Highlights from PR Week’s Strategic Internal Communication conference

November 9th, 2018

On 6 and 7 November, internal communicators gathered for the annual PR Week Strategic Internal Communication conference. Speakers included Rose Riera from Siemens, Jo Bleasdale from BT Consumer, Amanda Atkinson from Salesforce and Jessica Latimer from Sky.

I’ve included my highlights from four sessions that stood out for me:

Communicating through uncertainty: mergers and acquisitions

Madeleine Porter, Group Head of Internal Communications at Ladbrokes Coral gave a masterclass in how to communicate change in an uncertain climate by sharing her experience of the Ladbrokes and Coral merger. She had challenges such as not being able to communicate with any certainty until the merger was confirmed and merging two distinct cultures that had to remain competitive until merger day.

She engaged leadership from the very beginning and ensured they understood the crucial role internal communication would play. She also created key principles for leaders to consider when communicating and toolkits to support them with the change they were experiences themselves, not just the change they were delivering.

On day 1 she created guides for colleagues that were desk dropped to ensure the transition was seamless, held town halls in every location and ran campaigns that found the common ground between the two companies.

Her top tips for communicating during mergers and acquisitions were:

• Every question you receive from employees will ultimately link back to ‘Have I got a job’.
• Don’t take your eye off the BAU while focusing on the change.
• There’s never a perfect time to communicate during change – sometimes you have to press on.
• Steal with pride – if you’re facing a change like this, speak to others in the industry, attend conferences, etc and learn from what others have done.


Katherine Bradshaw, Head of Internal Communication at the Institute of Business Ethics gave an insightful presentation into how ethics needs to be at the core of what we do. She started by asking us how ethical we thought we were and how ethical we thought the person next to us was. Unsurprisingly, most people put themselves at about 90% ethical, and we generally rate others as being less ethical than ourselves. But research has found that most people are only 50% ethical.

She then acknowledged that ethics has an image problem and is associated with being dry and that to be ethical you have to share absolutely everything in order to be transparent. Katherine explained that it’s about being open when communicating key messages and to do it in an authentic way that builds trust.

She provided three top questions to ask yourself if you’re facing an ethical decision:

• Transparency – Do I mind others knowing what I’ve decided?
• Effect – Who does my decision affect or hurt?
• Fairness – Would my decision be considered fair by those effected?

Another key point was that ethics isn’t about imposing rules but empowering people to do the right thing.

At CIPR Inside, we recently created a guide to ethics which you can download on our website.


Rhian Moore, Head of Internal Communication at Great Western Railway (GWR) did a fantastic session on a favourite topic of mine, audits and measurement.

She shared GWR’s audit experience which included understanding not only what they wanted to know, but why they wanted to know it, the importance of understanding ‘The currency of success’ and ensuring that what you measure always links back to the organisation’s priorities.

A key finding was that people weren’t distinguishing between what IC did and what line managers did – something that resonated with me, as line managers have come up in nearly every audit I’ve done.

Her tops tips for auditing were:

• Be brave and get some stats
• Know the bigger picture you’re supporting
• Understand what your exec team want
• Work out what is important and measure it
• Do something with the data you collate
• Use data to prove delivery
• Don’t let measurement be a one off

Rhian also reminded the room that measurement needs to be part of your day to day, not just as part of an audit.

On 27 November, I’m doing a webinar on how audits can help you to ensure future success with Contact Monkey – you can sign up on their website.

Storytelling and neuroscience

Suzanne Ellis, Director at Lansons, shared her insights into how we need to have a better understanding of neuroscience to tell compelling stories that resonate.

She talked about the three chemical reactions we have to hearing stories:

• Serotonin – you feel happy and good about life
• Oxytocin – you connect emotionally, creating a feeling of empathy, sadness or warmth
• Dopamine – You’re in suspense and you want to find out what happens next

Ideally, you need to understand which reaction you’re trying to elicit before starting your story as it will help you pick the right words from our rich vocabulary. Suzanne also spoke about how different words light up different parts of our brain which is why it’s so important to carefully consider the words you’re using to tell stories.

We were set Hemingway’s famous six-word story challenge – ie convey a story that elicits an emotional response in just six words. Hemingway’s was “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” It was difficult but demonstrated how we can have impact even when being concise if we have perfected our craft.

We also talked about the different types of stories that are widely used in marketing and advertising but less so in internal communication:

• Overcoming a monster
• Voyage and return
• Quest
• Tragedy
• Rags to Riches
• Comedy
• Rebirth

We could have a far bigger impact with our internal stories, if we look to our marketing cousins and learn from how they use these basic plots to convey information in a way that’s meaningful for the intended audience.

Suzanne left us with some top questions to ask when shaping a story:

  • Which emotion are you triggering?
  • Which words will you use to stimulate senses?
  • What visuals will you use?
  • What’s your story plot?
  • How do you want your story to be consumed?
  • Have you kept it simple?


Overall, it was a great two days with plenty of insights to take away. You can follow the conversation on the day by searching #PRWInternal on Twitter.



Categories: AuditChangeConferenceethicsInternal communicationPR WeekStorytelling

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“Helen’s passion for her profession shines through very clearly and she manages to combine her deep knowledge of internal communications with a mix of pragmatism and fresh thinking. She is a delight to work with and has a high level of integrity.”

Richard Fitzmaurice, TMF Group