Q&A: what can internal comms learn from advertising?

February 15, 2017

Compared with the likes of external communications and marketing, internal comms is still a young industry – so we decided to take a peek at one of our sister industries to see what we could learn.

Kate Nicoli works as Board Account Director at Leo Burnett, one of the world’s most successful ad agencies, with prominent clients such as Coca-Cola, General Motors, Samsung and Kellogg’s.

Kate Nicoli

The agency is responsible for such iconic adverts and campaigns like the Marlboro Man in the 1960s and the reinvention of Old Spice in 2010.

Q. Hello Kate. One of our big challenges is that employees are busy, often out in the field and don’t have time or are unwilling to engage. What can you tell us about engaging with unwilling audiences?

A. “In advertising, all audiences are unwilling! Back in the 1960s we used what’s called an interruptive style of advertising; we would stop the audience, tell them what we wanted to say and they would listen.

“But we don’t have that luxury anymore because there is too much content vying for the audience’s attention. Now you have to create a role for yourself in the lives of consumers, or you cannot expect them to pay attention to you.

“I would suggest it is the same for IC. If you are not giving your audience something in return then they will be reluctant to engage. Unless the audience sees the benefit of reading, watching or engaging with content then I don’t see why they would spend time on it.”

Q. So how do we create that pull to get busy employees engaged with their workplace?

A. “It’s important to become attuned to what your audience wants. The key with advertising is that you base it on a human insight, a human truth that is relevant to the consumer. So time should be taken to understand your audience and what they want. It’s not enough to just send out corporate messaging – it needs to link to the audience on an emotional level.

“For example, if there were rumours going around that your business was going to be sold, you would then address that honestly in your comms, because your audience expressed a desire in hearing more about it. The worst mistake we can make is assuming we know what people want to hear.

“A good place to start is to get your employees directly involved as ambassadors for your comms. For example, rather than the staff magazine being produced by the same people every issue, why not make your employees the editors of your magazine?

“They can put what articles and content they want in there. It becomes something that people want to get involved with and have a real investment in, rather than them thinking it has just come from the top.”

Q. In the mass of information that we communicate to employees, how do we make sure the important stuff gets through?

“I think it is important to remember that IC, and all communications, are not an opportunity to tell people what you want them to know; it is an opportunity for them to find out what they want to know.

“We wouldn’t create a billboard with 30 messages on it, or a print ad with a whole ream of copy. You have to choose the most important message and get it out there as succinctly as you can in an appealing way. So you have to be disciplined and resist the urge to keep communicating with people again and again. Less is definitely more.”

Q. What would you say are the key elements in creating great work?

A. “There are three aspects for me: a good brief, time and the input from the right people at the right time.

“We have recently introduced a new process at Leo Burnett for big creative briefs. We open up the brief to a wider group of people and allow them to all contribute their thoughts, ideas and research to the piece. We do this for ten days before all this content is transformed into a tighter ‘beta’ brief.

“Having that moment to be widely creative, where any idea is welcomed to the table is really helpful when coming up with unique ideas.

“In IC, where I understand budget can often be an issue, you can’t underestimate the importance of taking the time to get the right people involved and thinking creatively, rather than falling back on the same channels you’ve always used before.”

Q. Last question – what are your favourite ad campaigns of all time?

A. “Tough question! I would say the Harvey Nichols Walk of Shame, the Greenpeace-Lego ad and Share a Coke, which is more a marketing campaign but great anyway because it got me buying Coca-Cola and I don’t even drink it!”

I think it is important to remember that IC, and all communications, are not an opportunity to tell people what you want them to know; it is an opportunity for them to find out what they want to know.