An internal brand? 5 things to watchout for…

posted by Scott McKenzie

We have been doing a lot of work helping organisations package up their change programmes recently. Often clients will ask us to create an identity or brand for their programme. I think there are some inherent risks attached to this. After all isn’t the overall brand the customer sees the only brand that matters?  This is  a brand which is recognisable, has associated values, is ultimately part of helping create a sense of belonging or connectedness for employees and customers.

So it’s entirely possible that creating an internal brand actually adds another layer of complexity to your programme, rather than simplifying it?

In any case I have ended up with five key watchouts if you are considering building an internal brand for your change programme:

 1) Ask yourself whether you are really building a “brand”? Or is this simply a way of packaging the programme – perhaps via a campaign, or visual identity which helps to express the vision, mission and values of the programme.

2) Be clear on how this fits with the overarching brand. Is it an extension of what customers see? Are the values, etc consistent? Is the architecture you create supplementary, or distinct? Do you want people to most feel like they are first and foremost part of the organisation, or this new programme brand?

3) Make sure this is about making things simpler for your audience – in my view the job of the comms practitioner is to reduce the complexity, not add to it. Introducing a brand or identity should be to aid understanding, not to add a layer of confusion.

4) Have an end goal in sight – is this a six month programme or campaign? Or is it something which is long term/permanent? If it’s the former then have an exit strategy in mind in terms of killing the brand (or identity) when it has passed its use-by date… Or perhaps it supercedes what was there before and becomes the new Business As Usual

5) Keep an eye on cost – many of the programmes we are involved are (at least indirectly) about making the organisation more efficient and/or managing costs down. Having a high-profile showy brand identity may look expensive and thus insensitive when you’re asking employees to do more with less at the same time…

Hope that’s a useful guide – I’d be happy to hear other views, or share some of our learnings working with large complex, multi-national organisations…

P.S. – great to see so many friends at the London Communicators and Engagement (LCEG) event at Deutsche Bank last night. Thanks to my old muckers Terri for hosting and Euan Semple for his usual mix of wry humour and simple wisdom. I’m pleased to say that the next event will be at H+K on 20th March… we will be testing out the awesome concept that is the “unconference”… Please let Matt O’Neill who runs the LCEG group (or myself) know if you’d like to attend.

Coming up for air

posted by Scott McKenzie

My second daughter Niamh  is 7 months old today.

It’s fair to say that I subscribe to the concept of the second child multiplier-effect… in other words 1+1 does not + 2… it feels many times harder than that!

The early casualty of this has been what Sir Clive Woodward calls the critical non-essentials. The things that make an incremental difference but could be described as non-core. A bit like this blog.

The cumulative effect of very little sleep, an incredibly hectic work schedule and no free time has often felt like both myself and my wife have been living our lives under-water… in a kind of parallel world, where everything takes much longer but paradoxically you have even less time…!

Since the new year I have tried hard to change things. I’ve taken a bit more exercise. I’ve had the odd night out with friends. I’ve booked a holiday to go and see my parents who live in Canada (it’s the first time my dad will have seen Niamh since she was born). It all feels a little bit selfish when there are so many other demands on your time. But in another sense it has felt like I am coming up for air…

For example, last night I attended VMA’s excellent event at The Hospital Club which revealed the results from their comprehensive Business Leaders in Communications survey. It was a stellar panel with senior communciators from GSK and BP as well as academics and thought leaders. The key-note speaker was Charlie Mayfield, Executive Chairman of John Lewis Partnership. Clearly John Lewis have been much in the news recently, with the Deputy Prime Minister seeking to build what he describes as a “John Lewis” economy. Charlie rightly pointed out that the co-operative model is not a panacea for all known ills. As I have stated in previous blogs I am a huge fan of co-operatives but would also concede their limitations.

Instead what I took out of Charlie’s remarkably candid and inspriring discussion was his clear view that communications is a major cultural lever. His view is that great communications contributes directly to increased engagement from partners (employees), and as a result… an increase in dicretionary effort. So this is not fluffy. There is a clear competitive advantage to be drawn from great communications.

