Is Internal Communications a Marketing or HR Responsibility?

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We’re not just talking about communicating the perennial reminder for people not to leave their dirty crockery in the sink (although how you communicate that does make a difference).

And we don’t mean employee communications like policy or benefits information, training news, or change notices. We’ll call this operational communication, and while the comms itself may be supported or delivered by a different department, the objective and associated measurement is part of HR’s remit.

Think bigger. Think people strategy. 

Internal communication has a wider role that incorporates both internal and external brand, organisational mission and culture, and serves a wide audience including employees, managers, stakeholders, and board level leaders.

It’s the words, spoken and written, and the behaviours displayed by those at the top of the organisation. It’s the cues, written, verbal and non-verbal, that resonate down and set the tone for the entire organisation.

Internal communication becomes a strategy when it is used as an ingredient in how you frame and nurture relationships between employee and employer; between those who lead and those who are led; even relationships between colleagues.

Building a culture of communication across the organisation is vital.

There’s most likely some form of internal communications in place that can act as a starter resource, so take some time to assess what’s working and what isn’t. What is the overall objective of this project and what is its relationship to your employer brand, your external brand, your HR strategy and wider organisational goals?

Maybe your communications plan aims to manage change, or tackle challenges around engaging remote workers. Perhaps this is part of a staff retention initiative or you’re trying to boost engagement and productivity. What is the change you want to see?

Clearly articulating the objective/s will ensure you achieve stakeholder buy in and enables the rest of the strategy to fall into place more easily. 

Start by assessing what’s gone before. Who has been involved in its delivery? Seek feedback from employees and stakeholders on what they feel about the level and style of comms they already receive? What works? What doesn’t? What would they like to see? 

Communication is the basis of any healthy relationship, and the workplace is no different. According to a Gallup study, effective communication – regardless of the medium, in person, over the phone or via email or video chat – is a key ingredient in a high engagement workplace. Employees whose managers schedule regular meetings with them are on average three times more engaged than those who don’t.

Where does internal communications do?

Employee engagement and retention

With the recruitment market more competitive than ever, smart organisations are looking at every way they can to retain their most valuable employees. A strong internal communications strategy is low hanging fruit in this regard.

With key internal and external brand messages effectively delivered, your employees will have an easier time identifying with the company purpose and appreciating their role in the organisation. Everybody wants to feel like they’re part of something, and by sharing stories of success – demonstrating what ‘good’ looks like – and opportunities for people to engage, you help to build that all important sense of team and community.

Enhanced transparency

Few things are more highly prized among the young talent of today than transparency on the issues they care about – fairness, sustainability, diversity, inclusion, social responsibility – so, assuming any of these topics being addressed by your organisation, make them part of your internal communications strategy.

Protect your brand

Many businesses spend vast sums educating their customers about the values and benefits associated with their brand, yet when it comes to their most important brand stakeholders, their people, they forget to do that same.

Every single one of your employees is a walking advertisement for your brand. Having them mingle about the world with little to no idea about the purpose, performance, values or strategy of their employer is a risky move. Here’s one of many cautionary tales about what happens when employees go off message.

Get ahead of a crisis

When a crisis hits, the urge to batten down the hatches and lockdown all comms is a powerful one. But research suggests that damage can be mitigated more effectively if the organisation is the first to respond, a tactic known among communications professionals as ‘stealing thunder’.  

Who should own internal communications?

But whose responsibility is it to set the agenda and execute the communications strategy?

A poll of internal communications professionals found that over half reported into a marketing or corporate communications department, while only 16% reported into HR.

The case for Marketing:

Every interaction a customer has with an organisation is an opportunity to influence brand perception. A phone call, email or store visit are all opportunities to reinforce the positive brand attributes they’ve worked so hard to convey, and they rest on the conduct and behaviour of employees, so you can understand marketing wanting a steering hand on the tone and content of internal comms.

The case for HR:

When you’re responsible for engagement, talent management, productivity reporting, and ultimately answerable for how the workforce performs, internal communications are the direct link between your people strategy and its intended recipients.

Both disciplines can lay a claim to the task, backed up with legitimate justifications.

And both teams now face the spotlight of social media, where every employee and every customer is now an instant reviewer, with a public platform to immediately air their perceptions, good or bad.

So it’s in everyone’s interests for this to be done well. The answer, obviously, is collaboration.

There shouldn’t be too much distance between marketing’s idea of how employees should represent the brand, and how HR feel their workplace culture should be portrayed. If there’s a gulf, perhaps you have bigger issues to address than who owns internal comms.

HR bring their knowledge of the workforce, it’s makeup and demographics, its frustrations and fears. Nobody works more closely with employees up and down an organisation than HR, and to a communications professional, that kind of insight is like gold dust.

Marketing brings expertise in messaging, campaign planning and content creation. Marketing can use the insight HR gives them about their workforce to segment the audience in the same way they would for an external campaign.

Using the same tools they employ externally, Marketing can also help HR track the performance of internal comms. How many employees did it reach? How many interacted with it? Track it like a marketing campaign and you’ll soon start developing insights on what works and what doesn’t. 

Ultimately, HR and marketing serve the same audience when it comes to internal communications. Each team needs to play to its strengths and respect the other’s expertise.

Learn more below about HR’s role in the workplace, from strategy and analytics, to conflict resolution and mental wellbeing.