If ever a brand were in need of urgent help with its internal communications strategy, it is British Airways.
A catalogue of disruptions has driven the airline's staff morale to an all-time low. Some of these have been internal challenges, such as the well-publicised cabin-crew strikes, while others, like the global recession, have been out of BA's control.
Now, however, the airline has hired content marketing agency Wardour to galvanise support for the brand among its 32,000 staff ahead of a major relaunch later this year (see box, below).
According to Wardour managing director Claire Oldfield, the timing is ideal for BA. 'The airline is brilliantly placed to communicate with staff across the company, with a new ownership structure, a better economic outlook and the resolution of the cabin-crew dispute.'
It is not surprising that the agency paints a positive picture, but observers worry that the initiative smacks of tokenism, given that this focus on internal branding comes just months before the relaunch. Cynics might question whether the agency appointment was made only to ensure staff issues don't disrupt the advertising and positive PR BA will be aiming to attract.
Gary Moss, chairman of brand alignment agency Brand Vista, says BA is right to start with staff when rebuilding its brand, but warns it must approach it thoughtfully. 'From the inside out is the only way a brand should be built,' he ways. 'But if BA is just running an internal comms programme and desperately expecting it to boost morale, it is doomed to failure.'
BA has hitherto shown a haphazard approach to internal communications, claim some commentators, with prolonged strikes and cost-cutting creating a 'them-and-us' mood.
Moreover, successful internal communications strategies follow real change, and avoid simply papering over the cracks, warns Graham Jerome-Ball, principal of consultancy Jerome-Ball, which has worked on internal branding campaigns for BA.
'When Willie Walsh (previously BA chief executive, now chief executive of parent company International Airlines Group) came in (in 2005) and the axe was wielded, the central department for internal communications was closed,' explains Jerome-Ball. 'BA has suffered dreadfully for that in terms of morale.
'Cabin crew are an interesting audience: they are committed and proud of what they do, but easily pissed off, and at the moment they are exactly that,' he adds. 'You cannot talk to the outside world without an engaged workforce.'
At the strategic core
Despite questions over the timing of its hiring of Wardour, BA's deputy head of internal communications, Amanda Poole, insists that the airline's commitment to the discipline is long-term, not campaignor project-based.
'When a brand faces the issues that BA has in recent years, colleagues can feel bruised,' she admits. 'We're aiming to reignite the passion and belief in the brand, starting with our colleagues. This is more than an internal comms campaign; it's about a new way of thinking that puts customers at the heart of everything we do, and all our colleagues have a part to play. Our colleagues are at the heart of our plans.'
One brand that has been praised for its internal communications approach ahead of its global rebrand is Aviva. Jan Gooding, global marketing director at the insurer, who is responsible for internal engagement, believes involving staff early on and allowing their opinions to shape the strategy, rather than presenting it as a fait accompli, was central to its success (see box, right).
'Having such strong internal buy-in has allowed us to develop, both through our communications and marketing, a consistent tone of voice,' she explains.
There is no doubt that BA's internal campaign is needed; the big question is whether it will quell the disquiet sufficiently to allow the relaunch campaign a smooth take-off.
Jerome-Ball believes that more time is needed. 'BA should spend the next year getting staff back on-side. It needs to do some housework before it turns to the outside world.'
BA'S INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
Wardour's brief is to create 'engaging, informative, integrated and motivational' campaigns for BA's 32,000 staff, according to the agency's managing director, Claire Oldfield.
One of the biggest challenges is uniting a disparate workforce, from cabin crew and engineers to baggage-handlers and back-office staff. Newer forms of communication, such as social media, apps and video, will be a key part of the strategy. More traditional channels, such as print, forums and intranet, will also play a role.
One of the first tasks will be to use BA's Olympic sponsorship to engage staff, building on the 'My 2012' staff-facing campaign, which has already launched. Wardour's immediate job is to get staff excited by, and mindful of, the role BA plays in 'welcoming the world to Britain'.
Oldfield says: 'BA has to distinguish between the external sponsorship and garnering internal engagement at specific moments. (We have) to ensure all the Olympic messages stand out from each other - and that requires creativity.'
