Four years on

Wow, not sure where they went, but the last few years have been a heady mix of my children growing older and starting school, and my new-found independence as a freelance comms professional. August is a special month for me, kids off school, birthdays, wedding anniversary and my business anniversary too. This year, it’s been four years since starting my freelance life and Little Bird Communication. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

And with these celebrations always comes a little self-reflection (well ok quite a bit, but that’s the way I keep everything in check). How’s it going, is it going in the right direction, is my business any nearer my planned destination, will it ever get there…, what should I be focussing on, is that still right and reasonable? These are all questions I ask myself, quite regularly, but probably more so when it’s the milestone month of August.

Sticking to my path

Sticking to my path

August is a month when most freelancers who are parents are pushed to their limits. With kids off school, the juggle of work and home life is brought into sharp focus, the two clashing and vying for your attentions. Late nights, early starts, full days out with the kids, it’s all part of it. Often business steps up too as everyone else takes time off. Your clients are looking for extra support to help them meet their objectives while their teams have temporarily shrunk. The freelance path can get a bit wobbly at times, as life hurtles past, or you may get distracted by the scenery and the greener working options on the other side as it were.

Learning how to make that balance work for you is vital. I’m lucky to have a brilliant network of freelancers who I meet with regularly, and we all share our current challenges, ideas and solutions. No-one seems to have a solution for August and its onslaught of competing priorities and demands upon us freelance/parent types.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it’s been a tricky August so far, but I don’t actually know that there is a solution. Today, having been up since ‘whatever o’clock’ and putting in a few hours of work before slapping a few sarnies together, throwing wellies, buckets, nets and towels in the car, getting kids dressed and clean (ish), and getting them in the car, not forgetting the dog too, we set off for a few hours in the forest. We had fun. Then we came home, I worked some more while the kids played, we had dinner, I joined a conference call, then put the kids to bed, I worked some more, then I called it a night (about now)…  I don’t know that there’s a job that would let me do all that, or at least that I would not feel guilty about doing all that (some people just like to see you there, in the office, don’t they).

My friends who are employed or look after their kids think I’m bonkers. Can you get someone to help you, can you say no, can someone look after the kids for you, oh my goodness you work so hard… they say. No not really, I say. I chose this route, this is the career path for me, and while what I do pays some bills and more, I don’t really consider it work. That’s probably the bit that some people think is bonkers. I am really busy, I do have to juggle, I’m often thinking of my work and projects when I’m on the beach, but I love what I do and when it all comes together, and I can sit back and think I was a part of that, I helped make that happen, that’s brilliant. And I got to hang out with my kids while they were on their holidays, helped them build sandcastles and make memories.

Okay, so the life of a freelancer is not perfect, but what is? What this is, what freelancing is, is a choice. A choice of lifestyle, a choice of balance, a choice of career path. I get to choose when I work, I get to choose to spend time with my family, I even get to choose the work I do. I work late nights and early mornings to make sure I can do that. At times it’s really stressful,  it’s often challenging, but it’s also blooming marvellous, so I’m sticking to my plan and following my ambition.


What’s in a name?

A debate raged on twitter last month about whether internal communication should be called internal PR. Most of the replies were: No, No, No… Everyone hated the idea, were repulsed at the connection to PR, which most consider to be broadcast communication aimed at selling.

Read more about it here from Jenni Wheller, Committee chair for CIPR Inside.

It got me thinking too about how I label my business, what is PR, what is corporate communication, and what is communication. I wonder whether the industry will ever be able to shake its poor reputation. What a thing for the industry that is responsible for preserving and promoting the reputations of big business! Can it solve its own reputation crisis? Who will do the PR for the PRs?

I believe the issue is around the common misconception of what PR is.

1. PR is spin, or PR is what the likes of Max Clifford ‘did’…

Max Clifford with his celebrity stories and friends in high places, was so often portrayed as an archetypal PR man, someone well-known to the general public, but not embraced by the profession. Of course professional communicators like myself, and most of the wonderful people I work with, don’t want to be labelled spin doctors or the creators of sleazy kiss and tell stories. We have all worked hard developing our careers, many are qualified in communication, marketing, PR or journalism, and have the skills to deliver so much more than ‘spin’. And most of us balk at the thought of  it. You see, we’re proud of our knowledge, good, honest folk, who like good honest communication that gets results, changes behaviour and has meaning. We know that no amount of PR fluff and guff will cover up the dirty secrets for ever – soon enough the truth will out.

2. Corporate communication is guff – over-complicating what the operational teams do.

In a recent conversation with a client and the operational teams, one person commented ‘I don’t see the point of all this corporate guff’, and that’s not the first time I’ve heard that rebuke when you’re trying to help an organisation communicate more effectively. And it’s a valid retort if that’s what your expectation of PR and corporate communication is – why would you want over complicated, jargon-laden content that no-one reads, let alone acts upon? Most often I’ve found those people who are the strongest detractors can become your best supporters if you show them that corporate communication is about improving communication, making business better.

3. PR is media relations

There’s a wider issue too. So many people think PR is ‘talking to journalists and getting a story in the papers’. It’s not though. PR stands for Public Relations, not Media Relations. And although the term public feels a bit old-fashioned in our digital age, (perhaps we should call it People) it is all-encompassing, which is what PR is. Media Relations is just one small part of the PR job. A channel, or a tactic a skilled PR professional will select to help a business achieve its aims. Just like you may choose that building a website, designing an app, holding a community event will help you reach out and communicate, media relations is one of the many tools in the PR kit that helps us to communicate with people. And I think media relations has it’s own set of problems, but that’s a whole new post.


PR is none of these things. It’s about communication with a range of people inside and outside of an organisation, and involves listening, responding and talking – not just talking.

