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Unpacking the Pravda Principle, looking beyond “engagement”

BY mikeklein Last week, I published my first internal communications blog post in quite a while, The Pravda Principle.

It was a kind of shoot-from-the-hip exercise, based on an idea that had been rolling around my head for years—the paradox of why Pravda, long mocked and despised by Westerners as the epitome of propaganda and falsehood was, in essence, a highly successful internal communication channel and one from which today’s practitioners can learn.

Part of my reason for invoking Pravda as a positive example is that I see internal comms as being a stuck discipline, focused excessively on the nebulous goal of “increasing employee engagement (however it may be defined),” and seeing “the answer” in the adoption of increasingly visual and technically intricate channels.

But is the production of infotainment to drive employee happiness numbers really the only viable or legitimate use of a set of skills, thinking and tactics which are capable of driving other, more tangible organizational objectives? Or are we off track?

Some questions to ponder:

  • Is it all about attractiveness?

The pressure on communicators today is to produce stuff that is attractive and digestible to the least committed stakeholder. But Pravda wasn’t attractive, visual or digital.  It’s appeal was that it was authoritative: it reliably provided useful information.  Is there space left for internal comms vehicles that are authoritative in style and tone, helping stakeholders who need real information to get and understand the information they need? Are “all employees” really equally important?

  • Are “all employees” really equally important?

In large organizations, there may be certain things, particularly like brand promises, that have to be internalized by all employees.  But the extent to which individual employees can influence the definition of strategy and the leverage each has to impact its success varies profoundly. Given the relatively limited sums corporations spend on internal comms, shouldn’t its priorities lean towards helping smaller numbers of higher-value employees have more quantifiable impact, rather than try to move engagement survey numbers?

  • Isn’t sender-focused communication useful sometimes?

In today’s internal comms, there’s an assumption that the only purpose of publishing content is to entertain or “engage” large numbers of readers and that the needs of the “sender” must be secondary.  But if one can get three massive stakeholders to agree a cohesive story about how they will align their objectives and how they intend to work together, and publish it to the organization; the value of reduced friction, ambiguity and delay could more than justify a communicator’s salary even if no one outside the stakeholder teams reads the story.

While there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with the idea of “engaged,” happy employees, I sense that the pursuit of “engagement über alles” has dominated the field to such an extent that other approaches and objectives are seen as secondary – or in some cases, even as not being worth offering to otherwise deserving stakeholders.

Recognizing and championing alternative approaches and objectives could profoundly change the terms.


2 thoughts on “Unpacking the Pravda Principle, looking beyond “engagement””

  1. Interesting read. Thanks.

    I would argue though Mike that ‘Communications’ as you frame it has been dominated for decades by old school PR. And that engagement was meant as an alternative for THAT. You’re stating the opposite.
    Most framed communication is merely PR. It is marketed as Communication. But hey, it’s marketing!

    The real problem with ‘the’ communications profession (whether that is IC, EE, CC, or what have you) is that people working in it too often haven’t got a clue about what it actually IS they’re doing. Ask any professional and the answer wil be specifically personal than not generic.

    In my view the whole pre-2000 PR legacy is slowly killing a professional domain. Because the PR/marketing of ‘the’ Communication profession is by definition flaw (because their whole reasoning is built on the (mass media) principle from the eighties: all PR = Communication, ergo all communication = PR). This is more than just a view. Figures from the University of Maastricht in The Netherlands show a decline in the number of jobs in communications. Comm Departments are shut down. This has not so much to do with IC or EE, but with ‘communication’.

  2. The question of “are all employees really equal” – it hurt to read it, but I agree. Focus should be varied based on employee potential impact. There should be more for managers, though not necessarily of the party line, but rather to help them communicate with their teams. Their impact on business results will be much greater than a flashy new tool.

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