That message certainly helped me take a deeper breath…

The Invisible Ladder

posted by Scott McKenzie

A picture of Laura House standing on an invisible ladder

My Dad was 70 the other day, and because me and my siblings are generous and thoughtful types, we paid for him and my Mum to have a lovely weekend in London, with lots of treats, including dinner at the Savoy Grill. In his emailed thank you, whilst fully appreciative of the wonderful time they’d had, my Dad indulged in a mini-rant about how only he, two other customers of a similar age, and the waiting staff, were wearing ties.

 “I hate to sound old fashioned, but twenty years ago none of them would even have been admitted, and thirty years ago everyone would have been wearing dinner jackets.”

 He then went on to blame Margaret Thatcher in a leap of logic that I’m unable to fully explain for you now. To be honest, my Dad enjoys a good moan, and being scandalised about the lack of formality displayed by his fellow-diners actually contributed to his good time. But it got me thinking about informality in the workplace and what it might mean for communication.

 OK, we’re not all Google – I don’t generally travel to meetings via scooter and shoot a couple of hoops with the CEO whilst agreeing the latest comms plan. But in many workplaces, office-wear and the executive corner office are obsolete. We don’t address anyone by their title anymore – no more “Take a letter Miss Jones!” and most encounters with our colleagues, suppliers and clients are more of the ‘chat over coffee’ type than anything more buttoned-up.

 This might give the casual bystander the impression that hierarchies are a thing of the past. That addressing board members by their first names confers equality, even friendship, and that the corporate ladder is now more of a gently rolling landscape. But, in most of the organisations I’ve worked in, the absence of formality can often have the opposite effect. Stripped of the visible attributes of status, people have a tendency to continually emphasise and advertise their importance, and too much time is taken up by chest-beating and general jockeying for position.

So what’s the answer? An informal corporate culture seems to work best in organisations where there’s a real commitment to collaboration, and employees have the expectation that everyone is there to concentrate on the task in hand and they have the skills to make that happen. Tied to that is the insight that good ideas can come from anywhere, from anyone, and the right channels to allow those ideas to find their place in the sun.

This is a guest-blog post by Laura House, Senior Consultant in Hill & Knowlton’s Change and Internal Communications team.

The perils of embracing technology

posted by Scott McKenzie

This is a guest post by John Tilbrook, consultant in Hill & Knowlton’s Change & Internal Communications practice

This is the first blog I’ve ever written and it’s taken some time for me to get my act together and write it. You see, I’m one of those ‘too old for my age’ young kids who sits on the suspicious side of the technology divide.

In fact my boss Scott, whose blog this is, constantly reminds me that I’m a Luddite and while I always remonstrate (at the same time feeling secretly proud that I know what a Luddite is), he probably is partly right… and he certainly has more followers on Twitter… whatever that means!

So you’ll probably expect me to agree with the 31% of companies that still block employees from using social media such as Facebook and YouTube at work.

Well actually, no.

Once described as recreational, these technologies are now considered to be important business tools for companies. But for me, from an internal communications perspective, it’s more than this.

I think companies should be encouraging the use of social media. Firstly, it shows employees that you trust them. Secondly, it allows them freedom to share their views – which transcend your corporate image – on what the company stands for, its products and its services, which will inevitably result in better customer interaction, more customers and business results.

In fact, as David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan state in the book ‘Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead’, your trust in employees will be rewarded as they build followings who will eventually buy your products or services.

So why not let employees guest blog on your company website, tweet about your products or contribute to your company Facebook page? You should probably put some guidelines in place, so they know what they are doing, but leave it at that.

Ok, they might do something wrong, but if they do, own up and move on. Your customers will respect this more than an attempted cover up. Embrace technology and you’ll find it has mutual benefits to your employees and your company.

We’ll see, this may be the last blog I’m ever asked to write, but I’m learning… I’ve even just joined LinkedIn. I may not be playing Angry Birds all day long, but at least I’m not smashing up computers either.

John Tilbrook, Consultant, Change & Internal Communications, Hill & Knowlton

The tragedy of Parenthood

posted by Scott McKenzie

So I’m back… In truth I’ve been back from my Paternity Leave for a few weeks but it has been a fairly hectic schedule involving projectile vomit, screaming fits and sleepless nights… and that was just my wife’s reaction to my business trips to Switzerland and New York…

So it’s not been easy to find the time to update the blog. For the record Niamh Frances McKenzie was born on 26th June. She is thriving well… even if sleeping in the evening is not one of her favourite pastimes.

