Tag Archives: headlines internal communications agency

Designer Chris highly commended in IoIC ICon Awards

Headlines’ very own Chris Keller was highly commended in the Best Designer category at the prestigious ICon Awards ceremony yesterday.

Run by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), the awards – at London’s Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel – celebrated the industry’s best and most talented IC professionals.

Designer Chris said: “I’m over the moon to have won this award and to have been recognised by the industry. I feel passionately about internal communication and am very proud of this achievement.”

Six Headliners were shortlisted, including Peter Bennett in the Best Editor category, writers Holly Whitecross and Katie Nertney in the Rising Talent – Best Young Communicator category, Head of Video Sara Wilmot in the Best Visual Creator category and Brian Amey in the Best Designer category.

In 2015, Headlines’ Duncan Boddy brought home the Best Designer Award.

Simon Dowsing, Director of Media Operations at Headlines, said: “This is excellent news. We are very proud of the talented, hardworking and dedicated people we have at Headlines.”

According to the IoIC, the ICon Awards recognise “the people who consistently turn theory into great internal communication practice”.

In recent weeks, Headlines has won a host of awards including Best Mobile/App in the industry at the IoIC Awards 2016, three Awards of Excellence at the same event and a Silver Award for Best Mobile App at the MK Digital Awards.

Company narrative: get your story straight

Your company narrative is the most fundamental building block when creating effective internal communications and a positive workplace culture. Here’s why.

There’s no denying that terms such as ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative’ are industry buzzwords at the moment, and they are often misappropriated to label existing (and usually dull) communications in the hope of making them feel fresh and relevant.

But if you can get through the noise, the company narrative can be a game changer for your communications approach.

When developing your communications strategy, it is critical that the narrative is developed at the same time, because – if it is done properly – the narrative becomes the bedrock from which all other comms and key messages are developed.

What is a company narrative?

At it’s simplest – a two to three page document that covers aspects of your company’s history, values, ambitions and hopes for the future.

Mark Bonchek is founder and Chief Epiphany Officer of Shift Thinking. He helps organisations achieve growth and change by adopting new thinking to engage customers and empower employees.

Mark Bonchek
Mark Bonchek

He states that a narrative: “says who you are as a company; where you’ve been, where you are, and where you are going; how you believe value is created and what you value in relationships. It explains why you exist and what makes you unique.”

The key aspect to make clear in the narrative is what Mark calls the ‘shared purpose’ – the outcome that the organisation and the customer are working towards together. It is the foundation of the relationship that the company has with its customers and its employees.

Mark adds that: “Most people think of purpose as what your employees do FOR your customer.  But in a social age, the real power is creating a shared purpose WITH your customer.”

This shared purpose creates the opportunity for a different kind of relationship with the customer.  One that is more collaborative and reciprocal than the typical “producer/consumer” relationship to which we are accustomed.

Mark took us through some examples of companies with powerful narratives built around a shared purpose, an authentic Brand DNA, and a relationship beyond the transaction:


“With a shared purpose to ‘inspire the athlete in all of us,’ Nike’s relationship with its customers is not just a producer/consumer relationship, it’s more like coach/athlete, and it comes from the fact that Nike was co-founded by a coach, Bill Bowerman” says Mark.

Virgin America

Rather than the ‘airline-passenger’ model, Virgin America’s narrative (and therefore marketing and advertising) is, Mark argues: “more like they are the host of the party and we are the party guests.” It also connects back to the Brand DNA established by Richard Branson, known for throwing a great party.


“Typically, the relationship in the hospitality industry has been one of lodger/guest, based on the a transaction.  What Airbnb has done is shift that relationship to neighbour/neighbour, based on a shared purpose of ‘Belong Anywhere.’” says Mark.

Shared purpose for employees

What is interesting about the Airbnb example is that the shared purpose of belonging and the neighbour/neighbour relationship is reflected in how the company engages with its own employees. Meeting rooms are inspired by active Airbnb listings, free lunches are themed around the 191 countries where it hosts, and there is a $2,000 (£1,360) annual travel budget given to each employee to use outside of work; all geared towards immersing their employees in the brand and making them effective ambassadors.

