Power of the collective

We need to develop a better internal communications ecosystem to support our profession. An ecosystem where there is a symbiosis, co-existence and more co-operation between all the actors in it, and a little less commercial competition, so we can properly harness the power of our collective.

It’s that time of the year again. CIPR election season.

As a CIPR member and volunteer for the CIPR Inside group, it is not a time of the year I look forward to. This is mainly because of the overheated debate it provokes where the candidates, membership and others seem to reprise a well-worn script of familiar arguments and themes. It has the regularity and repetitiveness of an unloved season, and I always feel that it does the Institute no favours either to have this annual cringeworthy debate fest expose all the inner politics and factions, again and again. 

Thankfully, although lively, the debate seems to have been somewhat more respectful this year. Perhaps everyone is just too exhausted by the pandemic to really invest the emotional energy this time around.

As we continue to come to terms with the disruption caused by the pandemic, this year’s election debate has given me cause to reflect on how much the world of internal communication has changed over the last few months, and also the 20 years I have been working in it. Not least because of the need to decide which of the presidential candidates will best support our specialism in CIPR in the coming years, as we emerge from the current catastrophe.

A double-edged sword

Internal communication is certainly a much more complicated and confusing industry to work in than it was when I first started out. Over the last few years there has been an explosion in the numbers of consultancies, agencies, training providers and technology vendors specialising in internal communication.

As a result, it is a more commercialised environment which I regard as being a bit of a double-edged sword for those of us working in it. On the one hand, we need the investment and innovation which the technology vendors, consultancies and agencies bring to the IC table, whilst on the other there is an uncomfortable dominance developing driven by our increasing reliance on digital technology. The rapid move to remote, socially distanced working practices during the pandemic has hastened and intensified this dominance.  Suddenly, internal communication seems to be all about the channels, the digital channels.

This has given the providers and promoters of these a significant advantage and influence over how we practice, and this is not necessarily always to our benefit and for the good of the workforces we serve. It narrows down our communication options and can restrict our ability to apply our technical knowledge and skills. Unchecked, it has the potential to diminish us as practitioners.

Mind the gap

There is large gap in PR and internal communication, a disconnect which exists between theory and practice, much more so than in other professions. Proficiency and ability in PR, and by definition internal communications, is not viewed as being a blend of these two essential ingredients. It is heavily skewed towards practice and that practice is now, for better or worse, being heavily influenced and directed by digital technology.

In short, there is now an imbalance between the commercial/technological and the professional, and I think only the professional bodies and some of the training providers that serve the internal communications community can redress this balance.

However, to do that, what they stand for and what they offer has to become more integrated and easier to understand. At the moment this is just too fractured, confusing and difficult to navigate, and the pathways to becoming a better internal communicator who has a comprehensive knowledge of relevant theory and practice are obscure. As a result, only a few internal communicators embark on that pathway at all.

The internal communications ecosystem

I noted in one of the recent CIPR presidential debates that the spectre of a potential merger with another PR professional body was raised yet again. Whilst the complexities of this make it unlikely to happen, I don’t think it would be of any benefit to the internal communications industry in the UK anyway. It would just make our voice smaller in a much larger organisation.

We don’t need a spate of mergers and acquisitions to address the imbalance, we need to develop a better internal communications ecosystem to support our profession towards becoming a strategic management function and to stop us becoming the slaves of the digital content and distribution machines. An ecosystem where there is a symbiosis, co-existence and more co-operation between all the actors in it, and a little less commercial competition, so we can properly harness the power of our collective.

At the moment internal communication as a profession in the UK has no collective or loud voice. If you are a CIPR member who is an internal communicator, think about that as you cast your vote.

Martin

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