The changing role of the internal communicator, part two (or, my first nine months in marketing)

This is part two of a post I wrote back in 2013 about the changing role of the internal communicator. On Thursday 5 May 2016 I’m co-running a session on the future of Internal Communications at the IoIC Live conference ( so now seemed as good a time as any to unblock my blog and explore what’s changed…if anything.

My post in 2013 was a reaction, at least in part, to the frustration I felt with the way we in the profession all seemed to work with one hand tied behind our backs. The fact that we were the ones with the rope, seemingly tying our own hands, only added to that frustration. Also, it wasn’t that the grass was necessarily greener on their side, but a lot of what I was hearing from other comms pros was that they felt that they played second fiddle to their marketing colleagues. Internal Comms seemed to need a bit of a shot in the arm.

Since then and somewhat in reaction to my constant working restlessness, I’ve switched roles within Grant Thornton to sit in our marketing team. I still work closely with my Internal Comms colleagues and still have some of the same old frustrations, but I have new perspective and hope I can share something useful.

Communications? PR? Marketing?
The need for IC pros to walk in all three pairs of these shoes in 2016 is even more acute. As organisations once separated out comms, marketing and PR, now they’re bringing them back together. Why? Because the outside is becoming the inside and that gap between what you send your clients as marketeers and what you post on your enterprise social network for your employees to read is not just narrow, it’s non existent.

Comfortable behind our desks
As more organisations give their people the tools to communicate with each other across all levels of hierarchy (ESN, messaging services, smart phones) we can’t expect people to come to us first – our role as gatekeeper is coming to an end. As much as we need to use technology to communicate in a faster, more agile way, we can’t hide behind it. Get up, get out and get into some trouble! In fact I’m often reminded of one of the New Clues from Doc Searls and David Weinberger when looking at the sedentary nature of modern offices, Yeah, the Internet hasn’t solved all the world’s problems. That’s why the Almighty hath given us asses: that we might get off of them.

Embrace your marketing colleagues – well this happened – I joined the competition! This is still about that connection between what Marketing does and the bottom line. Often the comms team is so busy being the conduit for internal messaging that it can lose its connection to the product. If your product is your people, like it is for us at Grant Thornton, then this connection is all the more vital. This is a challenge for both disciplines; your people will thank you for the clarity of message that comes from both teams working together in a seamless way. If you do see marketing as the competition, then your people will be the ultimate losers, swiftly followed by you.

Making comms ‘sexy’ again – Maybe this was a bit unfair but I still see more people looking for internships in marketing than comms. Could comms do with a PR makeover? Something I’ll be asking on Thursday and reporting back on next week!

My original post spoke about socialising the workplace and community and I’ve rolled them into one for this follow up.

Social media and digital transformation = Connectivity
I’ve touched on this above, but the emergence of ESN (Enterprise Social Networks) and more socially enabled intranets has led to one of the biggest challenges to the culture inside your organisation. As employees mobilise themselves and are less reliant on internal comms, so IC teams need to change the way that they operate. Teams may shrink and become more agile. Where once we may have separated digital communications (yes, that was me!) and community management  skills, it is now essential that all internal communications pros have these as part of their toolkit. But this goes for marketing too – a recent conversation with a  recruiter confirmed that when recruiting for senior roles, digital skills are now an essential part of any successful candidate. 

No conclusions
So has much changed in three years and what will the big changes be in the next three? I’ll update post IoIC with some thoughts. 

What’s clear is that with shrinking teams and a shift away from traditional office environments, comms teams need to think and work differently to survive. The role of the internal communicator is under threat but surely there isn’t a single person reading this who feels completely secure about their working future…? We’re used to communicating change – now we need to embrace it ourselves. 

The walk to school

That was fun. This morning I walked my youngest son to school. 

We talked about all the things we could hear  on our walk, from the birds to the distant sound of motorways and roads. 

We talked about how builders could build a shorter way to school and that if you folded the town in half you could get to school by climbing a mountain. 

Then we talked about what if…there was a scooting tunnel to school, or a massive bridge in the sky with a ladder up to it outside every house where a child lived. 

Then we arrived at school where we hoped that everyone would have the chance to think about these and other  amazing possibilities and how we might make things better for everyone. 

Especially this week. Especially in this twelve months. Especially in this world. 

The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

What have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

I partly funded my way through University by working in Virgin Megastores and Our Price Records, both now defunct, sadly missed, killed, at least in part, by the rise of digital music propagated by the Internet.

