IC interview: internal comms ‘should no longer be a company’s postbox’

December 19, 2016

Dan McLoughlin

Dan McLoughlin has gone from writing magazines in his childhood bedroom to becoming Head of Internal Communications at Nestlé UK & Ireland. He reflects on how the industry has changed since those early days and what the future might look like.

How long have you been in your current IC role and what does it involve?
Three years now. My role is about connecting people with what it means to work for the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company. I get to communicate with the people who make some of the nation’s most loved products. There are a few Nespressos and KitKats involved, too!

What do like most about your role?
Definitely the variety – I could be writing the script for a video in the morning, then presenting new ideas in the afternoon.
Working at Nestlé has given me the opportunity to improve my skills across a wide range of areas. I’m also privileged to work with people from all levels of the organisation.

Is there any part you don’t enjoy?
In any IC role, the phrase “I need you to send out an email” usually has me running for the coffee machine. In 2016, internal comms should no longer be about being the company’s postbox. I also don’t like it when people assume it’s just the Internal Comms function that does internal comms – everyone has a responsibility to communicate in the workplace. Our job is becoming increasingly about enabling people to communicate well, whether that’s working on messaging with a senior leader or helping colleagues make the most out of internal social media.

What did you do before your current role?
I joined Abbey National straight out of university. It was a really interesting time for the business – just before it rebranded to become Abbey, and then shortly afterwards it was taken over by Santander. But I got to a point where I had to choose whether I wanted to work in external or internal communications. I knew I didn’t want to speak to journalists; helping employees through change was much more interesting.
I went on to work for PR agency Fishburn Hedges and worked for big clients like Eurostar, BT and Nestlé, and left there to set up an internal comms function at Middlesex University. Then the opportunity came up to work for Nestlé full-time.

How did you get into internal comms?
I’ve always been interested in language so it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve ended up where I am.
As a kid, I harboured an ambition to be the editor of Smash Hits magazine, so I’d make my own mags on carbon paper and sell them at school. I went on to study German and Linguistics at the University of York and, when it came to looking through employers in my final year, Abbey’s Corporate Affairs scheme seemed to tick all the boxes.

What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?
Being part of the team that managed the communications surrounding the acquisition of Abbey by Santander back in 2004 – I was very young and inexperienced at the time, but it was where I cut my teeth.

What are the benefits of good internal communications?
Establishing a shared sense of purpose and – especially when you work for a large organisation – helping everyone feel that they’re part of one company, which is crucial.
Internal comms is a good way to profile the great work going on within a company that people may not get to see otherwise, as well as helping employees through times of change. You want employees to feel proud and better informed, and if internal communications can help them have a good day at work, that’s important too.

What does bad internal comms look like?
A discipline that fails to evolve. You’ve got to continually try new things in internal comms because the way people engage and communicate in the real world is constantly changing.
And with five generations of employees in the workplace now, bad comms could be taking a one-size-fits-all approach – you have to be able to find ways of communicating that includes everyone.

How has the world of IC changed since you started working in it?
I’ve been in corporate affairs for 14 years and specialised in internal comms for most of that. When I started, the intranet was king, but now video is much more commonplace, plus most companies use some form of internal social media.
That said, I think there will always be a place for print; with our increasing reliance on technology, face-to-face events now have an even greater impact.

What would your advice be to anyone wanting to break into a career in internal comms?
Really understand your business – how it works, what the numbers say and how the leaders talk. But equally, look outside – understand the competitors and what’s on the mind of those senior leaders so that you can stay ahead.

I don’t like it when people assume it’s just the Internal Comms function that does internal comms – everyone has a responsibility to communicate in the workplace.