For me, as a graduate of the Public Relations degree at Bournemouth University, and holding a few roles along my career path that had PR in their title, I feel a personal conflict with the name. I’m proud of my degree, and of my work, but with so many people confused over what PR is I’ve found myself changing my descriptors to accurately reflect what I actually do, and not what people assume I do. I work in communication. I listen and use research to learn more and understand. I use a full range of channels and tactics to communicate. I know what works and what doesn’t.

That’s why my business is Little Bird Communications and not Little Bird PR.

I don’t know what the answer is, or indeed if PR will ever shed it’s image of spin, sleaze and corporate guff. But I do know that’s not what I do or what many of the other brilliantly skilled professionals I have a pleasure to work with do either.

We stand for good, clear, concise and honest communication. We know that trust and honesty are critical to great communication, we know what channels to use for different clients to help them achieve their business aims. We know to listen more than we talk, and that what your customers, colleagues and any other stakeholders tell you is gold dust. And at last we are in an age when we can ask and listen better than ever before.

Further reading:

I’m really looking forward to getting my copy of Robert Phllips’ book Trust me, PR is dead you can get a copy too by making a pledge on the Unbound site.






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#thebigyak – my three things

On Saturday 28 June, I joined nearly 150 internal communicators and headed off to #thebigyak organised by The IC crowd, and facilitated by Benjamin Ellis.

Yes it was the weekend and yes we all went to this event because we love what we do. You could not find a more motivated bunch of communicators than those willing to take a whole day in a weekend and go off and talk shop.

The format of the day was an ‘unconference’ which puts the agenda in the (hairy) hands of the delegates.

We kicked off with some fun ice breakers, which were appropriately designed around how we organise ourselves. As a large group we had to order ourselves by our first names in alphabet order, and then again by what time we each had to get up in the morning to be at the eBay offices in Richmond for 9.30am. Our organisation was a bit messy in places, and those completer finishers among us were squirming, but it was fun, and I joined a kuddle of Kates.

The agenda was then decided by all of us, choosing topics we wanted to discuss. There was something for everyone and we then chose which discussions to join and headed off to the different rooms. The rule of two feet was applied – if you didn’t feel that you were benefitting from the discussion you were in, get up and politely leave in search of something that suited you better. I joined four discussions: How do you make HR comms cool?; From cascade to conversation; Authenticity in internal communication and Change communication.

So my top takeaway points from the event were:

1. We should all use the unconference style more

Interestingly there seemed to be only a couple of organisations taking this approach internally and one was a housing association that was using it both internally and externally, which I applaud. It may be a scary leap of faith to give people the power, but it really pays off.

There are huge benefits to this style of event:

1. You find out what people really think, they choose the agenda, they talk about what concerns them – that’s like gold dust to any organisation.

2. Bringing people together face-to-face is never a bad thing – sharing, learning, laughing and enjoying each other’s company is great for morale.

3. The sense of being free enough to move off to another discussion when the one you’ve joined isn’t interesting is really empowering. Sitting in a traditional style conference listening to someone talk about a topic in which you have no interest is draining. The unconference style lets you walk away without being rude, without heads turning. You can just leave and find a discussion where you get value and can add value.

2. An organisation that listens more can be a better organisation

There were numerous examples of this through the day:

1. Reverse mentoring where junior employees mentor more senior colleagues about areas such as social media was a great idea.

2. One organisation has a very specific way of remembering the rest of the business during every meeting they have. They always make sure there’s an empty chair at the meeting. It represents everyone else who can’t be in the meeting, the customer services team, the front line staff and more. It prompts the people in the meeting to think about others and what they would think if they were there. An empty chair maybe a little odd for some, but it works for them, and helps them to be mindful. There may be some other symbol in different organisations which reminds people to be mindful of what others may think of their decisions.

3. Enterprise social networks (ESNs) and open employee websites are fantastic for sharing, collaborating and listening to the sentiment in a business. But they can never replace good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations. Face-to-face conversations enable us to ‘listen’ at a much deeper level and so much more effectively. We pick up on body language and other social cues that are lost through online media. ESNs do not replace other channels, they add to them and bring value in their own way.

3. Almost all business disasters link back to a failure to communicate

If you show your leaders what could happen if they don’t communicate, that’s a sure way to get your business leaders to sit up and take notice of what communication can do. There are countless examples of where a failure of communication somewhere in a business has led to problems of all shapes and sizes.

Two high-profile examples are:

  • The government’s failure to listen to people’s worries and answer their fears led to a reduction in the take up of the MMR and confusion around who to trust on the issue.
  • Regarding the shocking case of Savile and Operation Yewtree it’s cited that ‘there were a number of organisational failures which allowed him to continue unchallenged’. If victims and employees felt able to speak out and be listened to perhaps Savile would have been found out far sooner.

Of course the comms team is also there to respond and communicate in overdrive when a crisis hits. The better prepared, more open your organisation is and the stronger your internal relationships are, the better an organisation will fare during a crisis.

There are some great examples of the good, the bad and the ugly in this article.


CIPR Inside is one of my clients, and so I’m blogging about each of the four topics I joined on the CIPR Inside blog and you can read the detail of those here.

Keep on yakkin’ — How can you make HR comms cool?

Keep on yakkin’ – From cascade to conversation

Keep on yakkin’ – Authenticity in internal communication

Keep on yakkin’ – Change communication

There are loads of posts and tweets about #thebigyak event – check out this storify for more and The IC crowd list of blogs to see where it leads you.

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Brilliant People, Amazing Culture – part one from All About People

On Thursday 5 and Friday 6 June a group of like-minded people gathered in a seafront hotel in Bournemouth for the All About People conference. I find the culture of organisations and the shift to people focussed business fascinating, so I joined the event and I’ll share some of the insights from the two days here. I’ll start with the first day, set the scene and share what The Chemistry Group does to make its culture amazing. I’ll cover other insights from the likes of Mind Candy in later posts. Andy Swann, the creator of the event first wanted to just bring a few people together to share ideas and have some fun, but it soon grew into the All About People event. In Andy’s words from his welcome: “I’m not going to tell you want to expect from #aapcon14, the opportunity is there to create your own experience. Informal yes, idealistic maybe, human certainly.” And that nicely sums up exactly what the event turned out to be.

