Two of the common pieces of advice these days in the communication world are “avoid sports analogies” and “be more visual.”
In this case, I honor the latter to make the former easier to take. Because I find it difficult to otherwise illustrate the fundamental differences between internal communication and public relations, especially to PR types who think what we do is simply “internal PR.”
For me, saying “internal comms is really just internal PR because the skills are the same – writing, planning, organization and audience definition” totally ignores the specific context of organizational life, and the unique skill required to engage, position and prioritize in an internal context.
Context is everything. And this is where I break out the sports videos.
Football, Rugby and American Football each allow teams to kick goals to score points. But just as internal comms isn’t quite the same as PR, kicking goals in each sport requires different skills in different contexts.
In Rugby, you can either kick goals from a stationary position or on the move. Like this “drop goal.”
It’s worth three points. You score when you aim the ball above the bar.
In American Football, you only kick goals from a stationary position. Like this “field goal”:
It’s also worth three points. Like in Rugby, you score when you aim the ball above the bar.
In Soccer, goals from a stationary position are rare, like this “free kick” by Tottenham hero Christian Eriksen:
This goal is “only” worth one point. You score by aiming the ball below the bar.
The siren song of false efficiency
So, for efficiency’s sake, should we harmonize our goal-scoring strategy by always aiming above the bar?
How is that different from emailing links to the earnings call to your production employees. Or simply posting a press release on your intranet?
It’s not. Internal comms and PR are not the same game, even though many of the same principles apply.
Two disciplines, not two professions
Watch the American Football field goal again. Pay attention to the kicker. He is University of Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone.
Rafael is from Brazil. He played soccer through his childhood, and learned to score goals below the bar. As a high school student in the US, he still played soccer:
and also learned to play American Football and kick the ball above the bar.
Rafael is a kicker. He can do both. But he knows the difference between the two.
Kicking in American Football, Rugby and Soccer are similar activities. But they are different disciplines – with different rules, different contexts, and applying common skills in different and distinct ways.
Similarly, IC and PR are different disciplines. It’s possible for people who are good at one to be good at the other, and with IC/PR convergence accelerating, it’s where we need to be. But the difference in technique, positioning and impact can be decisive.
Indeed, they can be the difference between winning and losing. And why lose for the sake of “efficiency?”