Our Price Records
There are several mid to late nineties albums I can claim a small amount of responsibility for pushing sales of, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs being one in particular that I played and played in Fleet Our Price. The hit rate was impressive – passers-by, sucked into the shop by the sounds of the musical saw in Holes, would walk up, ask what was playing and leave with a copy.

Ah those halcyon days!

And now I find myself leading Social Business at Grant Thornton, a role, at least in part, made possible by the Internet and peoples’ constant struggles to get to grips with it. I now help people to explore social selling – not records this time, but their professional selves and expertise…often without help from a musical saw.

So, lost – my perfect job and most of the world’s record shops, though those that remain are all the more special for their scarcity. Gained – another job, another industry and still trying to sell music to people every day through my Twitter account!

So, what have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

(This post brought to you in association with a long train journey and Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan on my headphones. Available to watch by the power of the Internet here or to buy from your favourite local record shop here.) 

Not curious? Then you’re shit out of luck. 

Doing the communications work that I do, I’m regularly in front of rooms full of people talking about the importance of connectedness in organisations and business. This usually translates as “how do I better use social and digital media for work?” 

Some come bursting with enthusiasm – they’ve done some stuff and are starting to see the value or they’re curious about how they can do more. Some come laden with fear – they know they ought to be better connected, and understand social media may be a means to that end, but they’re not sure what to say, when to say it and to who. 

Some come ready just to be taught. 

There is a curiosity and deep interest at the heart of any passion. If you don’t have these things, then the end result is a function, something you purely need to do to exist. 

Connectedness is not a function. It’s not taught, but learnt. Those with enthusiasm will find a path, those with fear will overcome it, those who only want to be taught are shit out of luck. 

CEO? Free social media coaching?

Social media consultants can only have a short lifespan, right? I mean, it’s been a good few years…but there can’t be too many people left out there who need the obvious pointed out to them…can there?

On the contrary, it seems to me that demand is at an all time high. For all the over-intellectualising of the subject, there is still a massive amount of “this is a tweet and this is what a hashtag is” needed at every level of the organisations we work for. In the last week alone I’ve seen some quite dry meetings brought to life when someone raises the subject of social media and why they think it’s important to them or their business. I’ve also faced questions about the business value of Twitter despite showing examples of high powered people having all manner of business conversations in 140 characters. 

Love or hate social media, it’s part of the landscape. Buy into it or not; being able to argue for or against it is rapidly becoming essential at networking events, meetings and in the boardroom. And that’s before you’ve even got close to discussions about ‘digital’ or  the #futureofwork.

Having done this within the organisation I work for, I’m now exploring what I can do for our clients which is not a huge sell to be honest. A conversation about our approach usually sparks interest, it’s what we follow that conversation up with that counts. 

So if this blog post reaches the eyes or ears of any of our client’s CEOs out there, I’ll offer up to half a day of free social media coaching* for you and your board. My only stipulation is that you, the CEO must be present. Your business strategy starts with you, so too must social media strategy if it’s going to stick. 

Over to you. 

 *First five (5) respondents. 

Hello (darkness) my old friends (sic)

Once again this morning I was confronted by two old friends in a meeting about social media for communication.

Round of applause please for ‘lack of time’ and ‘nothing to say’.

OK, end applause.

If you can argue that everything you do to communicate with your clients, peers and teams is 100% effective, then please, carry on and we’ll move on to someone less effective who wants our help.

If, however, you see room for improvement or the teams you manage have forgotten what you look like, then take heed.

It may be time to think about what ineffective uses of your time you could put aside for something more effective. Open yourself to the possibility that a blog post or a status update isn’t actually a waste of your time and may lead to something unexpected.

And if you have nothing to say then perhaps use the time to listen to what others are saying and contributing. I guarantee there are conversations out there where you could listen and learn or contribute and add value.

I’m banning my two old friends from darkening my meetings ever again! Until the next time…

ESNanon – an unconference for ESN professionals

A repost from Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog…written by me

Come and air your ESN successes and stresses

Who can you turn to in your contacts book to ask for confidential advice and guidance about all things enterprise social network (ESN) related?

esnanonI regularly get emails from people asking for my opinion, but what if there was a whole room of your peers willing and able to share their stories?