@Chirp_song  in action - we're all singing too..

@Chirp_Song in action – we’re all singing too..

We kicked off day one with singing with @Chirp_Song – I was nervous, I definitely cannot sing and I felt very self-conscious doing it. But then I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and together we all sounded pretty good. But the point was, it was a great start to the day, breaking the ice, filling our lungs with air and our bodies with energy. There was a great buzz in the room during and after as we all (I think) were pretty pleased with ourselves. And to follow the singing came Head of Amazing (what a brilliant title), Lorraine Makepeace @LozMakepeace from The Chemistry Group to share what makes their culture brilliant and amazing.


The Chemistry Group five box model

The Chemistry Group five box model

Against a backdrop of £24bn being lost each year on managing poor performance, it’s clear that finding and recruiting the right people for the job in the first place is a logical step. But first you need to know what ‘good’ look likes in your organisation and have very clear and real values that reflect the business.

According to Lorraine: “Intellect, values and motivations are better predictors of a person’s potential than past experience and behaviour” and so you need to look at your candidates and assess them against these factors and understand how they will fit with your culture.

So often organisations advertise their roles asking for x number of years in relevant experience and candidates will try to fit with that job’s specification, but this isn’t the best measure and unlikely to provide a great match for the business. The Chemistry Group uses a five box model to get hiring right along with a mix of various verbal and numerical reasoning tests.


But of course building a successful career and delivering strong business performance doesn’t stop at the recruitment process, it continues throughout a person’s career. So rather than use the traditional appraisal approach to ‘managing development’ which both people and managers loathe, at The Chemistry Group they give their people ownership of their own development with a tool box of development programmes, workshops and learning opportunities.

They work on these themselves and there’s always someone else working on the same skill too so they join forces, share ideas and discuss challenges and support each other. Interestingly they use Google + to share their development progress and share thoughts. From an internal communication perspective this is a great demonstration of freeing the control of development and communication from managers and putting the power of influence in the hands of their people. Everyone has a mentor, or coach to guide and support them in their career at The Chemistry Group, not a manager in the traditional sense of managing their development and task outputs.


The emphasis on people comes through everything they do, even when it comes to the budget. At the budget time of year, The Chemistry Group prioritises on its ‘energy’ budget. This is how much they are going to set aside for having fun together as company to keep the team energised and includes things like annual trips, picnics, family sports days and more. This takes priority over the IT budget! How does your organisation prioritise its budgets? Do you have a budget for fun?

Fun at Chemistry

Fun at Chemistry


Graphic of the first morning's sessions courtesy of @TobyPestridge

Graphic of the first morning’s sessions courtesy of @TobyPestridge

They also invest in the nutrition for their people, paying for everyone’s food at work, providing healthy and tasty food that provides the right nutrition. And if people are showing signs of being below par they can talk to the nutritionist who visits once a month. They take a regular pulse survey to see how everyone is feeling and out put the results in to a traffic light system. The nutritionist can advise in groups or on a one-to-one basis and really personalise the support they provide to help get an individual back on track with their health and wellbeing.

It’s was clear from Lorraine’s passion and the work she talked about at The Chemistry Group that the company puts its people first and there may be some inspiration to be taken to share at your organisation.

I’ll follow with some more from All About People posts, so watch this space.

There’s a storify of the tweets here.

 Image Credit

Thanks to Toby Pestridge for the great graphic notes of the day.

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All about people, work and workplaces

I spent 5 and 6 June 2014 in the company of some really brilliant people in my home town of  Bournemouth. The All About People

What was the creative brief for this image?

What was the creative brief for this image?

Conference, organised by Andy Swann, Head of Ideas and Mistakes at My Amazing Team @AndySwann was really inspiring. There was so much great stuff covered, my head is still buzzing with ideas to take to my clients and beyond. It was great to see Bournemouth hosting an innovative and provocative event. As a local passionate about great communication, internal comms and the way we work it was a great opportunity.

So as a first round-up, I’ve simply created a Storify as the twitter feed was lively and should give a good idea of the stuff we did and the topics talked about. And we did do a lot, singing,  tai chi, a fantastic game of executive decision and more…

So check out the Storify here, and I’ll share more in posts in the near future.


Image credit – Simon Heath 


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#ioiclive14 conference – part two

To follow from the part one blog post of #ioiclive14 here’s part two which I’ve written for and sharing here. It covers the introvert extrovert debate, neuroscience, Bupa and the extra mile, and Peer 1 Hosting and their approach to providing an environment and culture that enables engagement to flourish…

Debate – understanding introverts and extroverts

Helen Deverell

Helen Deverell

Helen Deverell, from Grant Thornton organised the panel discussion having read Susan Cain’s book Quiet. You can read Helen’s guest blog about the book and her personal revelation on, and watch Susan Crain’s TED talk here.

Belinda Gannaway from Nixon Mcinnes facilitated the debate.

The panel comprised a mix of introvert and extrovert personalities. Helen an introvert, Robin Hall, HR consultant a fellow introvert, Shiona Adamson from Natural England an extrovert and providing balance is ambivert Dana Leeson co-founder of the IC Crowd and digital Workplace Architect at British Standards Institution.

Ambiverts are described as someone towards the middle of the spectrum of Introvert and Extrovert, they may display traits of both in different situations, sometimes giving them the name of social chameleons, able to change and adapt to the situation they are in.

