Why internal communicators who think like journalists get results
Watching the hit Netflix crime drama Mindhunter, a line jumped out at me.
FBI agents are hunting a killer in Atlanta and urgently need some supplies. But it’s not so simple. FBI head office needs purchase orders, a list of preferred suppliers and a ton of paperwork. Time running out, the agents despair at their HQ being a ‘’Puzzle Palace’’ and being ‘’buried in acronyms’’.
OK, so Mindhunter is set in the 70s, but are too many of today’s organizations still Puzzle Palaces? Do corporations over-complicate and obfuscate, especially when it comes to talking to their own employees?
I would argue yes, but things are changing. One reason could be that the very different worlds of journalism and corporate communications are moving closer together, with some of the most forward-thinking companies applying journalistic methods to their internal and external communications.
Evidence of this is the rise of the corporate newsroom.
We see multinationals like Coca-Cola, ING and Glaxo SmithKline increasingly thinking and acting like media organizations, setting up editorial newsrooms to be the gatekeepers of their communications.
Often, they do this with a brief that comes straight from the journalist’s handbook: keep it simple, make it human and tell a story.
GSK has established one single global newsletter with a dedicated newsroom team, an editorial board, editorial guidelines and a consistent tone of voice – to replace a plethora of newsletters and emails that used to bombard its staff.
This simpler, journalistic approach works. GSK told us 93% of employees said the newsletter helped them understand the company’s strategic objectives.
Coca-Cola is another pioneer. It was one of the first movers into corporate journalism with its Coca-Cola Journey website, telling the real, human stories beneath the surface of its business and brands.
That philosophy now extends into its internal communications, with journalistic content that helps employees understand and support its strategy. Similarly, ING has a full-time editorial team that deliberately borrows from journalism, telling stories with a strong human angle.
These companies take a modern journalistic approach to how they tell their stories, too. They choose the media that fit the message: so not only written articles but also bite-size videos that can be easily shared and consumed on the go.
On ‘the dark side’
One obvious reason for this journalistic shift is that more reporters are making the move into corporate communications. Me included. I spent 17 years in business journalism before helping to set up Stampa in 2008 with three fellow former journalists.
Over the past 11 years, we’ve grown the business in three countries by applying skills we learned in real newsrooms to the corporate setting.
In that time, we’ve learned that these two worlds don’t always see eye to eye. And that not all journalists can make the leap to what they often call ‘the dark side’. The skill is to strike a delicate balance: thinking like a journalist, spotting the story and knowing how to tell it while staying sensitive to and understanding the corporate situation, with all the politics and internal intricacies that can involve.
Not all journalists can see the story from the inside out – some are too used to scrutinizing a business from the outside, and only pointing out what won’t work. Shifting perspective like this is just too much for some.
If you’re thinking of taking a corporate newsroom approach, don’t think you need to hire a new team or make a huge investment. A lot of this is about a shift in mindset.
It’s about telling a simplified story that people can relate to, about understanding the emotional reasons people come to work and bridging the gap between what matters to executives and what matters to employees.
To do that, you don’t need to be a former journalist looking to change career. It’s about seeing a simple truth – that all companies are full of people, who provide goods and services to other people. Where there are people, there are stories.
And where there are stories, there will always be people who want to read them.
No need for puzzles.