Why honesty is the best internal communications plan

 Copywriter_Tips_Real_Internal_Comms_Bullshit Picture

Meet the shiny, happy people

Imagine a world where hassled, tired workers are replaced by shiny people grinning at customers. Yes, it’s an employer’s wet dream. And too often it’s the world presented in staff magazines.


There’s one major flaw with this internal communications plan, of course. The people you’re talking to – your staff – won’t be buying this, frankly, bullshit approach. Because it doesn’t reflect their lives. And as any good copywriter will tell you, your job is to find a way to connect with your audience. So why do businesses, and their copywriters, so often persist with this strategy?


In my experience, it’s because businesses see positive spin as the only way and copywriters don’t want to ruffle feathers. Superficially, it’s a win-win for everyone – positive coverage for businesses and happy clients for copywriters. But at a deeper level, it could be a failing internal comms strategy.

Copywriting Tips for Internal Comms – Happy Lady

People who smile this much at work are clearly on drugs.


A short story about dirty forks

When writing for clients I used to go along with the shiny people internal communications plan because, frankly, I was fairly new to the game and I didn’t know any better. But one evening, I had my Road to Damascus in the shape of… er… Wetherspoon pub chain founder Tim Martin.

Please, stay with me. You see, the plain-speaking, mullet-loving controversialist is fond of sticking his oar in in his customer magazine, answering reader queries. And, nursing a well-priced pint one evening, I came across a column in which the pub chain supremo answered a question about dirty cutlery in his establishments.

Did he deny all knowledge of said manky cutlery and threaten to sue the correspondent? Did he heck. Instead, he marched into one of his chains, presumably sidling past the 09.45am drinkers, and inspected the silverware himself. And, he wrote, in his own customer magazine, that he was indeed shocked at the state of the knives and forks and he’d be sorting it out.

This level of honesty towards customers takes balls. And it’s rarer than you might think in customer-facing comms, internal comms – any comms. I genuinely respected his approach, and developed a brand loyalty to Wetherspoon that had nothing to do with my search for a way to drink slightly over the recommended units at a cost-effective price.

internal comms – freelance copywriter

Honest cutlery appraiser Tim Martin, and a mullet.

Why you should wash your dirty linen in public

It seemed to me that this respect-through-honesty strategy could apply to an internal communications plan too. Because once you talk to people like they are grown ups they will begin to respect you and listen to those important messages.

Since my ‘Tim Martin epiphany’, I have always pushed my internal comms clients to loosen up a little on the ‘shiny happy’ hard sell. Instead, I encourage them to share their difficulties as well as triumphs. It’s about a little here, a little there. We have to be realistic – a dash of negative appraisal is as much as you might be comfortable with for your brand, but that’s okay. It still paints a broader, more honest picture.


Three ways to bring honesty to internal comms:


  1. Don’t overspin the figures. If it’s been a less-than-great year, or like-for-like sales are down, share this with staff and look at how you’re going to turn it around together.
  2. Go beyond rewards and recognition. Yes, rewarding and recognising staff achievement is a pillar of good internal comms, but share the failures too (without naming individuals, of course). One of the staff magazines I edit has recently introduced verbatim customer complaints. It’s refreshing. A little shocking, even. And it shows there’s room to do better.
  3. Don’t smooth the rough edges. If a staff Q & A respondent admits he took the job ‘for money, basically’ don’t edit it out. Leave it in. People might smile in recognition and realise the business doesn’t take itself too seriously. It becomes their magazine, not yours – and this is so key.

    One more office circular fully of smileys and I swear – I quit.

This is ‘not groundbreaking stuff’ shocker


None of this is groundbreaking stuff. We all know that honesty and sincerity can foster a rapport. But businesses often play it too safe with shiny, happy briefs and copywriters often don’t speak up.

For me, it took a story like Tim Martin’s to remind me that, yes, you can talk to people in an honest and sincere way – and gain respect and a positive response through this approach.

The results for my clients have been many wins at internal comms industry awards. And, far more importantly, positive survey feedback from staff and increased enthusiasm for the tone and content of their staff magazines.

Although, in the spirit of this post, I should add that one reader of my internal comms project for a perfume brand told me there were way too many adverts. And another spotted a missing clue on a staff crossword. Whoops. There’s my dirty cutlery moment. Now it’s out in the open, I’ll start cleaning…


Martin Philp creates and writes internal comms strategies for several well-known brands. Most recently, his staff magazines have won MarComm Awards, an Award of Excellence at the Institute of Internal Communications and have been shortlisted for the Content Marketing Awards and awards at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. See more of his professional copywriting services.

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