Intrigued as to where you are on the introvert extrovert spectrum? Take this short test on Susan Cain’s website

So what’s the relevance for internal communication and can good communicators be introverts?

Receiving information and collaborating

As internal communicators it’s vital for us to understand how our colleagues will feel able to collaborate, and provide the right opportunities for them to get involved and be heard. Introverts tend to listen, and think before they act. Sometimes their style can be misinterpreted as shy, or that they lack confidence. This isn’t the case, and perhaps it’s more the format of the meeting that doesn’t suit them as well as it does their more assertive, thinking out loud counterpart the extrovert. Introverts tend to stay quiet in meetings, processing the information and reflecting, which is not less valuable than the others in the meeting who speak up easily. As Dana, the only ambivert on the panel pointed out, an introvert may respond to the outcomes of the meeting at a later time, once they’ve had the time to thoroughly process the information, or they may prefer the chance to have one-to-one discussions where they can talk openly about their views.

The impact for comms teams

As communication professionals, Introverts bring different attributes to a team and can provide balance and complement the extroverts in the room. Robin Hall explained that he finds his ability to listen and get under the skin of an organisation helps him to do his job. Being an introvert is a great advantage. Helen also finds her listening approach garners great results.

While extroverts like Shiona are well suited to facilitating and love the high energy of social situations, thinking on their feet and multi-tasking.

Fitting in…

It’s suggested in Susan Cain’s book that the world seems to crave extroverts and that there isn’t room for anyone that doesn’t fit into that ideal, so many introverts may find themselves trying to ‘fit in’ and alter their behaviour to be heard in a world that rewards the outspoken and gregarious extroverts.

For some, being called an introvert has also carried with it some negative labels, being equated to being shy or lacking confidence, and that’s not the case as demonstrated by the mix on the panel and in our everyday working lives.


Whether introvert or extrovert everyone brings talent and attributes that complete the picture for any team or organisation.

Flex your communication channels, and use a mix to ensure that everyone feels able to contribute, and get involved. It’s not always about big bold events, and other methods of communication can be really effective at reaching out to your colleagues.

The best skill for any of us is to be self-aware and aware of others you work with. Being mindful and tailoring your comms channels so that everyone feels able to take part, feel involved and able to collaborate, and be a part of the team will reap results.

Neuroscience and communication

This was a really interesting topic discussed by Hilary Scarlett, bringing the physiology and the science to communication, to delve

Hilary Scarlett

Hilary Scarlett

deeper into the way our brains guide us and our behaviour, and how we need to be mindful of this and what we do as communicators. When we understand how our brains work we can work with the physiology, and not fight it.

Three takeaways for us were:

1. Change and how we communicate it

Hilary talked about how we learn at an individual level and how we should be mindful of this when implementing change at a macro level in the organisations in which we work.

Each time we learn something new an electrical signal has to cross the synapse gap to continue its journey and for us to learn something new. Regular and repetition of an activity or behaviour will help us to learn. Learning is difficult to start with, but as the signal crosses the gap it becomes easier. ‘Practice makes perfect.’

And once we’ve learnt something, it becomes effortless, as we just do something without even thinking about it. So when you need to start doing something differently, for whatever reason and no matter what that behaviour may be, it’s not easy.

Change stops our brains being able to predict what happens next. Our innate fight or flight response takes over and we feel threatened. Blood moves to different parts of brain and removes our ability to think at our best. Our reactions to change can be likened to being like a teenager…

So to help break the negative cycle of anxiety that change can bring, use techniques to encourage and remind people of the past achievements or ‘wins’. Praise and recognition are important to reward achieving short-term goals. While laughter and the novelty can also be great stress relievers.

Providing information helps the brain to cope with the unpredictable situations that change can bring. So providing consistent, timely and factual information can help reduce the stress of change and help to smooth the process.

2. Working to your optimum?

Working to your optimum

Working to your optimum?

Our brains naturally steer us away from threats and stressful situations, while guiding us towards rewards. So the threat of having something taken away for a bad behaviour or the reward for good behaviour will have a stronger and longer lasting effect (most parents will know experience this while negotiating with their children).

Being engaged and productive in your work can also be drilled down to the level of neuroscience. Somewhat surprisingly, to our brains physical and social pain are the same. So being treated unfairly for example would feel the same as it does when you are physically hurt. While acts like cooperating, giving to charity, hearing your mother’s voice and being treated fairly or even eating chocolate all affect the same part of the brain as well. So understanding these neuroscience facts, as communicators we can understand the impact of our communication on the brain, and how it can make an individual feel. Of course we’re all individuals and our points of engagement will vary.

So what happens when someone is under-stimulated? With no deadline looming, or no ‘pressure’ to deliver a certain project or task, we can become distracted, disorganised, forgetful, and inhibited.  And if there’s too much stress, too many tasks, deadlines or the environment is creating stress (such as unfairness) we can also become distracted, forgetful and fail to perform well.

Understanding your own optimum working levels will help you to manage your work. While talking about feelings and individual optimum levels with your colleagues will help you work together more successfully. Being more mindful, switching off the narrative in your head, and instead observing your own behaviour will help you to achieve your goals.

Neuroscience also raises questions about the way we work in the modern world, with open plan offices and the always on culture, all affecting our ability to think and be creative. Hilary advises to stop multi-tasking, as your brain can’t do it, and you just end up doing several things badly at once.

3. SCARF model

This is a useful tool to help us understand more about how neuroscience and the five factors in this model affect our abilities to think and collaborate effectively.

These five areas affect our ability to think our memory, ability to collaborate, and damage our physical well-being as cortisol damages hippocampus in our brain. If these five factors are compounded and all are neglected it can have a really negative effect on an individual.

1. Status means looking at ourselves as compared to others in our teams, our organisations, and even compared to ourselves. If we feel we are doing well by comparison and are feeling respected our ‘status’ is enhanced and we will work more effectively.