Well now there is, and here to tell us all about a shiny new unconference – that you’re invited to – is comms pro Paul Thomas @tallpaul75. Over to you Paul…

Come and air your ESN successes and stresses

Rachel has invited me to write a post on her blog, which is incredibly gracious of her seeing as it is her idea (and that of her The Big Yak compadres in The IC Crowd) that we’ve stolen, belt and braces!

Alex Chapel @achapel01, from KPMG, Kim England @miss_england_19, from Pearson, and I have recently announced our plans to hold an ESN unconference, #ESNanon. It’s being held on 21 March at Pearson’s offices on The Strand, London.

This is the first in what we hope will be a series of events dedicated to those who work in the ever-growing world of ESN.

So why an unconference?


I have a love/hate relationship with conferences and networking events. Attend a good one and I walk away invigorated, a spring in my step, a song in my heart, ready to embrace the challenges I’ve taken away.

Attend a bad one and pretty much the reverse is true.

In most cases the conferences I attend are neither altogether good nor altogether bad, they just don’t do a good enough job of designing themselves around the most important people – their attendees.

Usually it’s plenary, coffee, plenary, lunch, workshop, coffee, workshop, close, networking drinks.

Coffee is interrupted by vendors selling you something you don’t need, lunch is the usual juggling of plate, glass and conversation which generally ends up with you not enjoying any of its constituent parts.

It was at one of these events where Alex and I sat at the end talking about how we’d not managed to have many conversations at all with our peers. The whole event had moved so fast that actual conversation had only played a very small part.

“What we need is an unconference” I said.

Quickly rewind…

I met Alex a couple of years ago when introduced by Euan Semple @euan. I was probably bleating on about how hard my job was proving, leading Grant Thornton‘s social business approach, and he suggested we meet.

Alex works for KPMG and collaboration isn’t necessarily the first word that springs to mind when you mention our firm’s names in the same breath, but here we were.

For our initial meetings, in the pub, were joined by a couple of others struggling with Enterprise Social Networks in large organisations. Thank God beer was involved!

What followed were a couple of downloading sessions where we shared the challenges we were facing and offered each other advice on how to overcome them.

Back to the point Paul…

#TheBigYak is organised by the trinity of Rachel, Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson (You can find us @theICcrowd and read about the event here – Rachel). It was clear we needed a third Musketeer and so we spoke to Kim England at a networking event, briefly outlining the idea and agreeing to meet for coffee.

One coffee and one lunch later we had a rough plan, a name for the event (ESN Anonymous seemed to reflect the peer therapy sentiment) and a location.

And so now all we need to do is to replicate that peer sharing at scale. 70 people in one place, on a Saturday, willing to contribute, share and help each other through a wide range of challenges and conundrums.

We’ll follow the rules of the unconference, allowing our attendees to lead the agenda, employing the rule of two feet and making sure everyone leaves feeling they’ve learnt something or contributed in some way.

There’s so much to discuss including:

  • how to write the business case for ESN
  • getting buy-in at senior level
  • approach to implementation
  • launch strategies
  • big questions around proving long-term value
  • interpreting your numbers
  • plus managing your community.

I’m always blown away by the amount of egoless sharing that goes on between communications professionals and their dedication to doing a great job.

We’ve chosen a Saturday so we get the really dedicated. ‘give up my Saturday’ comms pros who will bring immense value to the room. All yours for a tenner (£10) and a Saturday!

So, if that sounds good…and come on, it really does…sign up at our Eventbrite page now and we’ll see you for a really good chat on 21 March!

Post author: Paul Thomas.

Thanks Paul. I have signed up to attend, babysitters for my toddler and newborn twins permitting, and hope to make it along. Hats off to Paul, Kim and Alex as I know how much hard work it takes to organise such an event, especially alongside the day job.

Even though one would assume there’s less work as it’s unstructured, I promise you that’s not the case! But the beauty of an unconference is that you get out what you put into it. Plus you should leave with your questions answered as you help shape the content.

Are you going to #ESNAnon? If not, you can follow the conversations via the hashtag #ESNanon before, during and after the event on Twitter.

You can get your ticket for just under £10 here.

Further reading
Want to find out more about enterprise social networks and using social media internally? See the links below for articles I’ve published about them over the six years I’ve been writing my blog for.

PR360_You can also discover what events are coming up for comms pros to attend globally by checking out my comms calendar.

Plus save money off PR Week’s PR360 event simply by being a reader of my blog – see my exclusive deal.

Here are the links:

Rachel Miller @AllthingsIC

First published on All Things IC blog 13 February 2015.