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I Said What I Said: The Art of Internal and Executive Communications.


Courtney Hughes

Internal communications are critical to building an informed and connected workplace. What happens what you intend to communicate doesn’t have the outcome you desired? This is what happens when you don’t listen and frame messaging the wrong way.

Today, we live in a world where every internal communication can easily become external and trending on Twitter. As communicators, we have to understand this and navigate the environment to write for outcomes. The graveyard is littered with companies who have died when they were abandoned by their customers. In this podcast, we will learn how to write a communication for the desired outcome and not fall into the trap of tone-deaf.

Michael Lynch: What is the difference between internal communication and executive communication?

Courtney Hughes: Internal communications have a much broader purpose, which includes messaging intended to boost morale, to build rapport and to talk about overall strategy and messaging for the company as a whole. But executive communications, while they are part of internal communications, have a narrower scope. Internally, executive communications bring that organization together around the strategy, the vision, the objective, what we're marching towards, and it informs their organization about really big news, campaigns, initiatives, launches. Executive communications also have an external component, too, to build the reputation of that executive or if they're selling products, to influencing media or offering innovative thinking. You see a lot of thought leadership platform and that's the external part of executive communications.

ML: Are we talking about communication that is really created and started by the executive or something that might be created by the public relations arm of the organization or both?

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CH: It's a little bit of both. Executive communications has two components, internal and external, and you absolutely work with your PR arm on external as well. But as far as messaging and framework, if that executive has a dedicated communications person like I do, I have a hand in building the messaging, whether it's internal, whether it's external, whether it's at an analyst conference or they're speaking with a customer meeting.

ML: What are your feelings about the importance of having an internal language and can sometimes that be confusing to both the people inside the organization and outside the organization?

CH: Personally, I don't like jargon. I understand it's a small group of executives, it's common shorthand for them. If you have a group of engineers together, I can understand it in a meeting with them, but in broader executive and internal communications, it can absolutely be lost. For example, you take any company that has gone through a merger or an acquisition that might have the same acronym but they mean two totally different things for both sides. You knew what your intent was, but it was received completely differently and they're like, "Well what does this mean?" If there is any question on, "Should I use this technical term? Is there a better way for me to say this that is easily understandable?", you should absolutely go that route.

ML: What do you think ultimately is going to be the consequences of the fact that so much of our communication now is written and sometimes the meaning gets lost compared to oral communication?

CH: I think there has to be a nice mix. I'm a firm believer in putting together any communication, it shouldn't be written for just one form. You should be using three to four vehicles for each piece of communication. And so when you bridge in that oral part of it, whether it's fireside chats, or even if you just have office hours is a big one that can help you connect outside of just the written form of communication. With how social media is, it's just going to continue to grow. Now, we get our news first from social media platforms, which has caused companies to have to reevaluate how we communicate and the vehicles that we use to communicate. You now have social media strategists at companies that didn't even exist before. I do think as an industry they are embracing that change, but you also have to be very, very careful with that as well.

ML: One of the things I wanted to pick up on was just how poor communication can really damage your brand with the public.

CH: We have seen time and time again how easy it is for one mistake to damage your brand. We've seen it with H&M, we've seen it with Pepsi. I mean, all it takes is one mistake. Whether it's in a commercial or a written communication or an advertisement, all it takes is one mistake to damage all of the work that you've done to build your brand. A key thing for communicators is to write as if it will get leaked. "If someone were to share it, that's fine, I wrote it like somebody would share it." Screenshots and pictures live forever. Long gone are the days of companies saying, "No, that's not what was said," because now there's a picture that proves the complete opposite.

ML: What are some of the key things that you should really keep in mind when you're writing the communication?

CH: The framing of your messaging is absolutely critical. How you frame it, whether it's internal executive, external, is absolutely important. As well as addressing the why, both for the company and for the audience. Sometimes they're the same and sometimes they're not, but you have to make sure that you address the why in writing a communication. Also, being clear about the meaning from the perspective of your audience. For example, if you're working on a change management communication and it's a change such as reorganizing the organization. Most executives and even from an internal comms perspective, when they're writing it, they're talking about the change, why we're doing it and why it's important and how this better aligns. One thing they leave out or sometimes it's at the very bottom is, what does this mean for the team members that received it? Everybody's first question of a reorganization is, "Do I still have a job?" They have skimmed through all of the reasons, all of your meaning, all of why we're doing this, to find that out, so it's easier to put that information up front after addressing any type of change because they're searching for it. Another tip would be to set clear expectations in the communications and writing for the desired outcome. What do we want people to do because they read this? What do we want them to know? How do we want them to feel reading it or feel listening to it? Another big thing that I've always seen in internal communications is not sharing progress in a steady drumbeat. It's always waiting for a big win or a big announcement to add an update to that, and you lose a lot because so much time has passed and you lose so much in transparency that helps in building trust when you're able to do that in a steady drumbeat.

Courtney Hughes

Want to learn more from Courtney Hughes? Register today for Integrate where Courtney, along with a great line up of speakers, will present on the most up to date marketing communications strategies and technologies. Experts in PR, data, healthcare, creative, digital and social media will converge in Morgantown for Integrate 2020.

Want to subscribe to our podcast and to hear more from industry professionals? Check us out on  SpotifyPodBeaniTunes, or on our  Marketing Communications Today podcast. Join us Thursday, January 30 at 1 p.m. with Patrick Delaney .

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