Crossovers Between Internal and External Communications

04.24.2018 | AnnMarie Henriksson

Last week at our Communiqué PR brownbag, Melissa Cafiero, a past Communiqué employee and current senior communications manager at Projectline for Microsoft Windows NEXT, took time out of her week to share insight about her experience managing internal communications. As an experienced PR and corporate communications executive, Melissa is passionate about helping organizations uncover the most meaningful way to interact with its audiences.

It was great to have Melissa in our office and learn about the types of situations she navigates as a senior consult and especially the differences (and similarities) she sees between public relations and internal communications. We all had an “aha” moment when she shared that one of the biggest nuances of internal communications is that you are developing messages for an audience to which you belong.

Internal

To provide a quick refresher, internal, or often referred to as corporate, communications takes place when the members of an organization communicate with each other. These messages can range from company announcements, staffing updates, emergency alerts, or other internal matters that directly impact members of the team. Typically only larger organizations (more than 100 employees) will have dedicated corporate communications teams or representatives.

External

External communications, which we exercise in public relations, is the exchange of messages to an outside audience such as the media, customers, potential employees and customers, competitors and more. These messages vary, but are often similar to the updates shared in internal communications (i.e., company announcements, executive changes, etc.), but are tailored specifically to an external audience.

Somewhere in the middle  

In addition to the receiver, a large differentiator between internal and external communications is the cadence and medium in which messages are shared. Mastering these two elements (both in external and internal communications) is critical to have success with these efforts. For example, employees’ preferences for receiving updates will vary, just as the different types of news journalists want to receive.

Cadence

Melissa shared the example of some employees preferring updates from a CEO once a year, while others would opt to receive an update every month. Finding the happy middle and rhythm can be difficult. For internal communications, the answer can usually be found in understanding company culture; whereas for external, it’s especially important to determine the objectives of your audience (i.e., whether or not a reporter or their readers will care about the news, etc.), which can be difficult to decipher if you are not a member of the audience. In addition, pitching a journalist or sending employees emails too often or not often enough can be distracting, ineffective and even take away from their perception of yourself or your company’s brand.

Medium

In public relations, the communication medium is pretty standard and does not change too frequently. We interact with media via email, phone and through company messages (i.e., press releases, blogs, social media, etc.).

However, for corporate communications the way the executive team decides to communicate with its employees can change drastically and will vary depending on the subject of the news. The answer to selecting the correct medium for a specific message again boils down to understanding company culture. Take for example a crisis situation or prominent executive announcement: Most employees would prefer to hear about this news before it is released to the public. To make matters more complicated, not all employees will agree on how the message is shared (i.e., email, text or via a company’s private intranet page, etc.).

Corporate communications teams have to strategically navigate employees’ preferences, taking into account their own inclinations and direction from upper management. One way corporate communications teams can find this balance is through issuing corporate surveys to determine shared preferences and dislikes among the employees.

Our time with Melissa was limited, but we could have gone on for hours asking questions about how her experience in PR has shaped her strategy and perspective in her new corporate communications role. One last tip she left us with is to always consider how an employee may react to a specific piece of news or headline. Applying this level of detail and putting ourselves in the employees’ shoes will help build and enforce a strong company culture for our clients, as well as allow us to practice and inform more strategic council.

We’re thankful for the insight Melissa shared and look forward to applying it into our work.


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