measurement of our comms efforts to determine the real value and impact on Cleveland Clinic from awareness, to patient volume, to employee engagement.

More recently, we began a transformation from traditional media relations to a digital strategy that will help us enhance our ability to tell more of our own stories to the public and to the media with the goal of amplifying our news coverage to the greatest extent.

My latest focus and one of our department’s priorities is to build "one team" by blending our communications efforts so we are a strong communications unit that is well positioned for the future.

One example of this effort is our focus on telling compelling patient stories externally that highlight clinical innovation, which can also serve as a great internal story that highlights our caregiver’s great work to help a patient.

Internally, this story focused more on the caregiver than the patient and profiled the great lengths our staff went to help those involved as well as linked to the video story. From the comments, our caregivers shared a great sense of pride in working for Cleveland Clinic.

We don’t yet have all of the answers as we move along our journey, but I will suggest a few ideas. Learn together as a team and share as much as possible. Learn from others outside of your industry and steal their great ideas. (Surely, they will be flattered). Engage with your leaders to know their priorities and develop communication strategy for all. Finally, take it slow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint if you want to get it right.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at the Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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