Why the PR & Marcoms models always fall short internally

What if:

many people have inherited a paradigm in which…

…people are expected to use external communication models for internal communication?

Many commentators still proclaim that, thanks to social media, business communication is now like the city of Jericho: the walls between internal and external comms have tumbled down. They’re sooo wrong. . Despite some people still clinging to terms such as ‘Internal PR’ and ‘Internal marketing’ you simply can’t use those external communication models internally and expect them to be DFVP. In fact, they’re demonstrably unfit for purpose.

Five factors make this inevitable:

  1. The purpose of IC
  2. The financial dynamics
  3. The SMARTIED Principle
  4. The Disengagement Triggers
  5. The silo dynamic

We’ve explored most of these in other blogs. What we haven’t yet done is explained is why they demand that Internal Communication be treated differently to its external counterparts.

The purpose of IC

This should be self-evident. When we discussed the purpose of IC, I demonstrated that it’s clearly different from that of Marketing & PR. How likely is it, then, that the same processes be fit for two such different purposes? They’re not – and if you doubt this, read on.

The financial dynamics

With both internal and marketing communications, your organisation has to pay to produce them and put them in front of an audience. Crucially, though, with internal communication, your organisation also has to pay the audience for the time it’s spending receiving the communication.

But external audience time is free. So if an external communication happens to be seen by loads of people for whom it’s irrelevant, it’s no biggie. Not so with an internal communication. This means identifying audiences for internal communications has to be far more precise.

The SMARTIED Principle

Let’s imagine a manufacturer of consumer electronics is about to launch two campaigns: one external (promoting its new tablet) and one internal (introducing new Health & Safety procedures).

The outcome the company wants from the external campaign is that its audience is buying the tablet (and hopefully recommending that others do likewise). From the internal campaign the business needs its employees to be following the new H&S procedures.

How much control does that business have over the SMARTIED resources (Skills, Money, Authority, Responsibilities, Time, Information, Equipment and Desire) its audiences will need in order to achieve those two outcomes?

With the external campaign, the company is obviously responsible for providing at least some of the:

Information (although the audience could also look at independent reviews of the product)

Equipment (an online presence, and/or physical shops with tills – although the audience would need to have the ability to access an online store)


All the other resources are solely in the hands of the audience.

However, with the internal campaign, the business is responsible for ensuring all the SMARTIED resources are in place.

Of course, not every employee action needs every SMARTIED resource. But whichever resources are needed, they’ll have to be in place before any internal communicating stands a chance of producing the expected results. So again, quite unlike external communications, , we need to build the SMARTIED principle into both the internal communication briefing and planning processes, and the feedback/measurement process.

Disengagement Triggers

Let’s now think about how people respond to marketing communications. Imagine a young single guy watching a TV show in his flat. An ad break comes on and he decides to sit through it. In the middle of this break is an ad for disposable nappies. How’s he likely to react? Chances are he’ll think “This isn’t for me”. And he becomes a Detached Observer – which is fine because:

  1. His time comes for free.
  2. The communicators never wanted to talk to him anyway

Crucially, it’s always OK with Marketing and PR communications if some of the people who receive them effectively switch off and don’t pay attention. Sometimes it can even be OK with certain internal comms. Let’s say, for example, there were a global email about car parking arrangements. It would be fine for employees, who don’t drive to work, to switch off and move onto something else. But if the subject were a core business activity, or Health & Safety, you couldn’t afford to have anyone switch off.

Unfortunately, though, such disengagement is often more likely to happen with internal comms for two reasons:

  1. Unlike the audiences for external communication, internal audiences can often start reading many communications out of a sense of duty – not because they really want to. So you can sometimes be communicating with an audience that doesn’t want to be there. External communication audiences have always volunteered themselves to receive what’s in front of them (arguments about who controls the remote aside).
  2. The relationship dynamic between communicator and audience can be far more tangled internally. With an external communication it’s always a case of ‘We’ the organisation, are talking to ‘You’ the audience about ‘This’ the proposition. But with internal communications, it can often end up being “We” the organisation, are talking to “You” the organisation, about “Us” the organisation.

So internal communications are way more susceptible than external comms of switching off their audiences (and failing as a result) . We therefore need a far more disciplined set of language standards.

The Silo Dynamic

Let’s say you were to respond to an in-house campaign by choosing to get involved in a new initiative. Chances are your boss, and others, would probably need to know you’d done so. When people respond to internal campaigns, the left hand needs to know what the right hand’s up to.

But if you responded to an ad campaign by going out and buying a new tablet, would it matter if your next door neighbour didn’t know you’d done so? Of course not. With external campaigns, there is no left hand.

For all these reasons, then, if your IC practices and standards are going to be DFVP, many of them have to be profoundly different from those of PR and Marketing.

FREE workshop

And we’re currently offering free workshops which will help you understand more about making this work for your organisation. We’ll set it up to run at a time to suit you and anyone you want to invite. It will:

  • spell out more of the business benefits (emotional, financial and reputational)
  • walk you through the mechanics of moving your IC Specialists into the Sweet Spot, and
  • show you how to make the business case for introducing this new paradigm.
free workshop