2. Certainty is really important for us as communicators. As we help ensure there’s enough information to help employees to do their jobs and focus on objectives, this improves certainty. Without a level of certainty employees can become confused, bewildered, distracted and perplexed.

3. Autonomy affects an individual’s level of engagement, it gives employees a sense of control. When you are involved in decision-making you work well. Just some control makes a big difference. So give some decisions back to people and see what difference it makes.

4. Relatedness demonstrates that we are wired to be social and we will work better if we get along with our colleagues. If you feel part of a group, and that there’s someone to ‘look out for you’ you will feel more connected and engaged with your group.

5. Fairness is something we all need to feel. We need to feel we are treated equally to those around us.

Hilary shared a great video of Capuchin monkeys to demonstrate the importance of fairness. We all hoped they both got grapes in the end.

And there’s also a lovely clip of children sharing here, demonstrating the human need for fairness.

When employees feel negative about all five of these aspects, they are in a dangerously un-engaged position, withdrawing from the group and feeling a range of negative emotions. Whereas an engaged person will feel positive, more focussed, willing to collaborate, innovative, and part of a team.

According to Hilary, neuroscience is proving very persuasive with the most sceptical of leaders, and you can see why, the facts are really compelling.


Corporate social responsibility and employee engagement


Marie Doyle, from Bupa talked about the Bupa Ground miles challenge and how this corporate responsibility programme has worked internally building engagement across Bupa.

Ground Miles Challenge – five million miles, is a joint programme with Bupa and International Heart Federation working together to raise awareness and funds to tackle cardiovascular disease, the number one biggest killer in the world, claiming 17 million lives each year.

So on World Heart Day, the challenge was launched to get people walking, asking people across the globe to walk 5 million miles. As part of the challenge campaign an app created by Bupa to help you manage and record every step you take. It’s proven that taking 10,000 steps a day significantly improves your health and fitness. They smashed their target and Bupa employees were a part of that success, walking 500,000 miles.

Watch the video here

Connecting CSR and employee engagement

The purpose of Bupa is to provide ‘Longer, Healthier, Happier lives’ – a purpose that extends to Bupa’s 70,000 employees not just their customers.

Marie talked about unifying employees, bringing them together with a common purpose and engagement coming from that sense of connection to the end goal. And tying back to some of what was covered in Hilary’s talk on neuroscience, it gives employees a sense of pride in what they do, and helping them to feel they are making a difference.

Ground miles is a part of this, bringing together a strong corporate social responsibility campaign and making it work with employee engagement.

They created ‘Chad Strider’ the personality and bit of fun for this campaign.

There were ten takeaways from Marie’s session that are great to help with any CSR and engagement campaign:

  1. Have a clear, compelling and inspirational outcome that takes the idea beyond a list of activities to become an entity in its own right
  2. Link your CSR outcome to your business goals
  3. Enrol key influencers and stakeholders early on and get them involved, and ask for their ideas
  4. Keep it simple (KISS)
  5. Appeal to friends and family – it’s more powerful to speak to people about the health of those they love, than their own health
  6. Keep the story alive, and share successes throughout. Let people share their stories too and provide the platforms for them to do this.
  7. When things go wrong (and there’s always something that will go wrong) reconnect to your clear and compelling outcome to refocus the campaign and get it back on track
  8. Say thank you to everyone who participates and supports you. Celebrate milestones and successes to maintain the momentum and keep everyone motivated
  9. Enjoy it, and have some fun!
  10. And the top quote, tweeted and retweeted many, many times, was: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.


Peer 1 hosting   Employee engagement

Helen Ives from Peer 1 Hosting, talked about her company’s innovative approach to keeping it’s IC alive and it’s colleagues engaged.

Helen Ives

For many in the room, the office design at Peer 1 Hosting, could not be further from the reality of their offices.  Brightly decorated, with hot desks and a regular swap around of where you sit, a slide, a bar, several dogs and bean bags. But what makes Peer 1 Hosting stand out goes beyond the interior design which is certainly not a gimmick and a real product of the culture (all of which has been chosen by the employees).

The organisation is built upon embracing the entrepreneurial approach. Dreamers, innovators and disruptors are welcomed and the ‘cock up of the month’ is celebrated.

Peer 1 Hosting’s employee engagement score increased by 15% in the last year, customer churn rates are down by half to just 1.4%, and the revenue in the UK was up 150%. So the reality of this culture, fun workplace and engagement for Peer 1 Hosting is real tangible business benefit.

For Peer 1 Hosting, the industry it operates in is fast paced, and attracting the right people is critical.

In an industry driven by money, comprising a young workforce of people who can be drawn out of the business and lured away by a bigger pay check, a way to differentiate and stand out is a real advantage. The Peer 1 Hosting office is the best recruitment tool you could have as it truly reflects Peer 1 Hosting. After going through the processes of psychometrics and candidate assessments, they invite people in, and they can then get the vibe of the office really quickly. Some people know they wouldn’t enjoy working at Peer 1, while many others know they would fit in. And once they start, they tend to stay and as they recently came 11th in the top 25 best places to work list by the Great Place to Work institute, it’s clear it’s a good business to be a part of.

In fact Peer 1 Hosting is so sure that its new hires will stay, they will bet they won’t as stated on their website: “It’s so much fun here, we even bet new PEERS £1,000 that they won’t want to leave after two weeks on the job. No one ever does.”

Check out this video of the Southampton office.

Other resources

IoIC has posted separate blog posts here

Sequel Group’s Suzanne Peck is the President of IoIC and there’s a suite of great posts from Sequel to read here

Rachel Miller’s post about the event here

Lawrence Alexander, aka Larry’s brian and his three things post here

Melcrum’s piece about neuroscience here

Susan Cain’s website and the short test to see where you are on the introvert / extrovert spectrum here

And a piece about engaging introverts at conferences here 

Image credits

Working to your optimum – image by bplanet,

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#ioiclive14 conference – part one

On Friday 2 May, 100 plus internal communication professionals gathered at #ioiclive14 in Brighton. I was really looking forward to the day. I love learning and taking the time to meet new people who who share a love of comms.

