Scott McKenzie's Collective Conversation Blog » H&K Fri, 01 Jun 2012 10:48:08 +0000 en hourly 1 We are more than newsletters Fri, 13 Apr 2012 14:01:05 +0000 Scott McKenzie

I got quite irritated this week when someone dismissively described what internal communications practitioners do as being “just about newsletters”.

It’s not that I have a problem with newsletters themselves. In fact I’ve added our ten top tips on creating newsletters at the bottom of this post.  No, I genuinely believe newsletters can – and do –  play a vital part of the communications channel mix. It’s what lies behind the sentiment that bugs me.

There is an implication that the IC practitioner as newsletter “owner” has an inherently tactical view of the world. This IC practitioner is apparently not able to understand the bigger picture, or provide strategic counsel to senior leaders. For me  it’s like suggesting all PR practitioners really do is write press releases.

Which is frankly absolute rubbish.

Yes as a profession we have our fair share of channel managers. But I would argue that this is an essential part of the core skills you develop as you progress. Understanding the channels is simply part of the learning curve, the apprenticeship if you like, all practitioners must go through.

As I’ve stated before the economic downturn has presented an opportunity for our profession to enhance its standing with senior leaders. And yet , from what I can see, the reputation of our industry remains in the balance. I, for one, would like our profession to work more effectively to address this issue. Bodies like the CIPR, IoIC, IABC, Melcrum, etc all have their part to play. 

Senior communications practitioners can – and do – add value to their organisations. We are just really bad at communicating that to the people that matter. There’s an irony there somewhere…

(And as promised… here are our ten top tips for newsletters…)

1.  The newsletter should not just be used as a single communications channel in its own right. It should be an access point to different channels/media/content eg. via social media, intranets, videos, etc.

2.  The purpose of the newsletter needs to be established – is it an information update? Is it part of a broader piece of communication or engagement activity?

3.  The classic newsletter is a top down push of information from the corporate centre…  in our view it’s important that it becomes a broader conversation. The newsletter needs to reflect the content and the sentiment of its key audiences. Establishing that as a principle at the beginning is key.

4.  So, we would therefore recommend involving people from across the organisation. Establish a rolling editorial panel of employees. The content needs to reflect what’s really going on, it needs to be fresh and engaging. It will mean that people are more likely to read and respond to the content.

5.  Ensure that the tone and style presents the content in the best possible light. Yes, it should probably reflect the norms of the organisation but in our view you can’t go far wrong if you follow the lines of a magazine/newspaper (tabloid) article, involving as many images and quotes as possible… and going light on the technical jargon.

6.  Think about distribution – is there an employee-base of remote workers (employees who work off-site, in a factory, driving, etc) who do not have access to a desk-top PC that need to be involved? Will you need to distribute hard copies? Will you need to design another ‘printable’ version, that can be handed out or pinned up?

7.  It’s important to get feedback, so consider techniques which will make engagement easier to measure like rating the content, feedback to the editor (or maybe even have a regular survey after the newsletter has been published).

8. Ensure content is meaningful – balance out corporate messages and high level strategic info, new products and services with people-stories and external news.  

9.  As with any other source of news, a summary (teaser statement) to introduce the article is sufficient with a click-through to content option (only for html).

10.  Name and masthead should clearly reflect brand look and feel – but it also needs to be as human as possible, with images of real people, even if the content is very business-focused, it can be a real person delivering it.

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Switching off the lights Fri, 30 Mar 2012 09:13:30 +0000 Scott McKenzie

There are moments of parenthood which are genuinely surreal. I often come home to a scene which resembles a modern-day Mary Celeste. A half-eaten plate of food,  the living room light on, TV still blasting away, and an untouched glass of wine… All usually signs that the youngest daughter has woken up suddenly, and disrupted the solitude of a quiet meal in front of the box.

Ours is truly a life of constant interruptions.

I was considering this as a possible answer to a question my colleague Sue Cook posed to  me about Earth Hour , which will take place this coming Saturday. For the uninitiated, Earth Hour is the annual Climate Change campaign which has the simple approach of asking us to switch off unnecessary lights, appliances, etc, for just one hour.

Sue’s question to me was fairly fundamental: how do we get people to change behaviour? How do we get them to switch off the lights?

At one level it’s a question that seems so easy to answer. I mean how difficult is it really to switch a light off. My three-year old daughter can do it. (Then again, she can also switch them on… which may be a small, but growing contributory factor to the problem!).

There were conflicting views when I put this problem to the team. The solutions fell in to three camps:

1) Make it cool

2) Make it simple

3) Punish people

Clearly there are drawbacks and benefits to each solution. Making it cool sounds great, but runs the risk of being a fad. This isn’t really about doing something for one hour… we are looking for long-term, sustained change. Right?

Make it simple? Well, as I said, at one level it couldn’t be more straightforward. Yet we still leave our appliances on. Is it that things are really too complex for us? Perhaps it’s about being nudged more often. We recently did some work with remote workers at a global heavy industrials company. We were trying to ask employees to follow essential processes (including Health & Safety measures). Our approach was to really understand where key points in the process might be… where exactly would people make decisions, or simply forget about the process? Having done that forensic analysis it was then all about having simple (but visible) prompts and reminders at key points in the process. The results were impressive. There was a marked improvement in the adoption of key processes.

