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20% of internal comms budgets have decreased in the past 12 months, claims research

The internal communications profession is suffering from a case of not taking its own advice. 

That’s the conclusion I have come to after reading the latest Inside Insight report from VMA Group, benchmarking the internal comms profession in the UK, and attending the report’s Northern launch in Manchester.

The report, based on responses from almost 600 internal comms professionals, paints a mixed picture of how the function is valued by senior business leaders. 

The key stats

According to the data: 

  • 77% of respondents believe their CEO truly values the importance of internal communications within their organisation 
  • 63% believe their communications director values internal comms as much as other communications disciplines within their function, with over 33% disagreeing.
  • 22% see their senior leadership as key advocates
  • 23% suggested their leaders understand IC but aren’t key advocates
  • 9% suggested they don’t understand IC's importance

It has been widely suggested that the pandemic was a watershed moment for the internal communications profession. Business leaders quickly came to understand that employees help them through a crisis and into recovery. Communicating with respect, integrity, empathy and transparency became more important than ever before.

But this sense of importance has not been maintained post-pandemic.

The report found that team sizes are not noticeably growing, with only a minor net increase in the past 12 months and 59% of respondents saying there are no plans to grow in the next 12 months.

Budgets are not growing either. In the past 12 months, 40% of internal comms budgets have stayed the same and fewer have increased (13%) than have decreased (20%).

Employees are apparently the most important stakeholder, but small teams, headcount freezes and tight budgets would suggest otherwise. 

Could it be that business leaders, while paying lip service to the value of internal communications, don’t genuinely value what their teams are doing? The report suggests the resource level is not one that demonstrates a genuine commitment and belief in the value of the function.

Big demand, little budget

This is not expected to change in the near-term. A huge 84% of respondents believe the demand for internal comms in their organisations will increase in the next 12 months, but only 21% think their budget will increase.

This is a challenge internal comms professionals must address themselves. It is clear that many are struggling to be seen within their organisations, and certainly struggling to engage, influence and create advocates of their key stakeholders.

Such a challenge should be entirely within their skillset, yet so many struggle to overcome it. In many cases, I believe it is because internal comms professionals are not speaking the language of their audience and demonstrating a clear understanding of the wider business.

How to make friends and influence leaders

To influence senior business leaders, it is vital to understand what matters to them and how the organisation works. This might mean taking the time to learn about other functions, joining groups that provide exposure to other departments, or finding mentors that can give you a new perspective on your role.

VMA Group's principal consultant, North and Midlands, Julie Mazzei highlighted in the report that finding ways to measure the results of internal comms activities on business outcomes your leader leader is prioritising would be an influential move. 

"The best advice I can give to any internal comms lead is to make sure you are commercially-relevant to your organisation and that those in charge of financial decisions are aware of the impact you and your team are contributing," said Mazzei

With any professional communication, meeting your audience where they are and communicating with them in language they understand are fundamental principles.

Of course, IC professionals know this but it’s hard to be your own adviser. So when it comes to furthering the function, all too often professionals forget the principles they deploy so well in the service of the wider organisation.

The internal communications profession would do well to remember to take its own advice. Those practitioners who do so will have a much better chance of influencing business leaders and getting the resources, support and senior engagement they deserve.

Written by

Ian​​​​ Morris, director, communications, SEC Newgate

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