What is internal communications and what kinds of roles are involved?
James Delves, head of public relations and engagement at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) tells PRWeek Jobs: "Internal communications is about linking business to its staff members and taking them in the direction the business wants to go in."
Mary Walsh, director of communications for Eurostar, likens it to a two-way loop in which the second part is, "harnessing ideas and feedback from staff because they are the people that have the answers."
It is certainly a role that has evolved. "In the early years it was seen as a ‘cookie cutter’ job where you would lift out key messages from corporate communications and paste them into a newsletter or press release," admits Delves.
You can find out more about what the day-to-day activities include in this typical job description of an internal communications manager.
What skills and qualifications are needed?
Writing skills: Being able to produce messages that are consistent and targeted as well as appropriate to the range of internal customers is key. Walsh says: "Not only must you be a good writer, but you need to be able to write for a variety of channels, whether it is for the intranet, social media or a newsletter."
Ali Phillips, director, group internal communications at Thomas Cook, adds that the days of being able to simply produce a bespoke newsletter have disappeared: "You can no longer produce reams of text, no-one wants to read that."
Listening: Delves says that listening skills are as important in his view as speaking ones: "You might be in a meeting with the head of finance for example who is aged 60 and at the same time an IT professional in their early 20s, so you need to able to listen to a wide range of people and understand what it is they are really saying and then develop messages that engages them both."
Collaboration: Walsh adds that being able to work in unison with your colleagues is vital: "Not only do you need to be able to work together with your team to produce the right kinds of content, but you also need to build relations to get the right feedback."
At Eurostar, Walsh talks of their dynamic intranet which is made available on mobile as well as desktop:
"This is particularly important for our remote working colleagues on board, in stations and at our depot as they are working shifts and, being able to access the intranet through their mobile devices is very useful. This has had a positive impact on the collaboration between colleagues and the relationship between teams in different parts of the organisation."
Creative: Walsh says: "Information is very fast-paced and pithy and there are so many channels to deliver it through that a core requirement is being creative with the content."
At Thomas Cook, Phillips was recently tasked with getting employee buy-in for a new hotel brand. "To bring it to life, we put on an event at a hangar in Manchester. That’s the fun thing about Thomas Cook, we can use some great locations. It was a truly immersive experience." The business also has a virtual, global townhall in which 26,000 employees patch in, to listen to key messages.
Communication: As well as having a flair for the written word, internal communications professionals must have strong speaking and presentation skills. Being able to ‘say no’ is vital too, says Phillips who explains: "You can’t just agree to everything, you must be able to stand up for what you feel is right."
You also must be able to work across functions. As Claire Ferguson, managing partner and head of agency communications, MediaCom UK, says: "It is a key but also complex role for any organisation. You must work horizontally across multiple departments and functions. For us the key roles are keeping the agency up to speed with business performance, training and development opportunities. Additionally, we work very closely with the people team on cultural initiatives."
Change management: Having a change attitude mindset is important. Phillips says: "Change is a huge part of internal communications and being able to convey that in a positive way is a real skill." Being able to empathise with staff when they are impacted by change is also crucial.
What routes can people take to land a role in internal communications?
The first place to look is digital job boards that are industry-bespoke. You can find the latest internal communications roles on PRWeek Jobs.
Graduate schemes and work experience are all valuable. Cross-discipline exposure including public affairs or journalism is attractive too. Phillips’ own background demonstrates this: "I had a journalism qualification and landed a role at Sky News, I then worked for the Prudential as their media manager before crossing over to travel with Tui and then Thomas Cook."
Ferguson agrees: "I worked as head of client services before taking this role, my position also covers marketing in a broader sense. It makes sense if people have had experience in a specialist, client facing or marketing area before, so that they have a deep understanding of the business." Delves admits that many people also fall into it from external communications.
Phillips doesn’t believe that qualifications are a must but agrees that a degree does display an element of "commitment and the ability to stick something out."
What does the future hold for internal communications careers?
As businesses fight for space in a crowded and highly competitive field, internal communications is increasingly becoming an important strategic tool: "If you have engaged and mobilised colleagues then you really can live the brand. The experience that our colleagues give at Eurostar to our customers really is the differentiator for the level of our success as a business, so we are very conscious that we can only achieve our goals if our colleagues buy into it," explains Walsh.
Phillips adds that internal communications is here to stay: "If you are asking me, will it still be here in 20 years then my answer is yes because people always need advice on how to convey strategy." In time Phillips believes video will be stronger than the written word.
Sarah Lee-Boone, associate director of people and organisational development at CIM, says that at the organisation, internal communications is already working closely with human resources: "As HR moves away from transactional roles it is starting to become embedded in internal communications and this is definitely what will continue in the future."
Over the years it has become more popular as a career choice rather than an afterthought, with digital channels offering further variety. If it sounds like a perfect fit for you then see the current roles on PRWeek Jobs.