High impact internal comms with limited resources

John Clegg, ChartCIPR

Ahead of his breakout session at the CIPR Inside Summit on 19 March, John Clegg talks about what internal Communicators can do to with limited resources without compromising impact.

Your CIPR Inside Summit speech is focused on helping Internal Communicators manage to have impact with limited resources – particularly if they are working as a lone practioner within an organisation. Tell us more…

Much of my career has been spent working in the third sector, and as Chair of the CIPR Not-for-Profit sector group – I am well aware of the challenges communicators face in these types of organisation. I have seen first-hand how you often have a very wide-remit, and very limited resources. This is incredibly important if you are a team of one. You have to be extremely organised, prioritise your workload ruthlessly, be quite strategic about what you undertake, and make sure your stakeholders understand your approach. It is very easy to see the potential to make vast improvement and take on too many projects, spreading yourself too thinly. This only leads to frustration and burnout. You have to prioritise your wellbeing – and being realistic about your capacity is absolutely vital.

Where do you start? There is so much to be done, and you only have so much time? Your stakeholders all think they are the most important voices, and you want to make sure you what you do delivers high impact?

Whenever I take on an in-house role, the absolute first thing I do is to conduct an audit of the existing channels and content. You can’t make decisions regarding your channels, content, or workload until you have the performance data. There are lots of resources out there that explain how to do it yourself. Of course, if you have the budget you can pay an agency or freelancer to come in and conduct one. I’ve always done it myself. It saves so much money, and I get a real chance to connect with people throughout the organsiation. 

Then, when you have the data, you can make informed decisions. This helps you to create your internal communications strategy, and then use that to create your channel strategy. 

Now you need to create your plan for the year. Using your internal communications strategy, you can refine the campaigns you need to undertake which will deliver the most impact. You know the channels you need to focus on, and roughly how much time they will require on a reoccurring basis – whether its weekly, monthly, or annually. 

But what content will need to go into these channels? As internal communications works across the whole organisation, you need to understand where your support will be required on projects, initiatives, and campaigns. You should be able to get most of this information from the annual business plan – or through meetings with leaders in your organisation.  

You should plan all of this with an understanding of what your capacity will be – making sure that you balance the time required for producing content such as newsletters or all-staff meetings with project work. 

The final step is to pull all of this together into an annual spreadsheet showing all of the campaigns and projects, along with all the timings for regularly reoccurring channels. I use Excel for this, but you can use any other gannt-style planning tool. This should be an annual plan that is reviewed each year.

So it’s all about strategic planning then really?

Well yes, and no. There is a lot more to managing and delivering it. Having the strategic plan in place helps – but you really need to be able to prioritise and manage your stakeholders.

Personally, I would recommend creating a service model – which helps you set expectations at the outset. As I mentioned above, you have to be strategic about what you work on. Make sure that you prioritise things that will affect the largest audience and have potential for significant reputational impact. There are other campaigns, and initiatives that involve smaller audiences, which you can advise colleagues on, and then things which have small audiences which you really don’t need to get involved in at all.

Writing this out and agreeing it with your key stakeholders is critical – so they understand how you will be prioritising things. Regular meetings with your stakeholders provide opportunities to advise on some of the things you are not delivering – and still influence the outcome. Influencing is of the most under-rated skills that can help internal communicators significantly increase their impact.

But when it comes to implementation and delivery - what about systems and platforms? The ideal tech stack is often out of budget for these types of organisations. How can internal communicators overcome this challenge?

Tech can be prohibitively expensive. Modern intranets and fancy email platforms aren’t cheap. Often it is a case of making do with what systems the organisation has in place and finding creative work-arounds. 

For example, in an ideal world, you would have an internal communications email platform that facilitates hyper-personalised newsletters and emails. If you can’t afford that, look at what the Marketing team is using for their external email system. Is there a way that you can use it? Maybe you have settle for a less expensive system specifically for internal comms. Some of the entry-level tech options aren’t that slick, but will often do the job. All tech systems have limitations, but as a communications professional you should be able to think creatively and find ways to maximise whatever system you have access to. Several tech platforms also have a discount for charities and Not-for-profits – which also helps stretch your budget.

Now, with AI creating huge opportunities to use free time-saving tools, it’s important to also start investigating how to incorporate them into your workflows. However, you should make sure this is done in an ethical way, and that you aren’t misleading any of your audiences.