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Nov 16, 2020

Approx. 10 min. read

The Great Comms Debate — 2020 Highlights

With the season finale of The Great Comms Debate around the corner, I decided to rewatch all the debate sessions we had this year and share my...

With the season finale of The Great Comms Debate around the corner, I decided to rewatch all the debate sessions we had this year and share my favorite highlights with you. 👋

Wait, you don't know what's the Great Comms Debate? Well, in a nutshell:

It's a live talk-show where three internal comms leaders debate six burning issues in the field. Hundreds of peers from around the world join (and fuel) the discussion in a live chat. Over 2000 people joined The Great Comms Debate sessions this year. You can (re)watch the previous sessions in this video library or join the upcoming one live on November 18th. It's super insightful. Don't believe me? — Ask Keith:

Ok, let's jump straight into it! Disclaimer: these are my personal highlights. There are literally 4 hours of top-class comms discussions so I couldn't possibly fit all the great stuff into this post.

Employee comms is where marketing was 15 years ago. The Great Comms Debate 1

For me, as a comms AND marketing professional, this topic is special. And even though this '15 years behind' sentiment is pretty vague — it could be 5, it could be 25 — but the truth is that the internal comms function is falling behind. There's a lot of work to be done to close that gap, but it also comes with a massive window of opportunities for IC folks.

Communication professionals need to learn from marketers to understand their customers, tailor their content, and segment their audiences. We need to know who our employees are. So every communication that we make isn't a shotgun blast to every single person in an organization but a targeted engagement with relevant content. "Once we do that, it will make it much easier to drive some analytics and truly prove the value of our work as IC professionals," says Jason Anthoine.

And yes, I made a meme about it. 🤷‍♂️

tergeted comms smarp2

But jokes aside, there are three particular areas where employee comms can adopt from marketing right now and boost their value for the business. All that needed is the right technology and a strategic approach to employee communications: 

  1. Audience segmentation. Not just based on geography and function — but also interests, various stakeholder groups, internal/external content sharing, etc.
  2. Once you understand your audience and have it strategically segmented, you are able to pick the right kind of content and target it to the right employee at their preferred channel and time. #employeeexperience 😉
  3. Metrics-metrics-metrics. Comms professionals need to start measuring the impact of your communications, what works and what doesn't. Modern communications platforms can help you make data-driven decisions, link your metrics to the business goals, and prove the value of the comms function.

Does it mean that employee communications should be just a marketing function internally? Of course not. This 'internal marketing' input is just one fraction of the value package that IC delivers. However, this road of data-driven communications has already been paved by marketing so why not use it? It is one of the areas where employee communications can prove its massive impact on business without reinventing the wheel. 

I love Priya Bates' relationship analogy for Marketing and Internal Communications: "Marketing is like dating. You're getting excited, you're sending out campaigns every now and then to make you look attractive," says Priya. "IC is like a marriage. You've already got a commitment and now you are building up a relationship. You are talking about your ups and downs, not just the good stuff. It's not pointing in time — it's every single day."

Is it possible to measure ROI on communication programs? The Great Comms Debate 2

Measurement and proving value of the comms function come up in every Great Comms Debate. It's one of those topics that is always on people's minds. There is no one right way to measure your success when it comes to employee communication, and there are so many layers and variables to consider. However, according to IABC, over 60% of internal communicators are still not measuring internal communication. That's crazy. 🤯

Sidenote: If you want to learn more about employee comms analytics, watch the replay of a live workshop on internal comms measurement best practices with amazing Brad Whitworth.

The angle of measuring ROI is a tricky one because it requires us to tie down the outcomes of a communication program to a monetary value. The expert panel got divided on this one. 

On the one hand, Brad Whitworth believes that the difference between the investment and the outcome of a comms program is too big to be able to pin a definite return on investment. On the other hand,  Jennifer Sproul and Advita Patel agree that even though it's a challenge, with clear planning and enough data, IC professionals should be able to demonstrate ROI on the programs they run.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it possible to track precise ROI on communication programs? — Leave your comments below. 👇

To wrap up this highlight, I want to share another top-notch analogy from another excellent Great Comms Debate speaker, Mike Klein.