To be honest it has been a wonderful experience. I’m genuinely enjoying being a new parent for the second time.

But one of the things they don’t tell you before you become a parent is that you become incredibly sensitive to stories which involve the unnecessary death, or injury to children. Following this story about a mother accused of killing her children has been particularly harrowing.

When I look at my two little girls I want to imagine that they are going to live long, happy and fulfilled lives. Obviously Sarah and I will do everything we can to make that happen.

Indeed, I was hugely touched by the simple but desperately sad words Mitch Winehouse used at his daughter’s funeral last week. When he said, “Goodnight, my angel, sleep tight. Mummy and Daddy love you ever so much,” any father in the world could have been uttering those words at bedtime…

The tragic context of the words being spoken at his daughter’s funeral make the words more moving. More powerful.  More raw.

And yet the story which has touched me most in recent week is the unfolding tragedy in Somalia. Children are starving to death on an unprecedented scale.  It is catastrophic.

Yet, this is a story that has struggled to compete for airtime. And while I don’t want to underplay the understandable media attention paid to the loss of a true icon like Amy Winehouse – we all need to pay far more attention to the story unfolding in East Africa.

FYI – You can donate to the charity appeal through this site.

The waiting game

posted by Scott McKenzie

And so the waiting game continues. By any standards this week could be a big week in the McKenzie household. We are hoping to finally exchange on the sale and purchase of a new house.

This has been a process that has been delayed seemingly by endless minutiae, and has required some fairly tough phone calls and emails this morning to various solicitors, estate agents, vendors and buyers to get the transaction (hopefully) to the right place. I now have to sit and wait to see if  it will all finally fall into place. Or not.

At the same time my wife is 9 months pregnant. Our due date came and went yesterday. But no new arrival. This situation is even more difficult – while I can (at least try to) negotiate and influence my way to a successful house purchase there is nothing I can do to make our second child arrive any quicker.

Although the mysterious purchase of big packets of liquorice, whole pineapples and red hot chillies suggests my wife doesn’t share my fatalism.

Meanwhile work carries on unchecked. Lots more new business opportunities this week. A client call scheduled for a Sunday afternoon. Another client asking if I can meet on Monday. And at the back of my mind I’m thinking “will I really be at that meeting?”…

Meanwhile my colleagues have been incredibly supportive. Filling in for me when I am pulled in one direction too many. Helping me manage the transitions in my life.

They have demonstrated the levels of patience, empathy and understanding that should be the template for all great teams, all great workplaces.

Peep hole

posted by Scott McKenzie

I took the above picture after dropping my daughter off at nursery the other day. I was walking past a large construction site and noticed this  eye-catching window.It had clearly been deliberately created to encourage passersby to take a look.  I then had to do a double-take. Someone had blocked the peephole. 

I imagined some Marketing person sitting in the Construction company’s head office.  I am sure they are really proud of their “peep hole” concept. Perhaps they talk about how it demonstrates openness and transparency across all of their sites. I can almost hear them saying: “We have nothing to hide in our working practices”.

Move then to the site manager and his crew arriving on site one morning. I can envisage the conversation taking place when they spot the “peep holes” and thinking “what is that all about?”.  Would they welcome the increased scrutiny? Has anyone even consulted them about it?

Perhaps not. Which is why the “peep hole” is now covered by a huge bit of plywood!

Of course there may be a simpler explanation but nonetheless it provided a nice flight of fancy as I walked to work. And demonstrating what can happen when there is poor communication between those making the promises on behalf of your brand, and those who have to fulfil that promise on a day-to-day basis.

Connecting employees with your sponsorship

posted by Scott McKenzie

So Budweiser are now going to sponsor the FA Cup. One iconic US brand sponsors an equally iconic brand synonymous with England.

My colleague Andy Sutherden makes some great points about this deal which you can see here.

The deal certainly looks a little incongruous at first glance. And I wondered how Anheuser-Busch are going to explain it to their employees.

I know Andy is equally passionate about the role employees can play in effective sponsorships. But often they are not front of mind when brands are making decisions  around investing in a sponsorship property.

