Are you a communication separatist or unionist?
One of the sub-themes that has emerged at a number of conferences I’ve attended in the last few months has been that old chestnut of integration – ensuring a joined-up approach to internal and external communications, PR and reputation management.
A handful of speakers I’ve seen have predicted an increase over the next few years in the number of integrated internal/external teams that exist – and a corresponding shift away from alternative homes for the internal comms function, like HR.
As a former PR guy (I started out in media relations in the early 1990s) and someone who has studied integrated comms and reputation management in depth over the years, I would love to see a more departments structured in this way – headed up by a single senior comms chief who understands and gets communication in its broadest sense (as opposed to someone who obsesses about media coverage and treats IC as a low-priority activity).
Colours on the mast, I’m a communication unionist at heart – I believe that organisational communication should be managed in an integrated, joined-up way, no matter who the stakeholders are.
But I’m conscious that not all of my peers feel this way. If fact, I suspect there are more practitioners out there who feel that IC should be a separate and distinct discipline and is about as far removed from PR as you can possibly imagine (I’ve heard many people say so). That’s not to say that those people don’t view the linkage with external comms as important, just that they wouldn’t want to be part of the same core team and don’t view them as natural bedfellows. They are the communication separatists.
At present the dominant home for IC appears to be HR – so the separatists appear to be winning the battle. This means that there is a potential – if not very real – disconnect between internal and external comms inside many organisations. But will that change as a result of a recession driven shake-out in our profession? I’m not sure, but there are an increasing number of influential voices who believe it will. (NB – see my earlier post for a more thorough analysis of trends in IC structure).
This issue is also played out when you look at the professional bodies operating in our area. IABC and CIPR Inside are both clearly about internal and external comms – they serve the wider PR/corporate comms community, not just employee communication specialists. Here in the UK Communicators in Business (CiB) has historically served both communities (indeed, it still offers awards for external comms, CSR, etc), but I understand its long term strategy is to become the ‘Institute of Internal Communications’. So, once again, there are hints of unionists and separatists.
What do you think? Do you feel that we internal communicators have much in common with PR people? Do you, like the speakers I’ve heard recently, believe that there will be more joined-up planning and resourcing in the future? Or do you see the onward march towards HR continuing as we focus more and more on the engagement agenda? Is this a good or a bad thing? Do you feel that internal comms needs to be treated as a distinct specialism? Do you think there are more practitioners currently in one camp or the other? Does all this really matter?
I’d love to hear your thoughts…..