Unpacking the Pravda Principle, looking beyond “engagement”

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.



Wonderloop: The Future of Intranets in 20 Seconds or Less?

Having been involved with the birth and launch of a social intranet for the last two years (and other stillborn efforts beforehand) an enduring disappointment has been the inability to convince people to register and complete even a brief biographical profile that would allow other users to learn more about those people than simply “name, rank, and serial number.”

But an app I learned of at the recent EACD European Communication Summit struck me as a potential game-changer.  It’s called Wonderloop, and is based on a radically different view of the optimal profile—a video clip of 20 seconds and a collection of tags, which allow users to be identified, searched and connected with people with common interests, or who seek expertise.

While some profiles, including the ones on my company’s intranet, take minutes to complete and require at least semi-competent English writing ability to avoid lasting embarrassment, Wonderloop’s system makes it easy to re-use existing tags, minimizing the impact of bad terminology and bad spelling, while allowing a user to establish a presence quickly and cleanly. Built-in messaging complements a tag-based search engine.

One clear downside is the variable quality of the video selfie, though one’s video clip is easy to replace and update.

To be sure, Wonderloop faces challenges.  Currently, it is only available as an iPhone app, rendering it incompatible with nearly all existing intranet platforms, and with everyone who doesn’t kneel at the Apple altar.  It is a true start-up, whose Norwegian founder, Hanna Aaase, has had to encounter one of the most formidable barriers to initiative and perseverance imaginable, the infamous Scandinavian phenomenon called the Janteloven, reflected in the rejection of a government grant application on the grounds that the Wonderloop idea “was too ambitious.”

Wonderloop is not excessively ambitious in and of itself—a simple combination of short videos, tags, messaging and other allied features like favoriting and introduction.  But adding 20 second videos could make a people search or a search for subject experts far more interesting, and make today’s intranets more ambitious, and far more engaging.

If you do kneel at the altar of Apple, and have an iPhone, you can try out Wonderloop by downloading it at the iPhone App Store and registering your account details inside the app. Upon approval, you can then move about the site. 



IABC and EACD: Looking At Them Side By Side

One of the funny aspects of life as a long-term contractor in a big company is that I am on the hook for paying my own conference fees.  So, the decisions to attend both the IABC World Conference in Toronto and the EACD’s European Communications Summit required a bit of consideration.

Although some consider IABC and EACD to be “rival” associations, in that they compete for an increasingly scarce dues-paying capacity among target members, I am a proud and satisfied member of both.  They have two very different cultures, structures and styles, and I think they complement each other quite well.  (And, in all fairness, I have been treated very well by the editorial arms of both organisations).

That much being said, IABC is my professional family.  It’s a non-profit, member-led organisation, with all of the baggage and joys that entails.  Association politics was, until recently, very much a contact sport, although following its Toronto conference, IABC is emerging with newfound confidence and a new philosophy that is looking at the broader welfare of professional communicators and laying the groundwork for an overhaul of its business and educational models that should drive rapid growth in the coming years. 

Most importantly, IABC is inclusive.  While the home of many internal communicators, IABC covers the range of PR pros, Corporate Comms folks, Digital dynamos and Corporate Responsibility types, and, is well balanced between in-house professionals, consultants and independents.  Indeed, it is the ongoing conversations between those seeking opportunities and those seeking support that gives IABC much of its enduring value.

EACD, on the other hand, is a different type of resource. Connected with for-profit Helios Media, EACD focuses exclusively on the needs of Europe’s in-house communicators, with independents and consultants offered associate status and limited access to events and resources, which tend to feature strong  corporate professionals and a limited number of top-shelf consultants and experts.

Lavish Brunch vs. Formal Banquet

The difference between the two conferences could best be described as a difference between a lavish but informal Sunday brunch (IABC) and a formal but very well catered banquet (EACD).  Both are worth the money, time and travel.  IABC has a stronger sense of community coming from intense volunteer input; EACD is a thoroughly professional operation offering access to a fairly elite group of in-house pros.   

Maximising Complementarity

In terms of membership, IABC has struggled in Europe as the EACD has grown.  But that does not make them competitors.  They offer two fundamentally different experiences, and I benefit massively from both. 

From EACD I am learning better how in-house colleagues think, and what their priorities and standards are. From IABC, I get access to a global network of friends that crosses geographical, philosophical and commercial lines. 

Rather than trying to compete with EACD in Europe,  IABC should strengthen its appeal to the consultants and independents outside EACD’s remit, while encouraging its in-house members to show the IABC flag as part of their EACD involvement.  And, EACD’s success in Europe could offer interesting lessons as IABC prepares its own global plans for growth in the coming years. 


Selected Publications

Changing The Terms is a new site where I am mainly focused on sharing new thinking, but I am also keen to share some of my other items which I have published in recent years, mainly on external sites.

Lessons from Lincoln

This 2013 article on how following some principles Abraham Lincoln outlined in 1840 to drive social and lateral communication in 2014 and beyond was published in the EACD’s Communication Director Magazine


Social Networks without Digital Social Machinery

A look at how to understand and leverage informal social networks in organisations regardless of whether the organisation is willing to invest in online social network tools is incorporated in this piece for the US-based Ragan Report.


Internal Comms:  Moving the debate forward

A piece on my old blog engaging leading internal communication advocates like Shel Holtz and David Murray with my own thoughts about the future direction of the internal communication profession


IABC:  A new mission, a new model

I have been a member of the International Association of Business Communicators since 2012.  I have often been critical of its leadership and direction, I believe it remains a massive resource and the best vehicle for creating a better professional environment for the world’s communication professionals.  This piece raised challenges to the Association’s business model and mission, challenges which Association leaders are beginning to address.


Staying inside the tent:  Supporting My Associations

An earlier piece about IABC and the other associations I’ve been a participant in.


Social Media to drive convergence of internal, external and social media?

A 2010 piece on the potential for social media to catalyse the convergence of internal and external communication.


Internal Communications 3.0:  Workforce Citizenship

An approach to employee engagement which recognises the employee as more of a “citizen” of an organisation rather than a “customer” or a “supplier”