What do we really mean when we say we are in the communication
This was the question that came to mind when I heard speakers at PR
Week’s recent Communicating Business Strategy conference saying it is
impossible to evaluate the worth of organisational communication to a
The impact of communication can be assessed, as long as we agree what we
mean by communication. What few in our profession seem to articulate,
let alone debate, is the fundamental difference between communications
(plural) - the tools or channels by which we communicate - and
communication (singular), the exchange of information, ideas or
Too often, measurement in our industry focuses on the channels of
But measurement of true value should centre on communicating business
strategy and goals and then determining whether people understand and do
anything differently as a result.
Those who misunderstand the difference between a process of spending
money on activities (input), and assessing a real return on an
investment (output), will understandably struggle to evaluate their
value to the business. Yes, one does go with the other but as PR Week
itself strives to show in its Proof campaign, if you employ the right
metrics to evaluate activities then you can add value.
Recent research by Ernst and Young among 275 analysts and portfolio
managers concludes that institutional investors are basing more and more
of their decisions on a firm’s non-financial measures of performance
such as corporate strategy, innovation, and the ability to attract and
retain people. All of these measures are ones that we can directly
affect. We are the translators of business goals into staff
understanding and commitment.
Without wishing to overly educate, we can learn from principles of
internal marketing. This is not the traditional, top-down, employee
communication or even communications. it is a marketing-driven
discipline that views staff as internal customers, in the way that
external marketing views its many audiences.
External marketing also uses a range of hard measures to assess business
contribution, such as customer satisfaction and retention. Now it is
recognised accounting practice to measure brand value as an asset.
Similar criteria apply to internal customers and therefore the value of
internal communication, such as staff retention and satisfaction.
For example, a study last autumn by the Marketing and Communications
Agency, in conjunction with MORI found a direct link between
communication and levels of organisational commitment among staff in
large UK organisations.
This is also confirmed by research from the Institute of Work Psychology
at the University of Sheffield, among small- to medium-sized
manufacturing companies, which found that ’13 per cent of the variation
between companies in their profitability can be explained by levels of
organisational commitment of their employees’.
This link isn’t just seen in academic research. Sears, the major US
retailer, has focused a business improvement programme on staff
attitudes that are directly affected by communication. They’ve found
that a five point improvement in employee attitudes will drive a 1.3
point improvement in customer satisfaction, which in turn will drive a
0.5 per cent improvement in revenue growth.
Communication works, internal marketing delivers. But can you prove
Kevin Thomson, is chairman of the Marketing and Communication Agency
(MCA) and President of the UK Chapter of IABC.