FOCUS: INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS - Following the path of New Labour/The new Government has brought increased emphasis on communications which has extended to the public sector and has changed the way that managers communicate with their staff. Peter Robinso

’Things can only get better’, proclaimed New Labour’s election anthem but in the public sector, internal communications is having to explain that sometimes things have to get a little worse before they get better.

’Things can only get better’, proclaimed New Labour’s election

anthem but in the public sector, internal communications is having to

explain that sometimes things have to get a little worse before they get


Over the last year there has been increasing emphasis on standards in

public service and this is filtering down through the public sector,

which is having to practice ’tough love’ in introducing employees to


’One of the biggest issues for the new Government has been managing

employees’ expectations of change around the fact that a change in

government doesn’t mean that things will automatically get better, in

fact they might get tougher,’ explains Alaric Mostyn, managing director

of Burson-Marsteller’s change communications practice.

This process often requires senior managers to use internal

communications to present staff with unpalatable truths. Whereas senior

staff could once hide themselves away from employees and communicate

through memos and notice boards, this is no longer an option.

Mostyn says: ’Tony Blair and his ministers go walkabout and they expect

it from their department heads too. Good senior managers are walking the

talk, getting out and about, meeting staff and leading by example.’

Communication management consultancy, Smythe Dorward Lambert has a

number of clients in the public sector. Director Hilary Scarlett says:

’There is now pressure from the very top to deliver internally what has

been promised externally. Our public sector clients say that they have

felt more pressure from their political masters to be cleverer about

managing their reputation and can no longer leave it to chance.’

But is this commitment to change anything more than lip service?

Scarlett counters: ’You can’t do that for long. It’s like Cool

Britannia, you can promote that image but you’re not going to fool

anybody, it needs genuine commitment. You can’t deliver external

services unless your people feel committed, listened to and valued.

’In the public sector your employees are your brand, and people judge

you through them, not through what you claim in advertising and PR.’

Many public sector organisations are undergoing systematic investigation

of internal communications. Specialist internal communications agency,

Redhouse Lane is currently carrying out an internal communications audit

of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, assessing the quality of

communications, training and development systems and the contribution

internal communications makes to achieving business results.

Managing director, Jeremy Redhouse, notes that, while the Government has

transformed external communications, ’internal communications has been

much slower to change, reflecting the more fragmented approach which has

historically been adopted.

’Each department and agency is reponsible for its own communications and

that means that change is likely to happen in a piecemeal fashion.’

Another public sector organisation, National Savings, is considering

outsourcing its record-keeping system and is allaying employees’ fears

through internal communications. Along with monthly staff meetings,

there are senior management road shows, coverage in its monthly and

fortnightly in-house journals and staff are being introduced to the two

private sector bidders.

Head of communications, Joe Logan explains: ’The message of a need for

change is often not popular but we are getting it to them and monitoring

the feedback. We are showing that if we do finally choose to out-source,

that new organisation could attract other new business whereas

technology will lead to our own workforce continuing to decline.’

The Health Education Authority is presently reviewing its internal


It has relaunched its staff newsletter, introduced team briefings, staff

lunches with its chief executive and is using a new intranet


In revamping internal communications, the public sector has often

followed the lead of the private sector but Paul Miller, managing

director of internal communications consultancy, The Empowerment Group

advises caution.

’While both sectors need to empower managers as communicators,

commercial companies are primarily about profit and efficiency and

public sector employees have a different motivation. It’s easy to

translate the approach of the private sector and forget that the public

sector is motivated by service, often in the caring sectors, and this

must be taken into account,’ he says.

He adds: ’The public sector is expected to be motivated and yet it can

be understaffed and underpaid. There is a need for internal

communications to explain budget restrictions so that staff can

understand their part in the overall budget and feel more involved.’

He adds: ’Campaigns such as ’Everybody Remembers A Good Teacher’ really

help by showing that people can make a difference.’

But how far are changes in the public sector filtering down to the grass

roots at local authority level?

