Life for the employee communications team would be much more agreeable if only employees could be insulated from communications not sanctioned by the CEO. But because life isn’t always fair, employees will occasionally read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch News at Ten.
It’s difficult to imagine a business story that would compel a journalist to publish that wouldn’t be of interest to staff in the business that’s featured. So why do internal communications departments not take more of an interest in what the press office is up to, and vice versa?
Because life’s unfair, journalists won’t always accept at face value the details provided by the company. They have this irritating habit of challenging stories presented to them, especially when they’re not convinced that ‘the truth’ and ‘what they’re being told’ amount to the same thing.
This means the message conveyed internally by the boss isn’t always amplified exactly the way he’d like by the external media and can present two versions of the story for staff to compare and contrast.
So, when the negotiations to renew your largest contract aren’t going well, and the customer is minded to give the other guy a shot, the journalist is likely to use the words ‘contract’ and ‘under threat’ in a story. In response, the business might feel compelled to tell staff that the customer is simply playing hardball over price, just to spare their feelings. But guess which version of the story the staff is more likely to believe?
Every time a CEO is briefed before a press interview, it’s likely that someone will have thought through the key messages for customers, for shareholders and even suppliers. But how often are the key messages for employees or potential employees considered?
When the press office is asked for a reactive comment on a potentially negative story, how often do they consciously check with their colleagues in the internal communications team to test how the response might sound to staff?
The external media is one of the more important and credible internal communications channels a business has but isn’t always seen that way. This is a shame, because better inter-working between the internal and external teams could really press home the message.