Internal Communication: It’s not journalism. It’s advocacy.

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A persistent near-myth about #InternalCommunication is that it’s a form of journalism and a natural home for journalists.

 

I’m not a journalist.  

 

My Dad, who passed away late last year, absolutely was one – with a thirty-year career as a columnist with the Wall Street Journal under his belt. 

 

So, I’m very clear on the difference.

 

Journalists are trained to be relentlessly objective and to own their own opinions when they express them.

 

But relentless objectivity has no place in internal communication.

 

Internal comms exists to generate alignment for the sake of delivering business results. Not generating readership for the sake of generating readership.

 

What does that mean in reality?  

 

It means that we need to be advocates – and make our organizations’ priorities our own.  And that means not thinking of ourselves as journalists who are trying to present (our individual “absolute” versions) of the truth.

 

This is NOT to say that our role involves being dishonest.  

 

Indeed, our advocacy depends on our own credibility. It depends on our ability to help ensure that our organizations communicate credibly and that their actions are as close to their words as possible.  

 

At the same time, our credibility doesn’t come just from our writing skills and the attractiveness of the output we generate. 

 

It also depends on our ability to demonstrate the impact of the work we do on the outcomes the business seeks, even if we can’t demonstrate that the correlations we show are absolute casualties.

 

Sometimes, these realities don’t sit well with people who’ve been trained to see themselves as journalists – or more insidiously, as “the voice of the employee” or “the conscience of the company.”  

 

This is not to say that former journalists can’t be excellent #internalcomms pros. Their sensitivities around “truth” and “credibility” can be extremely valuable highlighting how certain behaviors could be misconstrued or cause a viral backlash.

 

But for them to do so, they need to be able to embrace their “formerness” – to make use of their journalism skills, yet own their responsibility as advocates for and enablers of their organizations’ priorities. They also need to adopt new skills – particularly around measurement and distribution – that were left to others when they had their journalist hats on.

 

Finally, and most importantly, they need to own the fact that they are working for an organization with its own objectives and ambitions – and to ensure that those objectives and ambitions are aligned with their own ambitions and values.

 

If you are looking for guidance and support around #internalcommunication, let’s talk. Sign up for a free 40-minute conversation.

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Mike Klein

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a consultancy focused on internal, change and social communication. Mike has worked with organizations in the US and Europe for more than 20 years on pressing strategic communication challenges, and is a prolific writer and commentator on communication strategy topics. Mike is also the Founder of #WeLeadComms, an initiative to drive open recognition and in the communication profession. He holds an MBA from London Business School, and is a former US political consultant.

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  1. This was always true during my 40+ years, primarily in corporate and agency work. As a J-School grad, my first job offers were for newspapers, and I had worked for two while still a student at Michigan State University. But I chose to work in community relations for a Detroit-area municipal hospital, instead. Then 5 years each for General Foods and PepsiCo subsidiaries, followed by starting my own marketing, communications and Public relations firm. Then, back to corporate PR and communications, followed by 10 years for my and my wife’s agency, and later, two marketing and ad firms, before closing my career with 10 years at Michigan State University, where my career had begun.

    The journalism foundation was most valuable in the corporate setting in understanding the media’s needs and working to give reporters and editors what they wanted.

    Truth was number one with them all, and zi even threatened to quit my job once when the higher ups wanted me to lie to a reporter. They backed down, saying they didn’t know it was “that important to me.”

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