Airbnb is just one example of how a strong narrative can help to take employees on the journey with you, and this is particularly important when dealing with subjects that – at least on the surface – are not what employees will take a huge interest in.

Using narrative for specific campaigns

Kate Shaw, Internal Communications Manager at Nationwide, recently won a raft of awards for her work on a campaign to get colleagues more interested in, and signing up to, additional contributions to their pensions.

Not the most engaging subject, you might argue, but one that nonetheless is very important to Nationwide’s colleagues, as Kate explains: “The organisation was very keen to engage people on the importance of pensions. There were important changes happening so if we had communicated these in the wrong way, all they would have heard was ‘you’re taking more of my salary every month, and I don’t get why’. So getting our narrative right up front was really important”.

The resulting campaign, one of the highlights of which is a witty and accessible pensions video, has seen the number of employees signed up to make additional contributions rise from 10 per cent to 83 per cent.

A huge achievement, and one that Kate puts down to planning, and having their narrative established from the beginning.

She said: “We had a story written down about how we wanted employees to feel and what we wanted that end experience to be. We wanted to articulate from the employee point of view how it feels to work for Nationwide, how the organisation cares and looks after them, and then go into the pension details.

“The narrative itself is the most unglamorous document! But that’s on purpose so stakeholders don’t get distracted from the story. Having it signed off along with the strategy then meant sign off on subsequent materials was dramatically easier because you have agreed the narrative content upfront, everything you write reflects that original document.”

And Kate is clear that the narrative must come early in the comms planning process, saying: “Before we even went near the video or any of the methods for delivering the campaign, we sat with Ian Baines, Head of Pensions, and went through with him what we were trying to achieve from a business perspective, and how we could achieve this through narrative and storytelling. We had to understand where we were going first and agree that with Ian, so we made sure we could deliver what the business wanted.”

Humans + stories = communication

Kate’s success proves that knowing where you want to get to and having your narrative straight from the beginning gives you a huge advantage in creating a successful communications campaign.  Whether you are writing a narrative for your whole business or a specific time-fixed campaign, the benefits cannot be underestimated.

A good story is the most powerful way to communicate an idea, a concept or important information. So it makes absolute sense that, when planning our communications, the narrative or story elements are not an afterthought or something bolted on to make our messages easier to digest, but instead at the very heart of everything we do.

Narrative versus story

It is important to make the distinction between narrative and story because they are not the same thing, especially in the context of a company narrative.

Story is a structured narrative; it has a beginning, middle and an end (although not necessarily in that order) and, most importantly, has some sort of conclusion. Story is something that we witness or experience, but we do not play a part in.

Narrative, on the other hand, is open. More like an unfinished story that doesn’t need to have a distinct beginning or end. The narrative creates a story world in which we can get involved, a place for us to create our own stories.

A good parallel is the difference between movies and a video game like Minecraft. In a movie, we witness the linear progression of the story, hopefully enjoy it, and then the plot is all wrapped up at the end. In Minecraft, all of the elements of a story are there — the world, characters, the stakes — but it is left to the player to then take part, to build, to make the world their own, to create their own stories. And, crucially, the world of Minecraft never really ends either.

In the context of IC, the company narrative should usually contain at least the beginning of the story – the history of the company, their values, what they are trying to achieve (shared purpose) and then leave it open so that employees can play their own part in the success of the business and create their own stories within the world that the narrative has created.


Six Headliners shortlisted for ICon Awards


The ICon Awards shortlist has been announced – and six Headliners are in the running.

The awards, run by the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC), celebrate the most talented professionals in the IC industry.

Editor Peter Bennett has been shortlisted in the Best Editor category, while journalist Holly Whitecross and senior journalist Katie Nertney are both up for the Rising Talent – Best Young Communicator award.

Designers Brian Amey and Chris Keller have both been shortlisted for the Best Designer award, won by Headlines’ Duncan Boddy in 2015. Head of Video Sara Wilmot is in the running for Best Visual Creator.

The winners will be announced at the ICon Awards lunch on 10 November at London’s Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel.

According to the IoIC, the ICon Awards recognise “the people who consistently turn theory into great internal communication practice”.

