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Apply Savvy To Internal Communications

by Alf Nucifora

Smart marketers allocate significant resources to understanding and communicating with their external customers. That, after all, is what marketing is all about. But the same investment in time, energy and money is not always made in communicating to the internal customer - the employee.

Internal communications is traditionally viewed as the sole province of the Human Resources department. The marketing functionaries, who so assiduously apply their specialized skills to promoting a new product or introducing a new ad campaign, are seldom called upon to apply the same skills to internal marketing issues.

What is it?

Internally marketed issues cover the gamut. In essence, they involve any matter in which the company benefits from employee involvement. Obvious examples are the internal communication of corporate culture and goals, mission and vision statements, personnel policies and procedures, including recruitment information and specialized initiatives in areas such as customer service and Six Sigma. They can also involve specific functional initiatives such as advising staff about new product introductions (from marketing), plant and capital improvements (from manufacturing) and new acquisitions (from finance).

Most internal marketing activities exhibit a singular lack of imagination…dull staff meetings, boring, self-serving management newsletters, crowded, unattractive notice- board announcements, and memoranda from department heads written with all the empathy of an appliance instruction manual. Why not approach internal marketing as you would an external marketing campaign with a laying out of goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, timing, budget and projected results.

A Different Approach

From a tactical viewpoint, consider alternate methods and mechanisms for communicating with company constituents.

  • Advertising: Replace the boring, printed bulletin/newsletter with sophisticated e-mail version (in html format) and even slickly produced video messages that are sent to the home for after-hours viewing.
  • Promotion: Christmas parties and Friday afternoon beer bashes serve their purpose, but smart management appreciates the value of internal promotion as a communications tool. Special events and off-the-clock activities are some of the most effective techniques for promoting internal communication and arousing company spirit.
  • Direct Mail: Instead of a turgid, jargon-laden memo handed down from the hierarchical heights, consider a personalized letter conveying the appropriate corporate message sent directly to the employee's home, where it will encounter a more receptive frame-of-mind. (It's also a great way to secure the support of the rest of the family.)
  • Research: Most employees are too scared to fill out surveys and questionnaires. Of course, most are never asked. Consider internal focus groups moderated by outside facilitators with a guarantee of strict confidentiality. This qualitative diagnostic tool is guaranteed to unearth latent concerns and discontent and can provide effective feedback for the development of new corporate programs.
  • Common Courtesy: All too often, employee morale and job satisfaction fall victim to management's failure to deliver on its obligations and commitments. Long-overdue job performance appraisals and lack of formal career planning are but two common examples of the condition.

Most companies are dismal at the practice of internal marketing because they fail to appreciate the importance of a commitment to the practice. Ironically, internal marketing works best in large corporations where internal marketing protocols have been mandated and in smaller organizations (fewer than 20 employees) where proximity ensures close communication. But in the vast group of mid-sized American companies, it suffers from benign neglect.

Making it Work

Internal marketing success doesn't come lightly or without effort. It demands an unwavering and constant commitment to the process…an open-ness to the extent that traditionally protected information is shared with all employee levels and an acknowledgment that your employees are also your best word-of-mouth commercial for the company. If they truly understand the company's direction and the reasoning behind its behavior, they'll be the firm's best promoters and advocates.

Skeptical? Look at the correlation between company success and great internal marketing. Herb Kelleher, former-CEO of Southwest Airlines and the ultimate showman, drove the airline to greater levels of success by "promoting" to his employees in a manner that was fresh, sometimes irreverent, but always communicating a message that supported the airline's desired culture. Similar examples include Mindspring's Charles Brewer, Chic-fil-A's Truett Cathy, and the best-of-breed, Sam Walton.

For far too long, internal marketing has been the silent, unacknowledged step-child of thousands of U.S. companies and organizations. But in today's business environment where loyalty between company and employee is generally illusory or lacking, a moderate financial investment, coupled with a modicum of commitment, is all it takes to turn disgruntled or apathetic employees into contented "customers".

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