The benefits of PR having a seat on the board, as well as getting buy-in from the top of the organisation, were among topics covered during a panel discussion of experts at a Manchester business school.

Outwrite’s managing director Anthony Bullick, who is also chair of the CIPR North West committee, sat on the panel of experts, which discussed how internal communicators could pitch themselves as trusted advisors to their senior leadership teams.

He was joined on the panel by Bridget Aherne, head of communications at KeolisAmey Metrolink, and Helen Schick, head of internal communications and engagement at the Alzheimer’s Society.

They appeared before an audience of internal communications professionals from across the North West at the CIPR Inside event, at Manchester Metropolitan Business School.

Anthony said: “I really enjoyed being a panel member. It was good to put across the PR agency side to the in-house people in the audience, plus there were lots of good discussions, and insight, from everyone in the room.

“I was asked how an agency can help improve internal communications. The answer is that, certainly in Outwrite’s case, we’re journalists, and can ask questions insiders might have missed.

“A good agency won’t just come in and say: ‘We think you need a new newsletter.’

“It will dig deep, asking lots of questions to get to the root cause of what people think. It will build the solution into the communications plan and make sure it is applied in the best way, whether by blog, app or other means.”

Other issues covered by the panel in response to questions from the audience included:

Speak truth to power

Be upfront and straightforward. Give the bosses a realistic picture of the situation, however unpalatable that might be. They need to know the reality to help them make the right decisions.

If board members aren’t keen on hearing from you: cultivate relationships with those who are perhaps new to the organisation, or looking for support to help them establish their own credibility.

Educate leaders and stakeholders

Their understanding of your role, and how PR can deliver better business outcomes may be framed just by the tactics and media channels they know you’ve used.

Anthony said: “Don’t make the assumption that they instinctively know what communications and PR can contribute beyond the tactical. This should be continuously explained and demonstrated.”

Measurement

Follow the example of external communication and PR, which use lots of planning into audience insight, segmentation, and messaging.

Anthony said: “This is just as important in internal communications. A lack of effort to do this for internal audiences and to just send out a poorly planned ‘all staff’ message, makes it more difficult to measure outcomes, measure return on investment, and prove the value of internal communication to leaders.”

Practise courage and humility

It takes courage to tell your bosses when they were wrong on an issue, even when it’s necessary to salvage the reputation of the organisation.

But you also need to be aware that you’ll gain respect, and get the optimal communications outcome for the organisation, if you also practise humility, and possibly at times, humour, during the discussions as you advise them.