CASE STUDIES - STAFF-FIRST STRATEGIES
Other brands that have undertaken big internal branding exercises
Employee engagement was a vital part of the private healthcare brand's recent marketing campaign, entitled 'Helping you find healthy'. According to the brand's director of internal communications, Danielle Spencer, this activity integrated internal communications with advertising, PR and social media 'like never before'. 'We always try to go first to employees and involve them. With this campaign, we started the internal campaign three months before we went live externally. We also made employees the stars of our campaign, featuring their stories as examples of how we go beyond the day job to help customers,' she says. Research showed that more than 80% of Bupa employees knew about the campaign via a piece of internal communications before it had launched on TV.
- Lloyds Banking Group
One of the main objectives of the bank's London 2012 Olympics sponsorship is to engage staff. The fact that the group took over HBOS mid-sponsorship has made this objective even more important. 'It gives members of staff a central point of interest across the two cultures that are coming together and something for all staff to look forward to,' says Sally Hancock, London 2012 partnership director at the banking group. Lloyds is using the Games as a way to reward and recognise staff performance, offering incentives such as the chance to be torchbearers and attend the opening ceremony. Ultimately, one of the key measurements of the activity's success will be how it has affected staff pride.
Bringing its brands together under one global brand was not a straightforward process and involved engaging more than 50,000 employees across 28 countries. For some staff, the fact that they would no longer be working for a much-loved, 300-year-old brand - Norwich Union - was an emotional issue. That's why Aviva management dedicated much time and effort to getting staff buy-in: the rebrand was announced more than a year before the change was actually made. That time was spent consulting employees and taking their opinions on board (see below).
DOS AND DON'TS - INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS
Jan Gooding Global marketing director, Aviva
- Keep it simple
We had to develop a story that would enable employees to explain in one sentence the business rationale behind our rebrand to friends and family.
- Communicate with your people first
They have to feel valued and respected throughout the whole process if you're going to be successful. Your employees are the people who make the transition a positive one for your customers. Telling them the news first and involving them in the process is a vital part of that.
- Tie your brand and employee promises together
At Aviva, individual recognition is at the heart of what we aim to provide for our customers and our employees. Introducing internal initiatives that demonstrated recognition was a symbolic and powerful way of showing our people that our rebrand was about more than just a change in name.
Create a culture where dialogue is unthreatening. Your employees are the people who know your customers best. Consulting with them throughout the process can provide the insights you need to move a rebrand from good to great.
- Be superficial
Your people will be the first to disengage if something doesn't stand up to what you've promised.
- Rush it
We announced our intention to rebrand more than a year before we made the change.
- Erase your heritage
We have more than 300 years of history, which in some markets is very powerful to customers and employees. Don't throw that away.
How does one of the world’s largest engineering conglomerates communicate to a workforce of 65,000 employees in North America?
They do it in a human way.
According to Head of Internal Communications for Siemens Corporation, North America, Shelley Brown, the goal of their internal communication plan is simple: “to foster engagement while helping employees understand the company’s business objectives and how they fit into them.”
Communication at the company is driven by employee involvement with the goal of helping them to become ambassadors of Siemens. However, rather than resorting to the typically used “hero messages”, Siemens tries to resonate with employees without just presenting their corporate strategy. “We tell employees that ‘whether you know it or not, you are an ambassador for the organization.’” Brown explains.
While Siemens AG is headquartered in Germany, Brown and her team tailor the messaging for a United States audience working in the business units of Industry, Health Care and Energy.
Channels used for employee communication
1. Online communication
At Siemens Corporate, Brown strives to keep online content as “fresh” as possible for employees, thanks to an online communications team that has helped the intranet become the #1 channel inside the company.
Siemens often looks toward social media to give people a voice and transparency in their communications. Employees have the ability to comment on every article – and through the help of a couple of web interns – a social polling system has recently been developed for employees to rate content (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) and give feedback to questions and comments.
According to Jim Lukach, Manager of Siemens Online Communications, the tool was inspired by Digg.com as a way to see “who is leading the content and how to interact with them.”
The polling system has proven to be quite effective due to its cost-effectiveness (it was designed in-house) as well as its ability to measure employee opinions on a particular subject matter.
Employee conversations are also enabled through the use of Yammer. The Twitter-like platform has recently been embraced in the organization with dialogues centered around relevant work issues for employees. “Thanks to the social media tool, Siemens staff can find out much-needed company information making Yammer a growing knowledge-sharing tool inside the company,” Lukach says.