As for the third solution… yes we could punish people more. We could make people pause by introducing draconian punishments for high energy usage – including fines, or even public humiliation. I’m a great believer in incentives and disincentives…  Indeed the market may already be heading that way in any case as rising energy prices begin to provide a growing disincentive for wastage…

I am sure the best solution will borrow from all of the above. My view as with any change process is that it needs to feel immediate for the people who need to change.The changes need to be based in real-life, it should resonate with their everyday circumstances. The changes proposed should have tangible, meaningful impact.

And maybe that’s the real problem. Turning off a light switch just feels so… well… small. Particularly next to an objective like saving the planet. Are we really able to make the emotional (and rational) connection between that huge goal, and our small action?

So Sue,  I’m not sure if that answers your question? Probably not satisfactorily, but rest assured my household will be doing its bit this coming Saturday. Well if we’re not interrupted that is…

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Regular rhythm and structure Fri, 16 Mar 2012 19:39:56 +0000 Scott McKenzie

Life seems to be getting back into some kind of rythm and structure. You can more or less set your watch by my youngest daughter (in bed at 7pm, awake at 11.30pm, 2am and 6.45am).I’ve got used to my new commute and new area. Although I still don’t really know where anything is.

In fact that’s the very feeling we have seen many times when working with clients on major change programmes. There’s lots of ambiguity. Lots of uncertainty. People literally don’t know where anything is. Which is why putting in place a regular rhythm and structure for communications is important. Identifying a channel that can be the trusted source for information about the changes taking place. Something which people know is coming – even when there is no “new” news. It fills the vaccuum. Reduces the risk of rumours and speculation.

It smoothes out the peaks and troughs of the change process.

And so back to my life. Some things are still changing. Tonight I’m having a rare night out with my friends. We are celebrating the imminent departure of our friend Spen from his London job. He moved his family out to the provinces last year and has now got the local job to go with the country pile. I will miss him enormously.

Keeping the “rhythm” theme there is even the promise of live music tonight. Although the suggestion of “jazz fusion” feels more like a threat than a promise…

P.S. – I’m making a big effort on the rhythm and structure of my own blog… so please expect to see a new post most Fridays from here on in…!

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Citizens of the company unite Wed, 14 Mar 2012 14:35:01 +0000 Scott McKenzie

I found out today that the City I was born in… has become a City. Again.

Although, I am of course delighted to see Perth regain its rightful status, I have to admit to being a bit bemused by the whole process. I had always assumed Perth was indeed a  City. Not a huge metropolis like New York, or Paris, or London (where I have lived for the last 10 years) but a beautiful, ancient, Fair City nonetheless. I am almost as perplexed that any administrators could take that status away, as I am that it is the Queen who has the authority to give it back.

Don’t the citizens (or townsfolk) decide whether they live in a City, or Town?  Is it not part of that collective sense of belonging, that sense of identity we all share around the place we live in, or come from? That is not something that can be decided upon by important dignitaries, whether they are kings or queens, or presidents or prime ministers.

Or CEOs for that matter…

We have worked with a number Executive Boards over the years who have struggled to articulate what their sense of identity really is.

“We’re a charitable business… no a business with a broader charitable purpose… no, no, no we’re a charity that’s trying to make money…”.

You can see people tying themselves up in knots. Surely the answer is right there in front of them. Simply, ask the people that matter. Your employees. Your customers. Your stakeholders.

Unlocking that sense of common purpose, the reason we exist, the reason we come to work… surely that would be a very powerful thing. For any organisation. Or company. Or business. Or charity, etc, etc…

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The ballad of Barrett’s privateers Fri, 09 Mar 2012 16:50:49 +0000 Scott McKenzie

I recently spent a couple of weeks visiting my parents in Canada. The mix of two kids under three, a long haul flight and jet-lag was, to say the least, not particularly relaxing. My mum and dad worked hard to give my wife and I a little bit of down time. The best example of this was a glorious day ski-ing, followed by a Friday night out.

Frankly, there is nothing more gratifying than sipping a cold glass of beer with the gentle ache of a day’s ski-ing in your legs. What made it even better was the live band that night.

Sarah (my wife) and I are both Celts and lovers of Folk music. The band gave us our first introduction to the music of Newfoundland. We were enthralled as we heard beautifully sung ballads about leaving your country, family and home behind. The songs were often bawdy, colonial tales of amorous adventures or drinking disasters. One in particular stood out - the infectious Ballad of Barrett’s privateers.

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got back and I still find myself humming it, or singing parts of the (very catchy) refrain in the shower…

It has made me reflect once again on the importance of storytelling. Humanity has had an oral/aural tradition of telling and re-telling stories for millenia. It is where many of our common myths and legends were born. As corporate storytellers we often focus on the rational. The facts and figures. These are important indicators. People want to know whether we are we up, or down.

But do we invest enough time getting behind the emotional elements of the story? The bits that really resonate. The bits that are sticky, memorable, easy-to-repeat. The bits that have you singing in the shower?

P.S. – we are really looking forward to hosting the next LCEG event here at H+K on the 20th March…

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An internal brand? 5 things to watchout for… Wed, 22 Feb 2012 15:40:31 +0000 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.

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The perils of embracing technology Tue, 02 Aug 2011 17:18:09 +0000 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

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The tragedy of Parenthood Mon, 01 Aug 2011 17:32:43 +0000 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.

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The waiting game Fri, 24 Jun 2011 10:34:22 +0000 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.

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Peep hole Wed, 22 Jun 2011 11:06:30 +0000 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.

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