As companies become more globalised internal communications departments
are turning to Intranets to ensure that employees get company
information in an instant. Danny Rogers reports
Let’s face it net surfing is no longer new. Although one is still
unlikely to hear the Internet being discussed down at the local
grocer’s, the novelty factor is lessening. Consequently organisations
are taking steps to control the new electronic media for their own use.
While the public Internet continues to be an essentially open and
chaotic medium and the growing number of corporate Web sites represent
largely passive communications tools, Intranets have the benefit of
distributing and sharing information in a secure environment.
Intranets are effectively Web sites where access is restricted to an
internal network. Information is held centrally so the audience does not
have to track down documents which can often be scattered across an
organisation. They can use browser software developed for the Internet.
Indeed, the public Internet may be the means of accessing this
‘The Internet is effective because it uses standardised language, tools
are widely available and telecoms companies are upgrading the bandwidth
enabling the transfer of larger files,’ explains Mark Mellor, managing
director of hi-tech agency Firefly.
Those responsible for internal communications are waking up to the
opportunities, ensuring that PR agencies and in-house communications
teams are increasingly involved in the development of these company-wide
Neil Melvin, consultant at Smythe Dorward Lambert, believes Intranets
will revolutionise internal communications. ‘They cannot replace face-
to-face contact, but the attractions are speed and directness of
communication at low cost,’ he says.
SDL client Microsoft has been using an Intranet since the beginning of
the year. ‘Not only for internal communications, but also for specific
departments to promote themselves within the organisation,’ explains
Last year British firm Inchcape, one of the world’s largest distribution
firms, decided to restructure its employee communications strategy.
‘Staff were frustrated at time it took to receive important
information,’ says Paul Barber, Inchcape’s group corporate affairs
‘We already had a sophisticated e-mail system but decided to take this a
step further.’ Barber and his team subsequently developed the Inchnet -
a network of information that sits on the company’s e-mail platform.
It includes company announcements, advice on using company software,
staff news, an ideas exchange, classified advertisements and sports and
‘The benefit is to provide employees with constantly available and
constantly updated information,’ explains Barber.
Inchnet is still at trial stage and presently only available to a couple
of hundred staff in its London office, but there are plans to extend the
service to the Middle East and Hong Kong in the New Year. Eventually
Barber hopes to roll it out to Inchcape offices in 64 countries around
He points out that there is also an interface with external PR: ‘We will
be able to share facts and figures with our PR agencies electronically.
At the same time we can alert employees to news releases or
announcements that are issued.’
Andrew Rodaway, partner at hi-tech agency Oast, is already enjoying such
operational transparency with client Lawson Software - a US company
specialising in client server business software.
Lawson has an established Intranet, which it makes available to its 800
staff worldwide. Oast enjoys access to this network.
‘The Intranet is Lawson’s only means of internal communications, and it
contains all sorts of information. We learn about big deals and case
studies. Meanwhile its employees are kept informed of our PR
initiatives,’ says Rodaway.
A number of larger public relations consultancies are developing their
own Intranets. Last year Shandwick announced that it was investing
pounds 10 million in a three-year technology project which includes
Shandnet: a private network which will see all 90 Shandwick offices
around the world linked via the Internet. And Firefly is developing its
Fireworks Intranet, which it claims is an effective and inexpensive way
of linking European partner firms and clients alike.
Large US consultancy the Weber Group has used a corporate Intranet for
five years, and the UK office has been on-line for the past 18 months.
‘Whereas anyone can log into the Weber home page on the Internet, only
employees can dial up to the Intranet server because they have the right
access software,’ explains UK account director Steve Waddington. ‘It
enables staff to share resources and to communicate strategically as a
Weber staff across the world are able to share photography, client
backgrounders, media directories and telephone lists.
What about the interface with clients? ‘We generally find e-mail
sufficient for clients. Although we have set up a notes connection with
3Com which enables us to share information and takes the grind out of
liasion,’ says Waddington.
The UK’s largest hi-tech PR agency Text 100 is also investing in
Intranet capability. In September the company brought in ‘cyber PR guru’
Robert Grupe as on-line communications manager.
‘My prime focus was to get the company Web site on-line and we are
deploying the Intranet gradually. It should be complete in the next
couple of weeks,’ says Grupe.
He is putting in place a network enabling Text 100’s seven worldwide
offices to share documentation including marketing guides, templates and
logos. In this way the agency will be able to create international
‘client folders’. ‘Collaboration software will mean that we can share
applications. Staff in different offices will be able to edit
information together in real-time,’ enthuses Grupe.
The network will also provide the capability for audio between two
people, a ‘chat area’ for question and answer exchange and a white board
So what are the implications for the PR industry? Does the revolution
in electronic information sound the death knell for the company
newsletter? Will it really reduce the amount of paper we fax and post
Despite its investment in Inchnet, Inchcape’s Barber says it will
continue to produce its quarterly magazine Inchcape World. ‘We have many
staff that are not office- based and do not have PCs,’ he explains.
Mellor also recognises that hardware will prove a major factor in the
spread of Intranet.
‘It will depend on the type of organisation. For example in financial
services companies most staff have PCs, other sectors may not.’
He adds: ‘As for PR companies, they must be careful. Because they deal
primarily in information - words and graphics - there can be a huge
volume of traffic, which may create bottlenecks. They should seek
SDL’s Melvin agrees: ‘Intranets need careful managing in the early
stages. Companies gain Internet access then switch to Intranets without
thinking through their needs. An Intranet must be viewed as an integral
part of the communications mix.
Case study: Improving existing systems with E.News
‘In the past 12 months there has been a surge in the number of companies
and organisations switching to electronic technology to enhance their
communications,’ says David Davis chairman of Ion International. ‘And
demand will accelerate as more companies establish Intranets,’ he
Ion is the European distributor for E.News, on-screen publishing
software which can be delivered by e-mail. E.News is a publishing tool
that can then be distributed via Intranet, e-mail or disk.
E.News automatically turns basic text into newsletters with columns,
headlines, illustrations and turning pages. It can also poll readers for
internal audits, reader surveys and market research.
‘E-mail is not effective for communicating company messages to a broad
audience. It has no priorities, gets clogged with junk mail and it is
difficult to carry graphics and photographs,’ explains Davis.
Worldwide energy company British Petroleum began using E.News a year
agoto create a knowledge network that electronically links the company’s
top executives around the world to provide them with up-to-date
‘It was important that this network was designed to reinforce the view
of BP as a single organisation,’ says BP project manager Graham
Williams. ‘We needed a tool that could deliver information via our
existing computer networks, reliably and in a way that would encourage
our executives to use it.’
BP is using E.News software to produce E.Brief, a monthly newsletter of
management information that includes graphics. It is distributed through
the company’s global e-mail network from head quarters in London to 350
top executives in 45 of its locations across 25 countries. It has also
set up a pilot Intranet site to provide a more permanent and interactive
Other E.News clients include Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Allied Domecq and
chemical company Olin Corporation.
But what of the future?
‘We’re finalising work on video compression technology that will enable
the introduction of high quality video into E.News. It will mean the
first walking, talking company newsletter,’ says Davis.