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Voice from the Trenches: Internal Communications

August 19, 2010

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Alex Moore. Alex is a freelance writer, the Marketing Coordinator at Prellwitz Chilinski Associates, and a Consultant with Reilly Communications.

Internal Communications: You make sure your clients know your firm’s work. What about your own staff?

As marketers, we’re immersed in the projects and stories that form our firms’ DNA. You know them well – the ones that work their way into every brochure and onto the web site portfolio, the ones we see every day in proposals and summaries.

When we’re pulling together our 10th brochure of the week, seeing photos of our firm’s biggest and best projects, it’s easy to assume our co-workers are as familiar with these core messages as we are— and that they can recite the basic stories that are routinely relayed to our clients.

Fact is, they usually can’t.

Most technical staff are absorbed in a few projects (if that) for months on end, after which they’re quickly on to the next thing. Busy project staff members have little motivation to consider their firm’s “DNA,” or even the business success their work represented. Even principals and business development leaders need reminding. In their efforts to win work, they often fall back on the few projects they worked on or know best, or they simply march to their own drum, leaning on their own selling style while forgetting the language, stories, and projects in the firm’s toolkit.

This disconnect is unfortunate. “Tunnel vision” from BD leaders undermines firm-wide brand-building efforts and dilutes its marketing materials. Among project staff, inability to communicate effectively about the firm and its key projects is a barrier to career and business development. It’s hard to win over a new prospect if you get tongue-tied talking about the benefits of your own firm’s work.

That’s where we can help! Marketers at just about any level can, and should, champion internal communications. Almost all of us can get better in this area. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a great way to become more visible and valuable while engaging your colleagues in the marketing process.

Here are a few suggestions to help others within your firm get up to speed:

First, do your homework.

Seems obvious, but let’s be honest. When was the last time you took a critical eye to your project sheets? Or, actually thought about the boilerplate you slap onto every press release and proposal. Read, re-read, or, better yet, re-write the language you use most often in brochures and proposals. Learn your projects— not just the program, but the impact it made on clients and the community. Ask around to find out the key outcomes. Is that big development that the firm did 20 years ago still thriving? That’s a story that needs to be told!

Make sure your external communications travel internally.

We rightly concern ourselves with meeting deadlines and sending the right messages to clients. We wrongly forget to share our work, after the deadline, with our colleagues in-house. Beyond merely circulating copies of our work, marketers are wise to reinforce our intentions, to remind our teams of the messages we tried to communicate and why. This can be done in an email, but is best reserved for times we interface with others – like management or staffing meetings.

Find a captive audience, and tell your story.

Most firms have in-house workshops. I’ve heard a few aliases for these— “design Friday,” “lunch informal”— but the theme is the same: low-key office get-togethers to talk shop and step away from the computer. Get into the act! I did. Baiting folks with doughnuts, I led “How We Tell Our Stories,” a (hastily assembled) talk covering several of my firm’s top projects from a marketing perspective. I pulled out our marketing and press materials and listed a few “talking points” for each, then shared the publicity and results we earned through our PR outreach. At first, I thought maybe I could at least interest new hires and junior staff who didn’t know much about the projects. Then the firm’s principals came in, all armed with coffee and questions. The talk grew long and toward the end a senior architect asked where they could find a case study I’d written about a project that has gone on to be very successful for one of our clients. I pulled a copy off the shelf for him. “This is great. How long have we had this?” he asked.

“Two years.” I said.

“That’s a long time. How come I didn’t know about it?”

“It goes out with every proposal!”

“Who reads those things?”

Touché.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 1:05 pm

    Great article. We often forget about ourselves, don’t we? Your suggestions and approaches reinforce two things I hope to take away: the value of marketing within the firm (knowledge is power), and the simple effort of sharing as part of the marketing effort close-out.

  2. December 11, 2012 5:30 am

    This is very true. I run web projects for a large multinational and it is interesting to note in the statistics the number of internal visitors to the sites’ news sections! Internal communications messages are important but getting them in the right place to be read is equally important. I have recently developed a tool that places a sort of “internal advertising” area inside Outlook. This way we don’t clutter up the inbox but our internal communications messages are visible in the place users visit the most each day. It is the online equivalent of putting a notice board next to the water cooler!

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