’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
’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.’
THE BODY SHOP: OPTING FOR A VISUAL IMPACT
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
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
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.
FIRST LEISURE: EMPHASISING ENTERTAINMENT
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
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.’