It’s time to merge internal and external communications teams

By Bea Buckley.

As professional communicators we all have to be agile; there’s nothing like a beautifully colour-coordinated plan being thrown out the window when a crisis or simply a change in direction comes along. But I believe it’s time for our agility to go further – we should be able to work in both internal and external communications disciplines.

Having worked in organisations where I’ve been responsible for both disciplines, and for others where I’ve done one or the other, I hold this view for a number of reasons: it’s more efficient, something that’s on all our minds at the moment. Opportunities can truly be exploited. I’ve had many a frustrating moment where one team launches a fantastic campaign that could happily have appealed to another’s audience. A lack of understanding, perhaps, means that this wasn’t considered. Lastly, it’s good for stakeholders. Busy Directors can have one holistic conversation about what they need with a person who can understand and translate this into a single communications strategy.

I have another good reason why I think communicators should take this seriously – career development. Of course there are learnings for all professionals when taking up a new skill, but here I want to focus on why internal comms in particular can enhance your skillset.

Throughout my career internal comms has always been seen as the poor cousin. It comes into its own during a crisis, we’ve seen that during Covid-19. But the business-as-usual stance is that external comms is king, and this is reflected in the career choices of many of the comms pros I’ve met who baulk at the idea of moving into internal comms.

A former colleague in the rail industry recently told me that, during Covid-19, their need for internal comms was so great that they transferred a number of their external comms team to internal comms – highly unpopular.

But before you dismiss taking on some internal comms work, I want to highlight the following reasons why I think it’s a great opportunity for all communicators to develop their careers.

1: From the internal comms seat, you are well placed to influence the culture, direction and strategy of the business you work for. Great internal comms teams lead the agenda and set the pace of the organisation.

2: You can build up a real breadth of skills. Internal comms requires you to be a journalist, a marketeer, an event manager, a strategist, a change manager, a campaigner and a lobbyer. Often, you’re required to juggle and demonstrate a number of those skills at the same time and the experience will contribute to your future career.

3: Internal communicators are often the ones that the CEO and colleagues at board level want to bounce ideas off. You hear about business changes at the earliest opportunity and advise how to communicate them to your workforce. In my opinion, how well a company communicates and implements change is key to its relationship with its people, and therefore a defining factor in how successful it will be going forward.

4: It’s a great way of building confidence and ability when it comes to managing stakeholders. When else can your trickiest stakeholders pop up at your desk, unannounced, at any time of the day? You often have to educate your stakeholders and push back in the heat of the moment, not easy to do.

5: It’s brilliant to have an aptitude in both internal and external comms during a crisis. As the saying goes, trust takes years to build and yet moments to break. How a business responds when something goes wrong is critical to maintaining this trust and developing an understanding of how your messaging will impact an internal and external audience will make you an incredibly useful asset to your organisation.

What do you think? Tweet me @bea_at_work with your views.

Having spent 10 years travelling the world as a sports journalist, Bea landed at Heathrow over five years ago. At the airport Bea worked in the rail and aviation communications teams, and is now a freelance communications consultant. 

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

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