Future Strategy 2006 – Communications get creative

Organisations are engaging staff using increasingly creative content via mixed media to tailor make their message, says Victoria Furness

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It is hard to believe that the corporate intranet was once considered a state-of-the-art means of internal messaging. But now with most organisations using the medium to communicate benefits information, it has joined the ranks of paper-based communications in looking decidedly twentieth-century.

This is not to say that a place does not exist for a shared corporate network or even posters, booklets and other traditional channels for communicating benefits information to staff. But most internal communications experts agree there is definitely room for considerable improvement. Employers could do worse than turn to their consumer marketing departments in order to find out the latest in marketing thinking and the targeting of messages.

Nick Starritt, managing director of Sirota Consulting in Europe, a firm which surveys employee attitudes, says: "Companies should think ‘how do I begin understanding the specific demands of my workforce’ and target their benefits process effectively."

Lloyds TSB is one organisation that has tried to reduce its use of traditional paper-based methods when communicating benefits to staff. Liz Yates, manager for compensation and benefits at the financial services institution, says: "We are trying to move more to online, interactive forms of communication because they are cheaper and older style communications are turning people off."

Although technology has enabled Lloyds TSB to meet its aims, it has decided not to embrace one of the latest consumer marketing trends, text messaging: "The feedback from the internal communications team was that employees would see it as spam because they were already suffering from information overload," says Yates.

Although some consider text messaging campaigns to be invasive, Chris Hopkins, director at communications agency Caburn Hope, believes that text messaging can be used where employees have opted to receive messages.

"If you send employees an email telling them that they can receive some information via text message, [such as a share price update], some employees say they would welcome the information, even if they were on holiday," he says.

Text messaging is attractive because messages can be targeted at, and personalised for individual recipients. And the more targeted a piece of marketing is, the more likely it is to work. Hopkins believes that organisations will increasingly use their data to segment their workforce so that messages can be personalised and delivered using appropriate media.

Radio might be a significantly older form of communication than mobile phone-based technology, but some organisations have recently turned to the medium to help them deliver messages to staff. Senior management at HBOS have been interviewed for an internal radio show, produced by InTouch, on the subject of employee benefits. Staff were able to phone in, listen to the interview and give their feedback. John Wilson, a director of InTouch, says: "It makes the senior management team more accessible. Posters can give facts, but here you have the personal touch."

Like radio, video is hardly a new communication tool, but organisations are waking up to new ways that the moving image can be used to engage staff. The DRP Group, which makes corporate news TV programmes for retail clients, such as Thomas Cook and Marks & Spencer, is using new streaming technology to broadcast programmes either live or recorded.

Managing director Dale Parmenter explains: "The problem we had before was that a 20-minute programme would go into a shop and all the employees would have to stop what they were doing and watch it. Now programmes can be scheduled for several times a day or draw attention to a new promotion."

Word of mouth is another marketing concept that is becoming commonplace in benefits communication. Prudential regularly uses ‘champions’ to promote aspects of its benefits package, the latest initiative being for the pilot launch of a new health and wellbeing service from specialist consultancy, Vielife, at its Belfast office. A take-up rate of 80% was recorded.

Experiential marketing – a technique that engages the audience through an experience and builds on the word of mouth concept – is still relatively nascent within marketing departments, but internal communications could also use it. Hugh Robertson, managing partner at experiential marketing company RPM, says it is great for delivering "added value", but warns organisations to "think about the mindset of your recipients; sometimes razzmatazz can be inappropriate". As experiential marketing rarely works in isolation, employers using this technique should consider supporting any activity with an email teaser beforehand and a more detailed explanation afterwards.

Like experiential marketing, viral marketing is a popular buzzword in marketing circles, but has seen little take-up among internal communications teams. However, for those considering it, Christine Cryne, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, advises: "The information must be truly exciting. There is little point in pushing out tired messages and expecting them to become a hot topic within an organisation."

Whatever the medium, benefits communication will increasingly mirror external communications in its use of targeted and multi-channel messages in order to reach employees.