I was there with two hats, one my own, and one for CIPR Inside the specialist group for internal comms at the CIPR.

In the true sense of sharing and partnership across institutions, CIPR Inside’s chair, Jenni Wheller was one of the speakers on the day and was involved in the conference organisation.

So here’s an overview of the first three presentations of the day which I have written for the CIPR Inside blog and am sharing here too.


BT – Case study – Blurred lines

Jon Hawkins, Head of Brand and Language at BT and Neil Taylor, Managing Partner, The Writer were first up to share with us how BT transformed its language internally and externally and changed its culture.BT image 400

BT, like many large organisations full of highly skilled technical teams and individuals had a clumsy style of language. Some examples they shared showed how confusing, laden with jargon, and almost nonsensical some of the communication had become. Jon and Neil had a huge task to take on the language at BT.


There was a general over-use of words, with internal bureaucracies making it worse and sometimes cited as a reason for the loss of meaning.

And what was the external view of BT? As a customer, you would have received literature with a snappy headline, but with very long terms and conditions and more explanatory notes and exclusions. Customers may well have felt confused, bewildered and misinformed (as some of the content was so difficult to interpret, or they’d just not bother to read on or listen). So it’s clear the customer perception of BT would not be in line with BT’s ambition.BT image 2 400 600

Jon and Neil knew to get the external view of BT right, that the internal view had to be fixed. And it was not only about internal comms and language for clarity, but also about the impact of poorly written communication reaching deep into business. Wordy statements, visions and strategies become impossible to act upon if they are not easily understood. Quite simply, stuff is just not going to get done if people don’t understand what’s required, or they’re bogged down in heavy bureaucratic jargon.

Neil and Jon shared three vision statements, and we were asked which we thought was the current BT vision. They were each very similar, bland and to be honest could have been for any communication provider or tech business.

So what did they do?

They created clear brand principles, which they underpinned by explicit descriptors:

  • Write with clarity and confidence – say what you mean, and say it clearly
  • Show a world full of promise – what’s your reader really interested in
  • Add small moments of wonder – a flash of personality goes a long way

They are working to make sure that everyone knows how to write, with the new style a suite of training and guidelines which have been implemented.

  • Guidelines
  • Workshops
  • E moments
  • Webinars
  • Champions
  • Train the trainer
  • Surveys

People are getting used to the new clarity, not tinkering with it and its becoming set as standard.

What did colleagues think?

“The best workshop  I’ve ever attended” Patricia Hewitt, BG Group non-executive director former cabinet minister.

High praise!


Not only is the communication simpler, but it’s also much more effective with more forms filled in for routine HR tasks for example.

Is language aligned externally and internally?

There are blurred lines for internal and external and call centres are at the cusp. So call centre language and scripts were slashed to reduce word count, simplify and cut the legal disclaimer. The call handling time has been cur and in the process £6m has been saved.

98% of BT people say the language change is significant and saving them time.

1,400 people on webinars, more ‘informed’

1,000% ROI

What next?

Now it’s a time to work on showing the BT personality, being bold, sharing our heritage and making the language project stick.


Government communication service – IC excellence


Russell Grossman is Director of communications, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

There’s a new drive for communication excellence in government, pushed forward by Alex Aiken. Creating Excellence in UK Government Communications is the overarching project and Russell is heading up the IC excellence within the change programme.

IC space image400

The review

The communications capability review looked at three areas of delivery of communications:

  • Delivery itself – writing and the tactics
  • Leadership – creating the opportunities for others and great leadership
  • Strategy – how is it you are planning to go where you are going and why

Evidence showed that the teams were great tactically, but were less strong on strategy, and working  out where the audience needed to be in the future.

The task

With 4,000 communication professionals to reach, the project has involved segmenting them into manageable groups.

This ‘reform’ is rolling out across the whole of government communication, and there are 11 streams of reform.

Internal communication is one of those streams, and the reform aims to move the government practice of internal comms to become ’’excellent’ and an exemplar for the profession.

So how is it being implemented?

Everyone who works in communications in government is in the GCS (Government Communication Service). Membership is automatic, and there are three levels of membership – core, affiliate and associate.

Career pathways and CPD (continuing professional development) are central to the membership, and everyone receives advice and guidance on their career path and needs.

  • Practitioners Toolkit for internal comms people
  • Line managers took kit for operational leaders
  • Effect change across the government
  • Talent and development is built into everyone’s career in comms

Internal communication has been moved up the agenda, with Russell championing it in government, to the point that now:

“If you want to get a promotion, then you need to have done a spell in internal communication”

It’s clear that this emphasis on understanding internal communication for all communication professionals can only be a good thing. What’s more there’s a commitment to expect the same standards, metrics and rigour from internal comms as you would from other disciplines such as marketing. You can read more about internal comms in government at IC space.

As part of the review and change programme an event dedicated to IC excellence was organised and some familiar names from our committee and award winners from this year’s #insidestory awards presented their ideas. Have a read here.

You can read the DWP case study from the #insidestory awards here.

Rachel Miller has also written an interesting post about the IC space which you can read here.

What next?

The longer term aim is to make this ‘certified status’ portable to other organisations. What you may be asking, like we did, is what about the CPD offered by CIPR. The answer is simple, Russell is in conversation with the CIPR and IABC to make sure GCS takes advantage of the experience and courses on offer already.

A video of what’s on offer cna be seen here.


Generation Z – an insight


Jenni Wheller, our chair this year has just completed her research into Generation Z and what we can expect when communicating with a new generation coming into the workplace. Generation Z covers the group born after 1995 and just entering work and college.

