Internal Communications is PR. Just ask Stripe.

Internal communications is public relations. The words ‘internal’ and ‘public’ are contradictory, but the concept is true. Employee communications is no longer a function of human resources or people teams. Why? We live in a culture centered around information leaks. What’s communicated internally is shared publicly, sometimes within a matter of minutes. Internal comms is external comms. At the same time, external comms is internal comms.

Both functions (internal and external comms) shifted tremendously over the last decade. The breaking news we read about the world’s largest organizations comes from leaked internal all-hands meetings, existing employees, and forwarded company emails. One of the best examples of this is when journalists covered a Meta all-hands before it actually took place and coverage continued publishing while it was still in progress. Press discussed return to office policies at some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions before leadership actually finalized their plans. Employees in the modern workplace frequently look at what is said about the company externally with the same expectation of truth as internal communications.

What this looks like in practice

Internal and external communications existing separately today seems like a time capsule to a different time given today’s hyper-connected world. Uniting internal and external communications can be much more uncomfortable in practice than in theory. It requires a new level of transparency and proactivity. Stripe’s recent layoff announcement is a perfect example. Stripe published the internal email from the CEO outlining the challenging decisions to reduce the company’s workforce, transitional support for those impacted, and a plan ahead for those still employed. In articles covering the news, Stripe’s CEO is described as humane, employees impacted are empathetic, and some even credited the challenging economic climate. From a communications perspective, that is likely the best possible outcome given the situation.

Making the case

Separating internal and external communicators no longer serves anyone. Here are three core reasons why internal comms and external comms work best in unison:

  1. PR teams are trained to calculate risk and plan for it.
    Understanding employee perspectives is core to effective internal communications. You need to anticipate what employees need to know, questions that might arise, and how they are most likely to retain the information. One of the biggest risks associated with internal comms is a leak or, more specifically, a disgruntled employee airing grievances externally. What if the worst happens? Then what? Anticipating risks internally only gets you so far. Comms in a crisis requires understanding varied perspectives, whether that be among press, target audiences, or employees, and when or how to respond–all areas that external comms teams live in.
  2. External comms requires a contextual understanding of impact.
    PR leaders are responsible for understanding who is saying what and how many people are reading it (among other things). In a crisis, you can only determine if or how to respond if you know the scope and impact of the crisis. There’s a common phrase, “don’t listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Understanding the views of the loudest voices in the room is critical, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate a required response. Understanding the impact of the loudest voices in the room prompts action. External communicators understand broader context, market influences, and impact through data.
  3. Building a brand is a recruiting and retention function.
    Studies show that people consider a brand’s reputation before they consider employment. Exactly 50% of candidates say they wouldn’t work for a company with a bad reputation, even for a pay increase. A whopping 92% of people would consider changing jobs if offered a role with a company with an excellent corporate reputation. The way that comms teams handle internal and external news (positive or negative) reflects directly on the employer brand. Building a brand requires consistency across internal and external channels. If done well, it becomes your company’s most effective recruiting and retention tool.

TL;DR

Internal and external communications teams are transforming. Today’s workforce and media landscape require a new level of transparency and proactivity. To be truly effective, you need to acknowledge that internal is evolving into PR. Comms leaders are responsible for understanding who is saying what and how many people are reading it. The only way to manage risk, understand context and impact, and build a brand effectively, is to start with data. Decisions about your brand are only as wise as the data behind them.

ESG communications: insights & lessons from PRDecoded 2022

The buzz around ESG communications is getting louder. 

In the past few weeks alone, Axios published two newsletters focused on the complicated exercise communicators have in building consumer awareness of what “ESG” means, let alone what their companies are doing about it. A CNBC survey revealed the tension between companies’ public declarations of ESG support and their internal philosophy on ESG management. And PRWeek held its annual purpose-focused conference for communicators, PRDecoded.  

CCOs and leaders in sustainability, CSR, and DE&I convened for two days last week to discuss how brands can better craft and promote a narrative about their purpose. Members of Memo’s Insights Team joined to share new readership trends around environmental and climate issues. 

Here are our takeaways from the event + the team’s own findings on ESG-related readership trends.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover the real impact of your ESG comms activities and help you make smarter decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

Research summary: readership trends on environmental news 

Memo’s Insights team was on site at PRDecoded to share an abridged report that analyzed readership (unique visitors to an article) on thousands of articles about environmental issues published in Q3 2022. Here are three of the trends and opportunities they identified:

Trend #1: Wired and Vox are under-the-radar outlets for ESG themes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, large national newspapers were the top-read outlets on environmental news over this time. 

