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7 Ways to Bridge the Internal vs External Communications Divide

While Internal and External Communications are seen as two separate domains within a broader Corporate or Marketing Communications function, often without close collaboration and engagement, the brand and reputation of the company can be at stake.  

To avoid gaps in understanding, application and measurement of initiatives, there is a need for clarity on roles and handovers. Or, it can lead to needless turf wars and unwarranted expectations. 

Forming natural work teams that includes the two functions, helps for change management initiatives. On other occasions, especially during crises, the approach expects better focus and attention. While the lines between the domains are blurring, there continue to be frictions and conflicts that can potentially undermine the overall corporate narrative. Even when the functions sit within the broader corporate or marketing or communication frameworks, gaps and overlaps can prevent effective outcomes. 

Consider these insights: 

  • According to the 2019 research report – The Intersection of Internal and External Communications, there is an increased appreciation of the value of alignment between the two domains, although there is still some way to go for closer collaboration. 
  • The 2017 Changing Face of Internal Communications reports that need for a strategic approach to communicating with employees and customers is increasing. This improves employer branding and reputation value. However, just 66% of those surveyed felt their internal content aligns with external communications. 
  • As highlighted by the 2021 Future of Corporate Communication study, business transformation is taking centerstage and communication teams are expected to be value creators (and not cost centers), there continues to be tensions between internal and external functions. 

Therefore, what are ways in which the two domains can align better? How can professionals working in these domains partner to make a collective impact? 

  • Open channels of dialogue: The simple stuff matters. Sharing plans, calendars and practices are a good place to start. Often, to build trust and connection, having open conversations helps immensely. Egos needs to be put aside while discussing common goals and outcomes.
  • Agree on the best approach: Often, campaigns, initiatives or rollouts will take an external or an internal-first approach. Ideally, the inside-out format is better to build trust because it involves employees upfront. Even if the communication is targeted at external stakeholders, keeping staff in the loop is valuable. 
  • Consistency is crucial: Giving the right resources and templates for stakeholders to engage with requires consistency with brand standards. Providing a consitent experience for stakeholders and audiences in all forms of media can improve credibility. Timing also helps build trust and enhance reputation.  
  • Test the scenarios: Drawing scenarios where overlaps happen and how the ownership plays out can allow to iron out the gaps much before they before niggling issues or full-blown crises. This will mean earmarking time (if there is a downtime ever in communication teams!) to trial scenarios. 
  • Job shadowing and cross-pollinating ideas: Giving team members a chance to gain experience and knowledge on internal and external communication can build much needed skills and appreciation. Letting staff to job shadow and learn from experts can also help bridge the gap. The best ideas can come from anywhere in the team or the organization. Be open to listening. 
  • Documenting process maps and outcomes: Often in the thick of things, the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of engagement gets lost. Having a central library or repository of process maps, best practices and lessons can empower teams to be more mindful, reduce time and improve efficiencies at work. 
  • Recognizing great partnership: Surfacing and highlighting best work and collective impact can make a huge difference to collaboration and engagement. Recognizing the ‘why’ of partnership is important for the success of the function. 

Building and strengthening a healthy relationship between the two functions can result in outstanding work and improved organizational outcomes. Understanding the bottlenecks and identifying opportunities to mitigate risks and gaps can help the function thrive in the long term. 

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Have other ideas? Interested to know what you think. 

Keen to participate in the ongoing series on Personal BrandingCrisis CommunicationsInternal Communications or CSR Communications? Drop me a note at [email protected] 

Here are Internal Communications resources you can use:  

·       Learn: Internal Communications Fundamentals Course on Thinkific  

·       Internal Communications Series: 

·       Internal Communications workshops:  

You can also visit my website and You Tube channel to know more about my work. 

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