Simon Dowsing, Head of Media Operations at Headlines, said: “It is fantastic news that we have six people from our creative teams shortlisted for these prestigious awards.

“They are all thoroughly deserving and do an excellent job for our clients and our business.”

The news comes after multiple other award wins in the last five weeks including Best Mobile/App in the industry at the IoIC Awards 2016, three Awards of Excellence at the same event and a Silver Award for Best Mobile App at the MK Digital Awards.

How to create your best budget plan yet

Silke Brittain, Commercial Director at Headlines, shares her tips for getting through budget season.

It’s that time of year again – strategic budget planning season’s here. And when it comes to making decisions on where to invest your business’s resources, the pressure is on to get it right.

When you’re so close to your business and communications, it can be difficult to step back and take a bird’s-eye view. But with a clever approach, you’ll be able to get it spot on every year.

Here are some tips for creating your best budget plan yet.

Consider limiting factors
Think about your business’s limiting factors and try to identify the single biggest one. List the ways in which you might be able to overcome your challenges – then evaluate them. Focus on one solution which, if it works, gives you a BIG payback, as well as a handful of others that are easy to implement and most likely to give a decent return. These will become your business critical solutions; you should invest the most and best resources in them.

Think about your three- to five-year plan
What direction is your business going in? What’s your business proposition? Consider your reputation, the markets you operate in, your team, your customers and how the organisation is performing. With the knowledge of where the business wants to be in five years, work backwards to set yearly targets and to consider the steps required to achieve each target along the way.

Identify quarterly goals
Try setting three goals for each quarter. Be SMART when you do so – and think about what you and your team can realistically do in a three-month period. Even the best-planned strategies can fall flat if the goals are overwhelming. Putting too much on everyone’s plates can lead to inaction and lack of focus.

Involve your team
You don’t need to do this alone. In fact, your team is likely to be a fountain of great ideas that will help you reach your milestones. Using your list of limiting factors and solutions as a framework, hold a brainstorm. Not only will your team’s ideas and buy-in help you achieve your goals, but it will also do wonders for engagement, especially when the suggestions are listened to and acted on.

Revisit your plan every quarter and don’t be afraid to adjust it if you need to. You can’t afford to lose focus!

Good luck with your budget planning. We’d love to hear about your experiences! Just head to our contact page and drop us a line about how you’re getting on or, if you would like a query answered, don’t hesitate to ask.

Guest blog: Leave communications to the communicators

Andrew Hubbard, internal communications manager at Network Rail, asks: “Are we tough enough to challenge the boss?”

“This is signed off so it’s good to go.”

Oh, that’s all fine then. We’ll put that into the machine. Wait a minute… Who wrote this? Who signed it off? And what even is it?

We’ve all been there. Some copy is handed to us for an email, intranet news item or magazine feature and we’re told it’s ready for the masses. But is it?

When it comes to the game of ‘the boss wants it done’, I think all of us have been guilty of going into delivery mode. I know I have. But do we challenge our business leaders enough? After all, we’re paid to do be trusted advisors.

If a colleague from any other area of the business came and said: “Hey, I have an email that needs to go out to everyone in the business right away from the head of procurement. She’s signed it off so it’s good to go.” The first thing we would do is ask what they were trying to get people to do and work with them to achieve just that.

The end result would likely be a different message altogether, delivered in an alternative format or channel.

Do we always do the same when the boss comes with and wants something delivered? And even if we do push back, do they always listen? The boss-knows-best mentality seldom leads to effective communications. It’s on us as communicators to stand firm, advise, provide alternatives and help leaders see that a different way of delivering their all-important messages will pay dividends.

Andrew says: when challenging the boss…

  • Start with why: Why are we looking to say this? Why now? Why this audience? These questions can often lead to the boss rethinking things themselves.
  • Metrics always win: Data beats ideas. Help them see your way of thinking with numbers. It’s difficult to argue with facts and figures. As American engineer W. Edwards Deming once said: “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”
  • Provide alternatives: Nobody likes to be told “no”, not least the boss. Have examples of the other options available to them and turn the “no” into a “yes, but what about doing it this way?” Chances are they will like your idea better anyway.