2. Video & Blogging
Popular sites like YouTube have inspired Brown and Lukach to use more video in Siemens’ employee communications. “Content always comes first before the technical production quality. Presenting a ‘down and dirty’ style of video keeps the communication gritty and authentic,” he explains. Use of Flipcams inside the company is not uncommon.
Lukach says he relies on sites like posterous.com to facilitate blogging platforms and also uses the site to alert employees about new story postings on the intranet via Twitter updates. RSS feeds are frequently pulled from relevant external websites which Siemens integrates onto their own intranet content. That way, bandwidth issues are avoided – and so is IT. Lukach’s theory: “Go around IT – do it first, apologize later.”
3. Executive communication
The CEO of Siemens’ Industry Sector in the US has begun using video to deliver corporate messages to employees. He also blogs once a week which exhibits the forward thinking of executives.
Two years ago, Siemens experienced strong executive participation when rolling out their award-winning “Values Fest”. In the United States, a live in-house blog was organized by Brown and her team, where executives got on board to discuss Siemens’ values with employees. “The 3-day online event was hosted by a corporate communications manager overseeing a rotating schedule of executive bloggers. We trained them on how to use the blog, how it works and how to log on. It was our grand attempt to pull Management into the modern age,” Brown recalls.
During major times of change inside the organization – namely the stepping down of Siemens’ CEO last August – the company opted to place the traditional quarterly email letter that broke the news onto the corporate blog so employees could comment and react to the move.
4. Print publications
In spite of the strong increase of online communications and social media, Print continues to live on at Siemens. The company publishes a monthly global magazine (published quarterly in the United States) called Siemens World with each region receiving its own edition. In North America, employees receive a division-specific version of Siemens World bundled inside the global magazine.
Among the content employees expect to find in the publication are typical articles written about corporate programs, values, compliance as well as anything noteworthy happening online that Siemens Corporate wants to promote.
As a global company with employees in 190 countries, Siemens makes a strong effort to accommodate the different languages spoken throughout the organization. Stories that are published overseas are translated into English and adapted by the IC team for its own use. Any articles that are re-written are cleared with the head office in Germany.
Since many employees still rely on email to receive pertinent information about Siemens, an HTML version of company newsletters is created to enable sharable content between colleagues across the globe.
Accessibility for all
For the more than 5000 employees who do not have internet access, Brown says the company always tries to develop an offline component a particular story. For factory workers, there is usually some kind of paper component posted in break rooms giving people a jumpstart on information that will soon be posted online.
Ensuring strong employee engagement
As Siemens looks to connect employees via the aforementioned communication channels, perhaps no other greater opportunity is offered than through Siemens Caring Hands. Employees have the chance to participate in rewarding community activities, assisting a variety of different charity organizations (e.g. the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society). Among the activities people take part in are walk-a-thons, as well as the refurbishment of schools, playgrounds, and housing for the elderly.
Across the United States, each Siemens location appoints one staff member who – in addition to their day job – organizes local volunteer activities for employees. To date, nearly every Siemens employee has volunteered in some way or another.
Caring Hands’ activities are frequently covered in Siemens World, the intranet, as well as on company blogs. This helps to create excitement about the program, which in itself, “is a proven morale-builder for employees,” Brown says.
Other CSR and corporate citizenship opportunities made available to employees include ‘Siemens Science Days’ where employees assist children with science experiments at local schools, while educating them about an area close to Siemens’ heart: science. “As a result, employees also learn about our brand while doing something worthwhile and interesting,” Brown points out.
Creating brand excitement
For the first time in Siemens history, the company has invested in a sizeable budget for advertising in the U.S., which includes new commercials currently airing on U.S. television, radio and in print publications across the country.
To encourage employee pride in the Siemens brand in America, the company has begun a new campaign, “Somewhere in . . .”, encouraging employees to blog and take photos and videos anytime they see the Siemens name on a particular product or piece of medical equipment. “The goal of the engagement initiative is to raise awareness of Siemens efforts to publicize their name in the media,” Brown explains.
Employees who submit pictures are then given a prize that ties into the theme of how they came across the product. For example, a person sending in a photo of a Siemens’ conveyor belt in an airport is apt to receive a travel duffel bag for his entry.
According to Brown, the engagement campaign has become quite a hit with U.S. employees. “It’s created a connection and an awareness. Some employees didn’t even know we have a location in Oklahoma. The program has been a real eye opener for everyone.”