Caring for the 'Cinderella' of the comms world

"Leaving the troops to feed the rumour machine leads to all sorts of damage," author Ron Murray says.

Some of the worst things to happen to a business occur because of poor communications.

After decades of watching companies and professional communications people struggle to parse and deliver the simplest of messages, senior account director Ron Murray decided to record his many insights into internal communications so future generations didn’t have to suffer as he did.

The result is the book Talking with your people: a roadmap to achieve better employee communications in the corporate world. It’s not strictly for internal communications professionals but rather anyone who wants to improve dialogue.

“I wrote the book for two reasons. One was that I got to 60 years old and realised I’d been writing as a hired gun for others for a long time and wanted to write something for myself. This book is a distillation of a lot of what I’ve experienced in my working life. And in my experience, a lot of internal communications isn’t done very well. It’s not a very well-refined art in many companies,” he told NBR.

Mr Murray calls internal communications the “Cinderella of the communications world.” It gets the dregs leftover after the external communications and marketing teams squeeze the annual budget. Rag-thin and hard-working, it generally performs its role well enough, but he says the process could be so much more effective.

“We all know the story of Cinderella, who was treated poorly by the rest of the family. The money tends to go toward the flashy stuff because businesses feel the messages to external markets are outside the company’s control and internally the staff didn’t require much communication.

“But in truth, communications misses a big opportunity because staff are the biggest marketing tools. A good deal of the time we treat them like mushrooms – keep them in dark and periodically feed them large amounts of horse manure. I think it’s worth going to bat to make this situation better without too much angst,” Mr Murray says.

And not only are the internal communications teams often scratching for resources, this lack of funds and attention often lumps with mediocre practitioners.

“To be fair to communicators, they do the best they can. But in my experience communicators themselves are often the Cinderella of an organisation. When companies go through periods of change, they often say the two most important things are communications and people. Yet the teams laid off first tend to be the communications and personnel staff.

“So at times the role has been devalued. And often communicators are brought into things extremely late, which only results in the complaint that the communications people must be terrible at their job, which is getting the problem backward,” he says.

His advice is that communications people need to be involved early in any corporate change and be given the resources to be able to do their job properly.

“But I also think everyone within an organisation is a communications manager. They’re not professionally trained but they manage their own communications already at home or at work,” Mr Murray says.

“This book empowers people to use the tools available to do all this better. Not everyone will be a brilliant communicator, but everyone in an organisation can contribute to making the communications better.”

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