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IC interview: internal comms ‘shouldn’t be ruled by digital’

IC Magazine sat down with Jennifer Sproul, Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), to find out about her career to date.

Q. How long have you been in your current role and what does it involve?
A. Since May 2016. I lead the IoIC, ensuring we run to a high standard, every day. I’m responsible for the financial and commercial operations and I work with our volunteers, the board and head office on delivering our portfolio of activities. Fundamentally, my role’s about supporting and driving the development of the organisation.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. No two days are the same. I also enjoy being involved with our qualifications, assessors and candidates, helping people with their career paths. I find it refreshing that every person I’ve met genuinely wants the IoIC to succeed; everyone wants to feel their profession matters.

Q. Is there anything you don’t enjoy?
A. I have a list as long as my arm of things we could be doing and real direction for the future, but I have to be realistic. The challenge is balancing pace, resource and budget. To make sure it continues to grow, sometimes I have to slow myself down.

Q. What did you do previously and how did you get into internal communications?
A. My experience is in professional bodies and marketing; I was at the Market Research Society (MRS) for 13 years. Running a membership body is very much like working in IC. You have a broad group of stakeholders and have to look at your channels and engage members.

Q. What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
A. Becoming Chief Executive of the IoIC. Being given that responsibility and trust by a board choosing you to do the job it needs makes you feel good. There are many proud moments to come and have been lots already: regrading our membership, revamping our communications and working on our CPD programme.

Q. What are the benefits of good IC?
A. It’s a means to creating an informed, engaged and connected workforce to drive organisational performance. We’re launching a new profession map to visually articulate the purpose of IC.

Q. How has the world of IC changed since you started working in it?
A. I haven’t been in IC long, but I’ve been in professional bodies and publishing, and new channels and technology have transformed the landscape.

Q. How important do you think the digital boom has been to IC?
A. It’s been great for connecting with remote workforces, sharing messages instantly, facilitating conversations and enriching lives. But it’s challenge to relinquish control. I don’t believe we should be ruled by digital; not everybody needs it. It allows for metrics, but we shouldn’t be led by this; analytics should be balanced with conversation and qualitative feedback.
I love print – we’re bringing it back with our new IoIC publication, to help create pace with thought leadership. Through print, we can offer true breadth and depth of content, which you can’t do with digital. There’s a place for everything.

Q. What would you say to someone wanting to start a career in IC?
A. Do it! If you’re curious, creative, analytical and strategic, and you like people, IC offers the perfect balance. It mixes HR, PR and marketing; you won’t get that skills mix elsewhere.

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

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.