Gen Z image400

The study

The research is based upon the premise that the world has changed significantly in recent years, and the way we communicate with each other has been transformed.

To put that statement into context, in 2002 365 billion text messages were sent, in 2010 that was an incredible 6.1 trillion messages sent (we can only guestimate what that may be in 2013 – more or less? With so many other platforms for ‘instant messaging’ is the text message becoming less used?). In 1990 there were just three million internet users, by 2010 there were over 1.9 billion.

Jenni undertook some colleague research at her company, SSP UK which has a high proportion of young people working in its numerous food and refreshment outlets at train stations and other hubs around the country. She discovered:

  • 80% were interested in the company’s plans for the future.
  • 75% were interested in their own business area
  • 39% were interested in values.

On channels, overall employees of all ages said they preferred:

1)   Messages from the head of function

2)   Email

3)   Peer to peer recognition

4)   Messages from senior leaders

5)   Annual conference

Is email is dead?

Is email dead?

Is email dead?

In contrast to popular belief that email is ‘dead’ and that Generation Z individuals are just interested in social comms, Jenni’s research found that Generation Z respondents put email as the top comms channel, with 67% saying they want to receive business messages that way. While 45% said they liked messages via the intranet and 34% from their manager. Just 11% said that they wanted to receive information on social media.

The Generation Z respondents were keen to retain their anonymity in surveys – 45%.

When it comes to using social media, 78% expect to use social media as they like, and just 42% expect a set of rules, which is a slight concern for comms managers managing social media, creating strategies and guidelines. How would you manage and protect against confidential info being shared, or defammatory and inflammatory comments being posted? Perhaps that should be managed as a whole within the code of conduct or contract, and not a specific set of guidelines for social media.

Face to face was found to be a really strong channel for communication, and while it’s expensive to deliver, it is often the first to be cut and ‘replaced with social’. But little can replace the impact of face to face communication, so this reinforces the need to retain budgets for roadshows, town halls and other face to face events, as it can’t be ‘replaced with social’ completely.

In a world where seven out of 10 of us own a smartphone, BYOD is an exciting and cost effective opportunity for employers. So Jenni asked, can we talk to you on your mobile? 80% of Generation Zs said that they expect to be contacted on their mobile phone which is great in principle, but Jenni noted that experience had shown her that getting mobile numbers from people can be trickier in practice.

One of the most notable findings of Jenni’s research is the fact that 80% of Generation Zs expect to opt in or opt out of different communication channels just like they do in their personal life. This presents a big change for communication professionals in how we manage channels.

Jenni’s conclusion

The overarching theme of the results from this research is that you can’t segment by generation. It isn’t about generations, it’s about individuals. Their personal preference is powerful and something we need to be mindful of if our communication is going to be successful. Similarly, we need to consider the ways different channels are used some are great for ‘broadcast’ some perfect for listening to employee voice and feedback.

  • Information should be relevant to individuals and not generational.
  • Review your channel mix and how you use it. Broadcast or listening? And can your colleagues opt in and opt out?
  • Avoid segmenting by generations, and consider everyone as an individual. The effectiveness of your communication will be subject to their individual beliefs, choices and actions.
  • Explore the use of social media – especially how it can help employees share information and have their voice heard.


Other resources

Storify of the day by Rachel Miller here

IoIc blogs here

GCS website

Image credits

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / – email symbol

Rachel Miller – photos from the event

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Absent friends

Wow it’s been a crazy few months. I’ve been working on some really exciting stuff, and just recently enjoyed a bit of quieter time to recharge my batteries. It’s that time which has allowed me to re-focus on what’s important to me. Afterall time’s precious, none of us has enough of it, and numerous clichés remind us of time trickling away before our eyes.

So what have I been up to?

In the last few months it’s become increasingly clear to me what makes me happy and more successful in my work. And that’s about great communication that’s honest, transparent and makes a real difference. I’ve worked on a variety of projects, some I’ve loved and some I’ve found less rewarding.

One of those areas where I get a real sense of achievement is my work with CIPR Inside. Over the past few months I have been fully engrossed in delivering the #insidestory awards 2014 for the group. It’s a really interesting project, I get to work with and meet some brilliant professionals from the internal communication profession. High profile winners included ASDA, Coca Cola Enterprises and DWP. We held our awards ceremony at the Gherkin with Steph McGovern as our host for the evening. Seeing the whole project through from start to end gives me such a huge sense of achievement.

Alongside that I’ve had a couple of other big confidential projects on the go, and made the leap to turn Little Bird Communication into a Limited business. I confess, my poor blog has been neglected while I’ve been focussing on  my client work and directing my business.

The importance of taking time out when you canPocket watch cropped - credit free images

So, in the last month, I’ve gone from working what felt like more hours than there are in the week, to a much more manageable pace and I have to confess I have found it a bit difficult to adjust. I know less is more, and that quality outweighs quantity when it comes to measuring success. All the rational cases are sound, and I understand and believe in them.

But when you work for yourself, it’s scary to have quiet times. I know those quieter times are important, and give you time to re-energise yourself. Afterall when you freelance, your most valuable asset is you, and you have to look after yourself just as you would with any other business critical asset.

So I’m training myself to enjoy the quieter times, and relax (a bit).

And it’s working.  I’ve recharged, I’ve reconnected with the purpose of my business and what’s important to me about my work. I’ve felt somewhat absent from it in the busy times.

So, my advice is, when a little bit of quiet comes your way, take it, try not to fill it with stuff, take it for you and your business.

I feel reunited with my business, to my love of honest and great communication that makes a difference, and ultimately the purpose of Little Bird Communication.

I’m looking forward to the year ahead with renewed vigour and business growth.


Image credit: “Image courtesy of Aleksa D.”.

