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.