But outlets that appeal to socially-minded readers, such as Wired and Vox, see high average readership. They publish fewer articles on the topic, but the articles they do publish get higher traffic than articles on sites with higher UVMs. (These are what we call  “hidden gem” publications, and identifying them for an industry or theme can help Comms teams prioritize media relations.)

Trend #2: Deforestation is trending in news readership. 

Both the most-covered and most-read subtopic over this was “climate action” – news about climate change, carbon footprints, emissions goals, etc. 

Among the other subtopics, “sustainability” was covered more, but  “deforestation” had higher readership. Following the Covid-19 pandemic and recent monkeypox outbreaks, there’s increased awareness of and interest in the impact of deforestation on pathogen transmission. For companies addressing deforestation specifically, now is a great time to grow awareness of these initiatives. 

Trend #3: Earned media helps brands protect their reputations as ESG-minded companies

In addition to publications and subtopics, we also analyzed readership on the brands featured in environmental news. One retailer, for example, received negative coverage about its carbon footprint, but this was outweighed by readership on positive coverage on its efforts to reduce packaging waste. (This context is why Memo customers monitor readership on crisis news cycles in addition to proactive campaigns.)

PRDecoded summary: the biggest takeaways on communicating purpose

Speakers at PRWeek’s annual purpose-focused conference addressed topics ranging from climate action to diversity to building trust. Here were some common threads:

Takeaway #1: Authenticity is table stakes for successful ESG communications

Authenticity in intent first, message second was a recurring theme among speakers, including McDonald’s Sr. Director of Global Brand Communications Molly McKenna, who advised against latching onto passing fads where brands can’t play a meaningful role.

Leaders from BCW similarly warned against “purpose washing,” or expressing public support for a cause without the underlying action to back it up. (Speaking of, shout out to PRWeek for partnering with GENYOUth to sponsor a breakfast cart that will serve nearly 100,000 meals annually to Chicago students.) 

Such authenticity is essential if brands want to build and maintain trust at a time when misinformation is so pervasive. “Actions speak louder than words,” noted Mars VP of Corporate Affairs Kristen Campos.

Takeaway #2: Employees are a key stakeholder – and not just for internal comms 

Executives from UPS set the tone when they kicked off the conference sharing their communications team’s approach to crafting its public-facing purpose statement: they surveyed employees internally to see what excites them about UPS. (The result: “Moving our world forward by delivering what matters.”) 

When it comes to communicating purpose, Artealia Gilliard, Ford’s Sr. Manager of Environmental Leadership and Sustainability Communications, noted that the auto company starts with its employees first to build advocacy from the inside out.

At a time when internal comms can quickly become external comms, organizations are rethinking strategies for listening to employee feedback, responding to demands to address current events such as racial justice and gun control, and mitigating against internal issues playing out in the public sphere. A major theme of the internal-communications focused panel “Empowering Employees” was the function’s increased collaboration – if not outright merging – with external communications groups.

Takeaway #3: Purpose is the vision, communicating it is an art, and data is a guide

Whether it’s using surveys to get a pulse check on how its purpose is connecting with its employees (Allstate), or social listening to understand what followers care about (McDonald’s), communications teams are leaning on data for guidance in crafting and refining purpose messaging.

This is not to say that data defines a brand’s purpose. Rather, data helps inform whether messages are resonating with stakeholders at different places in the customer/employee journey, as noted on a panel between Edelman advisors and Tupperware VP of Global Communications & PR Cameron Klaus. 

Of course, not everything can be captured in numbers. As Walgreens CCO Aaron Radelet put it, when it comes to communicating purpose, it’s about how people feel about you, not what they know about you.”

Our team’s two cents: measurement on ESG communications is still in its nascency. While there are numerous tools that can mine data from owned channels, social followers, and publicly available search trends, they’re missing a key piece of the puzzle. Purpose is more than a message – two days of programming made that clear. It’s the actions brands take that build toward a vision, actions that get dissected every day in the press. 

Earned media is a major conduit for a brand’s narrative, and it’s finally measurable. We work with Comms teams on the forefront of analyzing earned readership data to understand, build, and protect their narratives. It’s been encouraging over the past couple of years to see the growth in ESG communications measurement specifically, a reflection we hope of more purposeful business.

To learn more about how accurate readership can uncover real impact of your ESG comms activities and help you make smarter decisions, check out Memo’s approach to comms measurement.

Takeaways from this year’s PR Measurement & Data Summit

“Our industry is always trying to justify its value. As it turns out, that value has been hiding in plain sight.” 

With these words, Memo Chief Customer Officer Karlie Santucci concluded her lightning talk to a room of 100 PR professionals who convened for the industry’s annual Measurement & Data Summit, presented by PRNEWS. 