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Internal Communications Insight

Katie Marlow profile Oct 2013

Back in November, Denise Cox from Newsweaver invited me to answer a few questions about my insight on internal communication.

Here’s the article:

In an ongoing series, I invite internal communications experts to blog about their thoughts on the state of our industry, challenges we are facing – and what they think are essential in order to face the challenges. Today’s blog post contribution is from Katie Marlow. Katie’s consultancy Little Bird Communications, helps businesses and organisations tell their story.

1)    What was your path to working in internal communications?

My career path to communication has been colourful and fun. Before getting into communication I ran restaurants and I regularly had long chats with the owners about managing the teams that made their businesses successful. I always took the view that if you want someone to help you, you need them to be on side. Being open, honest and listening to their point of view is critical to achieving that.  It doesn’t matter what business you are in, you have to listen or you’ll never learn what your employees, customers or partners want. And if you don’t know what they want how can you possibly persuade them to support you and your organisation.

The more I worked the more I realised I wanted to work in communication. So, with a couple of business qualifications under my belt I went to Bournemouth University to study Public Relations. Since graduating in ’99 I’ve worked in corporate communications in the NHS, insurance industry, IT and mobile sectors, local government and now I freelance and work closely with CIPR Inside and a range of other clients.
2) What are the skills you think an internal communicator needs to successfully implement an IC strategy?

Being able to connect with your colleagues, listen to their ideas and concerns and understanding what they want is key.

  • Listen and embrace other’s ideas.
  • Create and take part in conversations.
  • Transparent and authentic communication will help build connections, get support and action.
  • Create good ‘stories’ that explain to people ‘why’ a project or action is important and ‘why’ they should do it. If you can’t figure out why someone should do whatever it is you want them to do, how can you communicate it to your colleagues.
  • Know your message, being clear and concise will help you build the story.
  • Be prepared to change your tactics – don’t just stick to the plan. If it’s not working, change it.

3) What are the biggest challenges internal communicators face right now?

As more organisations understand the value that good internal communication can bring, as communicators we need to be able to take a strategic view. This will also come with the challenge of saying ‘no’ to some of the requests to just send stuff out that we have managed in the past.

Adapting to look at the wider communication challenge not just employee or internal communication channels will also be a challenge for some organisations where communication has been divided into different ‘disciplines’ or ‘channels’.

4) Is it important to align external and internal communications in an organisation? Why?  

Absolutely yes. Organisations can’t control the messages. Communication does not happen in a vacuum, and now more than ever, effective communication needs to be open, timely and integrated across audiences and channels.

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Three years on

It’s my third anniversary of working for myself this August. It’s been an exciting time and I’ve learned a lot freelancing from my home office in Bournemouth.

I posted a while ago about three little things that stood out for me from 2012. They were: Trusting your instinct, Getting the balance right and Taking satisfaction and rewarding yourself for a job well done.

So as I was reflecting on the last three years, I thought I’d share what I think are the most important things I’ve learned so far during my freelancing career.

What has been great?

People & projects

For me, meeting lots of inspiring people, and making some great projects happen has always been the most interesting part of working in PR and communications. When you freelance it seems even more important, because you don’t have that network and feedback you get when you are employed and work in the office. When I meet great people they keep me motivated, interested and inspired to do more. When you make a great project happen, the feeling is awesome. I love to get results, and that means happy clients.

Discipline & motivation

You have to be extremely self-disciplined and motivated to make freelancing work. If you enjoy it, it’s easy to be motivated. But it may not be so easy to be focussed enough to work through a project you struggle to enjoy, and when most of your employed friends are either out having fun or sleeping.  To be successful at working for yourself it takes more than having a flair for what you do. I am quite disciplined but to help keep myself motivated, I arrange catch ups with the people who inspire me, plan a bit of learning, and give myself some downtime. So at those times when I can’t find my mojo, I try and do something different, just for me not for my business. It’s refreshing and I am much more focussed when I return to the project.

Learning & development

When you work for yourself you can choose your learning direction, and choose how to spend your training budget. So it’s been a great learning time for me. I’ve invested in my continuing professional development with lots of reading, webinars, conferences and internal communication diploma. All this time investment means I continue to work to best practice principles which gives me greater credibility and more expertise.

What would I do differently?


I really need to keep a tighter control on my administration – I don’t like doing my business admin, or rather I don’t like the thought of it. Once I start, I find it satisfying to get everything checked, filed and boxed into the correct places. Admin is essential and without it, I wouldn’t get paid. So I need to do it daily, do it regularly and keep on top of it so it’s less of a chore.

Be my own client

I need to look after and nurture my business, and begin with turning some of my strategic thinking to my own business’s development. I need to grow my business like a client’s business. Planning and building in time to my week to manage my business, give it direction and take control is a good place to start.

Say no (sometimes)

On the face of it when you freelance you have greater choice. You can choose who you work with, which projects you take on and when you work. That’s what I naively thought before I started freelancing. But the reality is, that you don’t really make these choices. You could, but I don’t ever want to turn down new business, a chance to meet new contacts or learn something new. When you work for yourself you don’t say no, you pretty much say yes – to every client, to every project, and to every new experience that comes your way. An opportunity could be too good to miss, and most self-employed professionals will always consider: “There may not be so much work next month…” So, three years on, I’m learning to say (very politely) ‘No’ when I need to. No because I am at capacity. No because I am on leave. I’ve not had to say no because of the type of project yet, but I guess that will come in time. There’s no point taking on a project that isn’t a good fit for your skills and your buisness.

What will I do now?

Exciting stuff

  • Build my own business strategy and give it direction
  • Keep learning, being inspired, and delivering

Boring stuff

  • Do my housekeeping

Tricky stuff

  • Say no sometimes

I hope you found this useful. I did as I wrote it.

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