I recently read an article discussing 2016 brand trends published by Landor, a global leader in brand consulting and design. One of the headline trends Landor noted was "Employees as the new marketing campaign." The premise of this trend, they stated, is that customers are as concerned about how a company treats their employees as they are about the services or products the company provides.

A number of years ago, one of our clients was struggling with employees not understanding their products and not being highly motivated. As their PR agency, we presented a program for internal public relations, including motivational materials, an employee newsletter and other recommendations to improve employee morale. While some members of the client leadership team felt the program had some merit, one individual was especially vocal in saying that human resources and operations should worry about the employees; it’s not the role of PR.

By contrast, we had another client who believed so strongly in the value of internal public relations, his company did very little external marketing. I believe his exact words were "if our employees don’t believe in us and understand what we’re doing, how can we expect the outside world to?"

Fortunately, the latter example of internal public relations was a precursor for how the discipline is now trending. In the past 10 years, more and more companies are realizing that good internal communications is often crucial to the success of the company and its brand. When the internal environment of a company is positive, it will carry over to the organization’s external publics: current and future customers.

WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD INTERNAL PR PROGRAM?

Good communication – Perhaps the most common problem stems from management assuming that everyone in the organization possesses the same information they do. An internal newsletter can be a powerful resource for proper communication. It can be used to provide key information about the company’s products and/or services, note recent changes in the company, introduce new staff or highlight exemplary employees. Not only will this keep everyone properly informed, it will also stimulate a sense of pride among team members.

Training – Often, new people come on board and are just thrown into a job. Management may speak with them briefly about their responsibilities, but doesn’t provide context. What is the vision of the company? What are its goals and values? What does management expect of them individually and collectively? A personal welcome by the company president or key members of management will go a long way in setting a positive tone. In a large corporation when top management is not always available to personally greet each new hire, a video providing this information, including a sincere welcome, can help ensure all members of the organization feel welcome and better equip them to become brand ambassadors.

Motivational materials – Everyone needs a stimulus once in a while to reinforce the company’s values or to get the juices flowing again. In-house posters, company meetings, branded environmental graphics and premium items, and contests are all ways to reach out to employees and remind them that they are important and appreciated.

Relationship building – Providing opportunities for employees to mingle with and get to know each other in an informal setting will build positive relationships. A few possibilities could include holding special company or spontaneous events like having a TGIF get together a couple of hours before ending the working day. Or involving employees in a charity event the company supports – fundraising, collecting needed supplies, even providing a special day for volunteering. And be sure to publicize it internally (and externally if appropriate). Generating publicity for your employees will boost morale as well as increase pride in the organization and brand.

While an external public relations program is beneficial to any organization, its value will be enhanced even more when complemented with a strong internal program. When employees are educated and engaged, they will feel respected by management and more motivated. The ultimate benefit should be seen in the bottom line – more sales and increased revenue.

If you have employees who are great ambassadors of your brand, take Landor’s idea and make them a part of your marketing efforts. Nothing will provide you with a better return on your PR investment.

Jeannine Villing is the executive vice president and co-founder of Villing & Company.

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