The topic of Karlie’s presentation, “Measuring the Value of Earned Media,” was top-of-mind for attendees. Throughout the full-day summit last Thursday, speakers reiterated the importance of tying PR and Communications to larger business and marketing objectives. 

But evaluating how those PR/Comms activities impact outcomes has historically been a challenge. Here are what some of the industry’s brightest had to say:

PR measurement takeaway #1: Better measurement lets us re-examine how we value earned media

To start, we’re surrounded by signals that earned media is highly valuable. CEOs attributing PR for their success on earnings calls. CMOs championing earned media as crucial to marketing programs. $17 billion spent annually on PR in the US (an investment that would not be made were it not producing value).

Memo MRV slide 1: The business value of earned media is more clear

But quantifying this value remains a challenge, and faulty attempts like AVE didn’t help the cause. 

Today, better measurement lets us re-examine how we value earned media. Here’s how:

  • For a given article, we know 1) its total number of readers, and 2) how those readers came to that article (e.g. from a Facebook post, Google search, a newsletter, etc).
Memo MRV slide 2: Memo reports how many people read articles
  • Think of that article – a great piece of press about your brand that you’d want eyeballs on – as a landing page.
Memo MRV slide 3: If we think of an article as a landing page, how much would marketing spend to drive readers?
  • What would it cost a marketing team to drive the same number of readers to that page with paid media? For readers who came via Facebook, marketers would have to buy Facebook ads at an average of $1-4/click depending on the industry. For readers from Google Ads, marketers would pay about $3-8/click depending on the industry.
Memo MRV slide 4: We know the ad rates for industries because they're available in ad platforms
  • MRV (Memo Readership Value) assigns industry-specific ad rates to article readership based on how each reader discovered that article, providing a paid-media value for the engagement that was earned by PR/Comms.
Memo MRV slide 5: MRV assigns a dollar value to earned media

This method doesn’t capture the full value of earned media. It doesn’t account for the deep engagement on an article (80 seconds on average!) or the halo effect of a great story.

But this method evens the playing field between PR and Marketing measurement, making it easier to translate earned results into tangible numbers.

Memo MRV slide #6

This method, “Memo Readership Value” (MRV), is how Memo assigns a paid-media dollar value to earned readership. Doing so allows Comms teams to defend PR budgets, justify and grow headcount, and finally put earned and paid measurement on an even playing field.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Memo can harness readership for your organization, schedule a demo to learn more.

PR measurement takeaway #2: PR/Comms can no longer be siloed from Marketing, in planning or measurement

Capital One’s Julia Schroeder set the tone when she kicked off the summit keynote emphasizing that Comms KPIs should be grounded in marketing goals. 

In a panel titled “State of PR Measurement & 2023 Trend Preview,” Ketchum’s Mary Elizabeth Germaine noted that the expectation from clients is that PR data is included in the broader marketing mix, and Dan Roberti added that ADL’s Comms and Marketing results are presented in a single, combined report. 

Gaetan Akinrolabu demoed the integrated dashboard Mirati uses that combines the company’s owned, earned, social, and paid metrics – all pulled in from various teams’ tooling.

And no one spelled it out more bluntly than measurement consultant Katie Paine:  “Don’t be in a situation where marketing is perceived as more valuable than earned because they have better measurement.”

Fortunately, as Karlie said, accurate metrics like readership and MRV put earned and paid measurement on an even playing field. Marketing can report 20M website visits, Comms can report 20M article readers, and the results of the two functions can be evaluated fairly.

PR measurement takeaway #3: AVE is long dead, but the industry hasn’t figured out what to do with impressions

AVE (Ad Value Equivalency) was barely mentioned during the summit. When it was, it was as a “nonsensical” attempt to assign value to earned media – another reason why Karlie’s walkthrough of MRV (Memo Readership Value) was so refreshing. 

The role that impressions/potential reach/UVMs should play in PR measurement, however, was more ambiguous.

One team at the summit said they only use impressions as a proxy for publication authority. Most admitted to including them in reporting, but not giving them much credence. And one team monitored impressions regularly, dividing them by 30 in search of a more “accurate” daily view. 

Parting thoughts: If PR/Comms needs to work with marketing, it also needs to measure like marketing

No matter how you slice it, any PR measurement that incorporates impressions will be incredibly misleading. Article readership varies widely within a publication. A uniform metric like impressions masks the major wins and opportunities of a PR program. And it makes it impossible to translate earned-media performance into numbers aligned with marketing reporting.

Everyone agreed last Thursday that PR and Communications should have a seat at the table with Marketing. But in 2022, when readership is readily available and much more insightful, we need to break free of the inertia that keeps PR and Communications measurement so siloed.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Memo can harness readership for your organization, schedule a demo to learn more.