However, it was certainly front of mind for the panel discussion we hosted here at H&K last week. Thanks to those of you who braved the inclement weather to get along. I hope you found it worthwhile.

For those of you not able to join us, we were fortunate to have three great panellists Louisa Cheetham from Aviva, Morag Taylor, from British Gas and David Stubley from Soho Partners.

The case studies Morag and Louisa presented were incredibly impressive and persuasive.

It’s clear that Aviva makes incredible use of their vasy array of sponsorship properties to engage employees. From the use of access to events (providing employees with tickets), to call centre visits from athletes, to the creating experiences that money just can’t buy as incentives… you can see the vast potential in using sponsorship as a lever to connect employees with the brand.

Similarly I was struck by how effectively British Gas had tapped into their partnership with British Swimming. They have worked hard to get employees in the pool as part of a health and wellbeing agenda. This included inter-company swim galas, the establishment of a community of interest (essentially swim champions)  as well as local events targeted at employee’s friends and family.  I thought this was  relaly, really great. The idea of British Gas providing something that actively engages the families of employees with what British Gas is about as company really works for me.

I think of my own growing family and wonder if they know why I choose to invest the effort I do at work… Anything which helps bridge that work/life balance divide is surely worth exploring?

But is this just me being soft and fluffy?

I don’t think so. We have long know the power of “word of mouth”… even before we had some of the fruitless, recent debates about measuring the effectiveness of employee engagement.

Indeed when I look at employee engagement surveys I tend to ignore most of the questions (some critics would say ignore all of them!). But the one I always seek out is the question around whether you would “recommend this as a good place to work to your friends and family”. This score – sometimes known as the “net promoter score” – really tells you whether an organisation has employees who are engaged, who are proud and who are committed to the organisation.

So, can we we connect sponsorship to engaging employees? Yes. And can we use this engagement to drive pride and productivity. Absolutely.

What’s the difference between strategic marketing and strategic communications?

posted by Scott McKenzie

My friend Henri has just asked me a great question: what is the difference between strategic marketing and strategic communications?

Marketers would probably see PR (or communications ) as just one component part of the marketing mix. I would challenge this assertion. 

In fact I would see strategic marketing as essentially being part of strategic communications. And to be clear I don’t necessarily see marketers as “owners” of the brand. Marketers may make promises on behalf of the brand but it is down to employees (and other touchpoints) to deliver on that brand promise.

Indeed this is a topic we will be tackling head on at our event next Wednesday here at H&K London. We have great speakers from Aviva, British Gas and Soho Partners lined up on our panel. It’s invite only but if you would like to get along drop me a note.

So going back to Henri’s question I would define strategic communications along the lines of: 

“Shaping conversations with key publics, influencers and opinion formers in ways which fulfil the organisation’s strategic objectives, reputation and brand”

What do you think? What would your definition be?

It’s the brand… Stupid

posted by Scott McKenzie

I despair I really do. Today’s news on Bank of Scotland’s handling of complaints is the latest in a long line of self-inflicted injuries by the Banking sector.

I spent 10 years working in Banking and here at H&K we work with a number of Financial Services companies manage their reputation, engage their employees and deal with issues and crises.

And there have been a few. We have witnessed banks stumble from one self-inflicted PR disaster to another. From the nadir of the economic crisis to unjustifiable overdraft charges and the shambles of Payment Protection Insurance.

What is so difficult to understand? The brand really does matter. And frankly it doesn’t matter how fluffy and people-centric your advertsising is (stand up NatWest)… if you treat your customers with such wanton disregard your brand will be in tatters.

Yes balance sheets are important. But so is trust. So is reputation. The Banks really need to up their game on customer service, on handling complaints on having greater transparency on pricing.

The new UK regulatory regime likely to be far more punitive when banks get it wrong. Rightly so. But we all have a role to play.

In his wonderful book “Whoops: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay…”,  John Lanchester brilliantly explains how banks make their money in a wonderfully simple and clear way. We should demand the same transparency. The banks have a right to make (lots of) money. But they should be doing it the right way. And we all have a duty to hold them to account.

BTW – if you are interested in how employees can help brands really work you should come along to our event on the 15 June. It will be a panel discussion with great speakers from Bacardi, Aviva and British Gas. One you should not miss!