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Corporate Conversations: A Guide to Crafting Effective and Appropriate Internal Communications

Author: Shel Holtz
Publisher AMACOM
Publication Date: March 2003

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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Shel Holtz provided the public relations industry a valuable service several years ago with his excellent book Public Relations on the Net and he does a very good job of attempting to raise the quality of employee or internal communications with Corporate Conversations. The challenge is that there seems to be too much disconnect between management and the employee population.

Even in the best of times our experience has been that internal communications has often been misplaced in the organization as an activity that is managed by HR rather than public relations. As a result the activity has been limited (as the author points out) to the employee newsletter or publication that reported birthdays, babies, brides and intra-company sports.

What Holtz has attempted to do in his latest book is to raise the level of importance of internal or employee communications for any organization. He has done a very good job of raising the bar for professional communicators and the book is an excellent guide book for newcomers to the industry who need assistance and guidance in the fundamentals. These include program strategy and tactics, budgeting, communications tools and how they can be used for internal communications as well as program measurement and analysis.

The problem - not with the book - but with the subject is that we feel he is preaching to the choir. He has done a very good job of filling the pages with meaningful and immediately useable information and guidelines. It is filled with solid ideas on how to develop and execute a communications program focused on the most valuable and most overlooked of any organization's publics - the employees.

Employee relations isn't a public relations issue. It isn't a human resources issue. It is a senior management issue. When times are good management has no problem with open communications with staff members up and down the organization. But when circumstances are less than positive, employees are often one of the lowest priorities.

Today with cross-organizational email communications and global access to internet-based news it is too easy for employees to get undiluted, timely information regarding the company's management and growth activities. For example, less than an hour after Michael H. Jordan had been named chairman and CEO of EDS there was a new logo circulating throughout the company. The official blue corporate circle had been replaced with a basketball with EDS overprinted.

Whether it is an inside joke or the "quiet" discontinuance of product or "minor" staff cutbacks, the information can quickly find its way onto the screens of a company's customers, prospects and competition.

Holtz has placed special emphasis on a very important area which may be the key to raising the importance of employee relations activities - continuous research, analysis and management feedback. By constantly and professionally seeking audience inputs and feedback it could be very possible for the public relations professional to raise the visibility and importance of a pro-active employee communications program.

Rather than use two theoretical firms as examples of good and bad examples of internal communications, we would have preferred to see Mr. Holtz use precise examples of specific companies/instances where programs were well planned and well executed as well as poorly planned and carried out. Granted the fictitious companies are undoubtedly an amalgamation of a number of different firms and situations but we believe the discussion would have been more credible had he used individual corporate examples. Even if the identity of the specific firm wasn't revealed … "a large conglomerate headquartered in New Jersey" or "a global company with two plants in Arizona" we would have felt the examples were more credible.

For newcomers to the field it will be an excellent and valuable guide. To seasoned professionals the most valuable segments of the book will be his final chapter on measuring the value of internal communications and the appendices.

The key for each of us is to put a dollar value on internal communications. That has constantly been difficult to measure and support…especially when the firm's stock price is below the low water mark and sales/profits are charted as a reverse hockey stick.

However, give Holtz's Corporate Conversations a thorough read and you may discover the key to showing senior management how employees - their most valuable asset - might be worked with more effectively to reverse the trends.