Fluffy, mysterious and confusing – these are just some of the terms I’ve heard people use to describe PR/communications teams. I developed a thick skin during my early career in regional journalism but there’s something about the word ‘fluffy’ which irks me. It conjures up images of a function of a business which is considered a ‘nice to have’ and not a ‘need to have’.
The dictionary definition seems to back this up:
3. having little or no intellectual weight; superficial or frivolous
A customer services advisor recently spent some time with the Bromford comms team and I started off by asking him what he thought we did. He was refreshingly honest and said he didn’t really have a clue. And this chap, lovely though he was, was no newbie either. If he didn’t have any idea about what we did, how do we expect someone fresh into the business to understand? There’s a great irony in PR/comms that we spend the vast majority of our time telling people’s stories to promote a company aim; but when it comes to us explaining what we actually do we’re left as quivering wrecks (okay, slight exaggeration). “What DO I actually do?” you say to yourself as you start questioning your very existence.
A second irony is that in an age where newspaper journalism continues to struggle and where social media is at the forefront of everything we do, PR/communications has never been more important. Just ask Thomas Cook or Merlin Entertainments Group (Alton Towers) if they’re in any doubt of that. News is instant and it’s 24/7 and comms teams have to reflect that ability to work quickly, effectively and with foresight. There’s certainly nothing fluffy about that.
But if we’re ever to shift away from these sweeping generalisations that all we do is sit around drinking coffee, schmoozing journalists and sending the odd tweet out then we must get better at talking about ourselves. We must get better at telling our own stories.
Our comms team is as fantastically busy as it is diverse. Whether we’re making animated videos, live streaming events, creating powerful content and branding, planning a website overhaul, working on the latest press enquiry or organising the annual colleague conference, we’re always thinking of new and inventive ways of ensuring Bromford’s message stands out. But to increase awareness and gain more credibility, we and other comms teams have got to get better at explaining why we do things and demonstrating our results and ROI. That’s why our team will now be blogging about our work and it’s why we’re aiming to complete regular ‘experience it days’ – so that we can understand different parts of the business better and vice versa.
In terms of my own role looking after internal comms, back in March we started receiving analytics for our SharePoint intranet and subsequently started to form a picture on what parts of the site are popular and which are less so. This will help us make certain decisions when we complete a revamp of our intranet later in the year. As so often happens, our intranet has grown and grown to the point where we now need to make it far easier for colleagues to navigate around, to speed up their day. On average, you may be interested to know, over 300 colleagues (or 28%) read each internal news story we publish on SharePoint and 56% of colleagues regularly contribute to our thriving Yammer community – stats which I’ve just started publishing on the platform itself to emphasise our open and transparent approach to comms to other colleagues.
I’ve also been working with our repairs service since January on a new SMS text messaging and phone casting service to deliver crucial bits of news straight to their mobile phones. It’s a way of keeping them up-to-speed whilst they’re busy out on the roads all over our patch and the take-up rate is steadily rising with each broadcast. The success of our work with the repairs service has led to this phone casting feature being extended to two new groups of colleagues and we’re really pleased with the initial response we’ve been getting (70% take-up rates for some broadcasts). In total, we’re now targeting around 500 colleagues with these fortnightly updates.
My adorable cat Billy is fluffy and I love her for it. The work comms teams do to engage colleagues and customers is anything but in reality. How else would someone find out about their latest colleague benefit or the statement their CEO has just made about funding in the sector? Perceptions are built up over time and often stem from some sort of evidence. But it’s my job (and your job) to explain why we’re every bit as valuable as the next team and, only then, will we become truly great storytellers, and not just when we’re shining a light on someone else.