Internal comms is having to get more creative. If something new happens in your company, staff want employers to communicate fast and effectively. But as firms grow, effective communication may require something more than the traditional quarterly newsletter.
Many large corporates have already done so and, according to internal communications consultancy Beasyousay co-founder Dik Veenman, the use of art is playing an integral part in engaging staff. 'The idea is to explore artists' use of metaphor and imagery and show the clients how they can be creative. But don't call in the design agency before you've even thought about what you're doing,' he says.
Beasyousay puts its clients into workshops with artists, last year conducting one with Masterfoods Europe and digital artist Ivan Richards.
When Cadbury Schweppes European Beverages (CSEB) acquired France's Orangina, it worked with Hedron Consultancy to create a 'road map' of the firm representing different parts of the business and objectives.
'Hedron's idea of "big pictures" helped employees understand what had happened, and put it in context,' explains CSEB employee comms manager Carolina Gutierrez.
Meanwhile Lever Faberge is working with art bodies such as Liverpool's Royal Court theatre and Arts & Business, a not-for-profit body that helps businesses and the arts share expertise.
Furthermore, its own initiative, the Catalyst programme, allows employees to do courses in, for example, play-writing or visual art, in exchange for support for the arts in areas such as marketing. 'Catalyst is designed to make our traditional communications more effective,' explains Lever Faberge corporate and consumer affairs director John Ballington.
Initiating a creative buzz
BSkyB group head of internal comms Hamish Haynes' team promoted the firm's share scheme by distributing bags of chocolate coins on workers' desks early one morning, followed by an email explaining the scheme. 'For a few moments, it created a buzz, a sense of inquiry,' he says, 'but without the coins, the information would have fallen on stony ground. You have to open the door a crack, then hit them quick.'
Yet face-to-face communication is still widely regarded as the most effective method. Burger King International began its ongoing Fit For Gold campaign early last year. In June, it held seven business updates across the UK, explaining how a small change in working practices could reap big rewards in performance. BKI's then president, Andre Lacroix, senior UK management and between 60 and 120 employees attended each workshop in sports centres and, by way of introduction, showed a film of Dick Fosbury's gold-medal winning high-jump at the 1968 Olympics.
'Face-to-face motivational sessions work really well,' says BKI senior comms director Kai Boschmann. 'But they only work as part of a wider comms programme as the different elements need to feed off each other.'
This type of communication is particularly useful during change in a company. The way to ensure the successful conveyance of news is to ensure that the workforce already understands it because they've been involved in it. Nevertheless, you can only have meaningful discussions when people have received the courtesy of the same message as the board. Everyone should get the message from the top.
Since this method is not always practical, it has encouraged alternative innovation in more traditional channels. Last year, BAE Systems' Air Systems division introduced videotaped news bulletins in the style of BBC regional news programmes with interviewers questioning the firm's new top management over organisational changes. The bulletins were used to get discussions going at team briefings.
Elsewhere, pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline used a mixture of satellite broadcasting and webcasting for its research and development presentation to analysts and at its round-up of the firm's activities. The latter reached 37,000 employees worldwide, says corporate internal comms V-P Elaine Macfarlane. GSK plans to show future presentations on every employee's computer.
Traditional comms are still being used but, says BAE Systems employee involvement comms director Stephen Windsor-Lewis, who is also chairman of the Internal Communications Alliance, a sectoral group of the IPR, it's harder to be innovative in print compared to other media channels.
Using the humble noticeboard in a targeted way can still be an important method but, as people don't tend to read large amounts of text, you need to make sure you still catch people's attention.
Macfarlane agrees these traditional channels will continue to have a role in the comms mix. More importantly, innovative internal comms does not have to be expensive. She points out that to run a satellite broadcast to 37,000 employees costs approximately £2.70 per person.
Evaluation of internal comms methods remains key. Comms teams can track who is reading emails or viewing websites, and intranets can also be used to do qualitative or quantitative surveys. But it's important to build the benchmarks for evaluation into the campaign during the planning stage.
Taking account of the big and small picture is imperative. Ballington stresses that investing a lot of time on smaller teams, and what they are interested in, has paid off. 'We need to reflect a balance of what's important to each team, and a balance between what's important to them and head office,' he says. While creativity can go a long way to capturing staff attention, the uniformity of what you are communicating is equally important.
INNOVATIVE IDEAS THAT DON'T COST A FORTUNE
1 Try some level of humour, preferably with face-to-face contact.
BSkyB sent former Sky Scotland contact centre director Mike Hughes to its two contact centres in Dunfermline and Livingstone on a bicycle delivering ice-creams to bemused staff last summer as a way to thank them for their work
2 Look at the symbols that your buildings give out. Do your employees have tired meeting/training rooms while your customers have state-of-the-art reception areas? Maybe employees can have some creative spaces too
3 Create a visible ideas scheme on the back page of your newsletter or ideas boards throughout your buildings so people don't have to search to contribute their ideas
4 Use newspaper bins with headlines (a la Evening Standard) to advertise what's in your employee newsletter/mag
5 Ask your directors/senior management to lunch with a random selection of your workforce on a regular basis to hear their priorities
6 Develop a weekly summary email of all important news with links to other sources as the key reference point to avoid bombarding people with news
7 Target communications at where people spend time on the move, in their cars, or communal areas, to catch them when they are going about their normal business. Use 'wobblers' - small cards attached to the top of computer screens by plastic strips, which are literally 'in your face'
8 Use visual metaphors to grab people's attention, eg the yellow cards used by the BBC as part of the Make it Happen programme to reduce bureaucracy last year
9 Share marketing data (customer research and insight) with internal departments so that your people know what's uppermost in their customers' minds
10 Go to galleries, try to understand what the artists are trying to do and what it provokes in you. Challenge yourself to think more creatively.
Does your role require you to seek innovative ways to engage your employees? Learn how to empower employees and put them at the heart of your organisation at PRWeek's Strategic Internal Communications conference in November. Click here to find out more