Employee communication during the COVID-19 crisis. The Great Comms Debate 3

The Great Comms Debate is not one of those webinars where you go through the slide deck and get "a ready solution to all your problems" in the end. It's a quality discussion that gives you a number of unique perspectives from fellow comms practitioners and industry experts. "This allows us to address the burning issues in the employee comms agenda and, together with the community, try to make sense out of it," says the host Aleksander Cardwell. This was especially valuable at the start of the pandemic when everyone suddenly felt like that. 👇

giphy (4)

Throughout 2020, the world of work has been changing. Not only is the employee communications function continuously adjusting to it, at times, it's also leading the change. Finding the courage to do that is what can get comms professionals that desired seat at the table we all have been asking for. 

"There's such an opportunity for comms people to add value if they have the confidence to step up," says Jill Christensen"It's time to act as a leader and somebody who can see this crisis as an opportunity and move the employee communications function forward." 

Yes, the pandemic hasn't been easy on anyone. And yes, as communications professionals, our work was put to the ultimate test. But maybe now we can pause for a second - just for a moment - and recognize all the tremendous work that comms people were able to do this year! We are doing a phenomenal job and should not be shy about it. 🧡

As Alison Davis said, "In today's reality, communication professionals are actually able to do things they were not able to do before, like being more transparent, being the moral compass for employees. This crisis is a good potential for us to reset the role of communications in our organizations."


Earlier this week, I posted about the value of empathy in the pandemic state of employee communications. It resonates with what Roland Burton had to say at the Great Comms Debate 3: "We have to be mindful about our employees. If we give people mixed messages, not enough information, or too much information — it all adds additional stress to employees' lives. We have to find the right balance, get the fundamentals right," says Roland.

Every employee is a member of the Comms team now — whether we like it or now. The Great Comms Debate 4

Here's a real-life example of how user-generated content is created:

Step 1 👉 Our team is hosting the Great Comms Debate 4.

Step 2 👉 While debating the topic of (surprise) employees' contribution to internal comms, the one and only Steve Crescenzo comes up with this heavy-hitter out of nowhere:

steve debating

Step 3 👉 I cut out this moment and create a perfect ready response for most of our chat conversations with my team-mate Aleks. 😂 Success!

This was just friendly banter, of course. But the reason I wanted to include it in my highlights is that this topic can be approached from so many angles. You may be on the same page with Rachel Thornton, who believes that whether we like it or not (and whether employees realize it or not), every employee is now connected in one way or another and inevitably contributes to the larger comms picture.

Or you may agree with Steve Crescenzo, who suggests that even though with the technology nowadays employees can get their voices to be heard, it does necessarily mean they all have the same objectives as the comms team. "If a hundred employees are discussing the cafeteria menu, does it mean they are part of comms functions?" asks Steve. Yes, we have to listen to our employees' voices, but it's only one part of our strategic mission.

Or perhaps you can relate to Rachel Miller's on-the-fence view that internal communication is too important to be left on one team or one department — it's everyone's responsibility. "However, when you have a comms team in place, it takes a certain set of skills. We are not just content creators but also content curators. So our job is to use the employee-generated content and make it fit together with your strategic narrative," says Rachel.

You may even agree with all of them. I do. You may also say, "What a load of rubbish" if you want — I can lend you my gif above for that. 😉 But that's the beauty of The Great Comms Debate — when hundreds of people passionate about communications get together and have an open, honest discussion, some inspiring chemistry starts boiling in this group. ⚗️ 🤩

What's Next? The Great Comms Debate 5

Next week, the comms community will get together (>600 ppl have already signed up) for the Great Comms Debate season finale to reflect on 2020 and learn from one another.

This will be an epic session! 🤩 Just look at this golden lineup of speakers that will be leading the discussion:

  •  Kerri Warner, Global Head of Employee Communications at Mastercard
  •  Liliana BiroHead of Internal Communications at Iron Mountain
  •  Guilherme SantanaHead of Digital Transformation Change Management & Communications at DHL

Join us live on November 18th, 10 am ET | 3 pm GMT. Your future self will thank you.

Save your seat even if you can't attend the live session. All registrants will get the session recording by email. 📩

See you there! 👋

great comms debate 5 watch online

Written by

Oles Datsko

Oles Datsko

Marketing Manager

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