Remote Control: A strong internal communications brand is more vital than ever

A Covid-19 world of remote workers has put the spotlight on employee communications. It’s time for businesses to give teams the tools they need to shine.
Gemma Ballinger
Gemma Ballinger
Client Director

Internal communications don’t always get the love they deserve. When companies rebrand, attention is lavished on customers and prospects, while employees often get the cold shoulder. This is a mistake.

Your employer value proposition doesn’t just drive the culture teams experience every day, it persuades potential recruits to join in the first place. An inspiring and coherent internal brand identity is crucial in terms of educating, engaging and informing these ambassadors for your organisation. This dynamic and reactive space sets the tone before day one.

Suddenly, the world is working remotely. Business leaders and employees alike are realising the importance of strong internal communications teams, platforms and messaging. Employee communications are in the spotlight now. It’s time to focus your attention on getting it right.

Create an authentic brand

Perhaps it’s understandable that rebrand activity is built around a compelling consumer toolkit. In a world hungry for ROI, internal comms can seem a less sexy afterthought – something that just follows the corporate guidelines.

But we live in a knowledge economy, where the brightest talent has limitless choices. Attracting and retaining those people becomes increasingly challenging as companies like Google and Facebook lead the way in meeting people’s evolving needs. And, despite its high street struggles, YouGov polls repeatedly show John Lewis is the company Britons would be most proud to work for.

Getting the culture right is essential to success, but it must be genuine. Neil Griffiths is Director of Ceriph, a storytelling consultancy for talent leaders. He says it’s vital to involve people from all over the organisation when building the value proposition. “There’s a real need to articulate what your brand stands for as an employer. It’s about reflecting the culture of the organisation – there’s nothing worse than creating an identity if people can’t relate to it.”

So how do you start the process? Jane Roques-Shaw is Global Executive Director, Culture & Engagement at WarnerMedia. She believes leadership buy-in is the most important first step to building an internal comms identity. “Helping leaders understand how important it is to have regular, consistent, engaging communication with employees, and letting you have the budget to do this.”

There’s a real need to articulate what your brand stands for as an employer. It’s about reflecting the culture of the organisation – there’s nothing worse than creating an identity if people can’t relate to it.”
Neil Griffiths
Director, Ceriph
Balance consistency with expression

Having won that battle, Jane asked us to create a flexible brand identity for Warner Bros.’ internal communications. Through working together when she was at NBCUniversal International, she knew we could create a design system to reflect the company’s role as an entertainment leader. It accommodates a range of tonal content and, crucially, can be easily rolled out by her team.

“An internal communications brand helps employees to engage with the content and identify the topic at a glance. Having a brand and templates to use makes the process far simpler as teams wanting to communicate have guidelines to follow to create more engaging content.”

Our internal communications identity for NBCUniversal International

Smart IC professionals know how to build out from the core brand, while making it more relaxed and expressive. Lauren Mottram-Heathcote, Internal Communications Manager at Auto Trader UK, agrees that working with corporate guidelines can be challenging if flexibility isn’t built in.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see how internal communications fits in so your comms can feel corporate and rigid. I believe, as you’re communicating with an internal audience, you have the opportunity to dial up elements of your brand, be a little cheekier with your tone of voice or mix up the colour palette slightly. I always keep the brand’s origin, but I certainly feel comms is often overlooked when creating or updating a brand’s identity.”

Is this down to a lack of investment, or planning? For Alice Colarusso, Head of Internal Communications at ITV, it’s more about the need to regularly review your communications. “We’ve always had budget and access to a great design team but we’ve not invested in terms of a cohesive look … over time as the brand has evolved we need to do something to neaten it up. It’s not quite where it needs to be.”

Investing properly in this area can result in vibrant visual identities which show the organisation at its most expressive and human. And the need for this kind of flexible system, that can adapt to the tone of its content, has never been more apparent than it is now.

Having a brand and templates to use makes the process far simpler as teams have guidelines to follow to create more engaging content.”
Jane Roques-Shaw
Global Executive Director, Culture & Engagement
Into the spotlight

The all-consuming impact of Covid-19 means almost every business finds itself with an entirely remote workforce. It’s no surprise that internal comms teams, and the channels they use, have been firmly thrust into the spotlight. As we lose the identifiers of what we thought made an organisation – its premises, routines, even unofficial uniforms – we realise how much you can take away, without losing the soul. What’s left is the way people work together, communicate and look out for each other – this is the real culture.

Internal comms teams, and the brands that support them, have been vital in holding these disparate teams together, and making sure they still feel like one group of people on a shared journey. While it’s creating a huge workload, the ability to react and adapt demonstrates how important these teams are to their organisations. So much so that 90% of IC professionals say the crisis will have a positive impact on their profession.

At ITV, Alice Colarusso is hearing feedback that her team’s approach is, “phenomenal, seamless, galvanising.” The need to respond quickly has seen them fast-track new initiatives that until recently have been waiting months to sign off. Products and tools are being prototyped and piloted with an urgency that simply wasn’t imaginable before.

We’ve been trying to relax things a bit. Our colleagues have really embraced the change and that’s encouraged us to experiment a lot more.”
David Manning
Head of Internal Communications and Employee Engagement
BBC (Design + Engineering)
Retain the learnings

Similarly, Lauren Mottram-Heathcote has launched new channels to bring Auto Trader’s senior leadership team closer. As well as broadcasting bi-weekly on Microsoft Teams Live and following up with a Q&A on Slack, the CEO shares a short video every Friday to keep the team updated and celebrate successes. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Lauren says, “We’re looking to continue it into the new world while retiring some of the older ways we communicate.”

The BBC is also bringing people together by shedding formal procedures. David Manning, Head of Internal Communications and Employee Engagement at BBC (Design + Engineering), says, “People have really enjoyed connecting with the exec teams. They feel better connected to the BBC and have a better understanding of the decisions which have been made and why they have been made.”

The levelling effect of everyone being in the same situation is helping the corporation to shake off old ways. “That corporate tone of voice is dead. That’s a massive shift. There is a legacy of formality and that will have to break down. We’ve been trying to relax things a bit. Our colleagues have really embraced the change and that’s encouraged us to experiment a lot more.”

Like others have mentioned, David feels a lot of these learnings will be carried on beyond the pandemic. “I think we’ll have a very different BBC coming out of this. Internally, culturally we are all really feeling this. We know each other a lot better.”

Our identity for the Vodafone Foundation’s employee fundraising campaign
Adapt with changing times

The pandemic crisis has transformed the way organisations view their internal communications. As businesses look inwards at what holds their culture together, they see hard-working teams who are leading the way through ever-more immediate and informal channels.

To continue this achievement, those teams need a flexible system of tools, platforms and assets. It may have taken a serious global event for internal communications to be taken seriously. But by investing in industry-leading internal brand identities, they can evolve and grow in brighter times to come.

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