At Birmingham City Council, organisation and development adviser, Tarik

Chawdry says: ’The change in government has had a tremendous effect on

local authorities with the green paper on best value, papers on

standards and the introduction of bench marking. With more weight now

being given to the customer, internal communications must help

re-engineer the way we talk to people.’

There can often be bad news to communicate, with financial cut backs

continuing to affect staff.

But Chawdry says: ’Everyone has bad news in their lives so why should

work be different? You don’t need to treat employees like children.

’Bad news is more sensitive, it must be dealt with on the same day so

that it cannot fester and become distorted. The shorter the information

gap, the less emotional build up. The new breed of manager is prepared

to tell it directly as they know it to be.’


With The Body Shop’s employees scattered all over the world, speaking

several languages and requiring regular updates on its evolving culture

and products, video has proved the most direct means of internal


The Body Shop’s mission has been to avoid the tired cliches of the

corporate video and provide staff with something stimulating and

involving which they will look forward to viewing regularly.

Jacaranda has been making communications programmes for The Body Shop

since 1989. At the end of 1997, it was asked to produce proposals to

relaunch The Body Shop’s global video programme to make it more specific

to markets around the world.

It came up with BSTV World, a bi-monthly programme translated into 19

languages and seen by staff in all 1,400 shops in 46 countries.

Jacaranda director Gus Colquhoun explains: ’The key factor for The Body

Shop is that video is an undiluted form for getting messages directly to

staff without being filtered by intermediaries at management level.

We considered satellite for transmission but it is very costly and,

since The Body Shop has many part-time staff, it’s difficult to get your

audience together at one time.’

Colquhoun wanted to avoid the pitfalls of the corporate video by

involving staff in production: ’We involved staff in the making of the

programme by using staff presenters, a talk-back feature and a phone

line number.

We also avoided library music creating our own soundtrack. The videos

are subtitled since feedback indicated that audiences liked to hear the

actual voices of speakers.’ Following a survey of staff reaction to

Jacaranda’s previous programme, Body Shop TV, a more ambitious, high

quality programme has evolved with a main news section to be seen by

everyone and a market-sensitive section seen by individual countries as

their market requirements demand it.

The new look fits in with founder Anita Roddick’s stated belief that:

’We are a very visual company with many young people, so music and

graphics are important. Many issues are supported by The Body Shop and

storytelling can be used to convey them since this is an important

tradition worldwide.’

Jacaranda recently won an International Video Communications Association

Silver Award for a CD-ROM for The Body Shop’s training programme which

cuts training time in half. Users ’visit’ five key areas of the company

and learn about its values, campaigns and products.


The Communications Team, a new arm of full service publishing agency,

The Publishing Team, aims to bring internal communications publishing

up-to-date and is about to launch a new tabloid style, quarterly staff

newspaper, Your Shout for First Leisure Corporation.

The Communications Team’s new publisher, Peter Law from Citigate,

believes that the quality control of external communications should be

applied to internal communications. ’Internal communications used to be

about management talking to employees, now it has to be packaged as more

of a two-way process,’ he says.

Law aims to make Your Shout, as entertaining as the company it


First Leisure’s business takes in nightclubs, bars, resort operations

such as Blackpool Tower, West End theatres, marinas, and caravan


The first edition, out next month (July), is being distributed to 6, 000

staff and to selected suppliers and outside parties.

The 12-page, full-colour tabloid will present a light-hearted mix of

news, views and job information. A priority is to promote staff

involvement and First Leisure has recruited a committee of staff members

to consider ideas and act as newshounds.

Ian Freeman, group PR manager of First Leisure emphasises the tabloid

approach: ’We had an in-house magazine about six years ago but we wanted

something lighter to exchange views rather than managers giving orders

from above’.

In keeping with this approach, The Communications Team headed up to

Blackpool for a First Leisure exhibition with the slogan, ’We are all

ears’ on its photo business cards with appropriate aural appendages

drawn in. But the more serious task was to listen to what staff had to

say and use the feedback in planning the new magazine.

Freeman says: ’We are looking at internal communications on a broad

scale and Your Shout is the first step.’

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