29th Mar 2021
3 Min Read

Adapt or die: Giving your internal comms the multichannel brand treatment

Connor Faulkner
Connor Faulkner
IC & Engagement

Multichannel doesn’t mean more work. It means better work that reaches our audiences in the way they want to be reached – with the benefit of measurement. It demands a little imagination, creativity and planning but it steals from the might of the mainstream media to help us cut through the noise.

Apparently, print’s been dead for years. Which is odd really, considering the UK newspaper market is worth around £3bn and magazines around £5bn.

True, print sales are declining fast. And there’s a very real risk that these masked-up, gloved-out, Covid-ruled days will finally nail down the lid on newsprint.

But what will that mean for our proudly-produced internal publications? With viruses lasting anything from five minutes to five days on paper, do the shared canteen copies of our magazines suddenly look like a plague pit?

Shop closures and lockdowns have forced free publications to go online-only (even the reliable old IKEA catalogue) and the consumer print market has driven off a cliff that makes the past 20 years look like a bump in the road.

Resilient print

Where consumer trends lead, we in internal comms follow. Add to that the fact that office-based comms teams happily splash around in wifi and spend our working days basking in the blue light of our computer screens. Meanwhile, next door, our colleagues in HR and facilities search for any way of plugging the holes in the dike holding back the coronavirus. Like a passed-round copy of an internal magazine, for example. The wind blowing in an anti-print direction has sometimes felt like a furious hurricane, taking down the very trees the paper is made from.

And yet print is incredibly resilient. For every hurried conversation we had in spring about switching our clients’ content to exclusively digital, we had another in summer about the enduring value of print.

Heads out of the operational challenges of lockdown, we returned to talking about the value of print for a frontline workforce not equipped with laptop or company phone – or which has to check their own phone in at the warehouse door. The value to office staff who want a screen break, after a morning on spreadsheets and Zoom calls. The value to the colleague celebrated in the pages of the internal magazine for sharing her story, who can give that magazine to her daughter to prove that maybe people are starting to listen to voices like hers.

The infant internet

I’m part of a dying breed. Well, if not dying, definitely getting greyer. I’m a journalist who remembers the days when print was king. But when the internet accelerated mercilessly into the world of weekly newspapers, daily newspapers, monthly magazines, we knew we were fading one click at a time.

We had to adapt or die. And an industry that was always about the survival of the fittest either championed its content in fresh ways or was vanquished. The Daily Mail added exclusive online content, cooked up the ‘sidebar of shame’ and now serves supersized portions to a world ravenous for celebrity gossip. It claims a global audience of 24.9m monthly unique visitors. Meanwhile Company, FHM and NME were among the big names that slipped off the newsstands – or slipped away altogether.

In 2016, writer Caitlin Moran described social media as a screaming baby, uttering ‘awww’ at pictures of kittens while simultaneously indulging in violent temper tantrums. And she called for good firm parenting, so that when the likes of Twitter emerge from their infancy, they grow up to be credits to society – rather than psychopaths.

In the same speech, Moran admitted she’d come round to the Times’ online paywall (‘the mortgage paywall’) – a gamble that’s paid off for owner Rupert Murdoch. In 2019, the Times reached 304,000 digital-only paid subscribers, contributing to pre-tax profits of £3.75m in that financial year.

Meanwhile the Guardian resolutely sticks to a policy of open access, with pleading ‘since you’re here …’ box outs, intended to shame readers into coughing up for its content. It broke even in 2018/19 and editor Katharine Viner continues – more openly than many media figures – to ponder the future of news media.

We’ve been living and working in an internet age for all this time and we still don’t really know what we’re doing.

Changing expectations

The internet’s near contemporary, 24-hour TV news, has enjoyed a well-documented rise, though. Clunky old print could never keep up with the instantaneous nature of the rolling channels. The format changed both our expectations of news and the way it’s reported, with news editors promoting breaking stories to the top of the news list, to maximise the ‘as it happens’ effect.

Texted news flashes, live tweeting and instant updates have created a hunger for – and expectation of – speed that are enough to make any hard-pressed comms team weep bitter tears into their lattes.

If the content isn’t coming thick and fast, why not? What’s the business trying to hide? And in a world where phones have turned everyone into news cameramen, what’s the point of a quarterly print magazine?

The brand mindset

The answer is to learn from the traditional press. We may not be able to run rolling news services within our organisations (and we probably wouldn’t want to) but we can steal with pride the surviving mainstream media’s understanding that they peddle content and brand, not a physical piece of print. And while multichannel might sound daunting, it’s easy to adapt to the strengths of each format.

Video

Hubspot’s stats on video growth and popularity will make your head spin. And if that’s not enough, you don’t have to go far down the Google rabbit hole to get convinced that the moving image is vital. Remember, few videos are slick production numbers – they’re rough and ready mobile phone footage and all the better for it. They’re authentic and cheap, familiar and quick.

Visuals

Graphics and infographics (not the same thing) hit our brains more quickly than words, tell a story swiftly and simply and are easier to remember and share. Not only do they grab attention, they can cut through challenges of audiences with different reading and language abilities.

Story not suitable for graphics? Add an image. There’s no excuse for terrible stock photography now – today’s stock sites include genuinely brilliant images. You just have to think a little more creatively about your choices.

Podcasts

Podcasts are the surprise hit of our age. According to Ofcom, around 7.1 million people in the UK listen to podcasts every week – that’s one in eight people and growing at 24% a year. They’re portable enough to listen to on the commute, in the gym and while you’re vacuuming the carpet. And they’re easier to create than you might think.

Webinars

Desktop-favouring webinars are a hit with office-based consumers and clock up enticingly long engagement times. The Guardian’s series of paid-for events has been a lockdown hit, and webinars need little more than a decent wifi connection to put together an impressive panel. With Town Halls currently a no-no, and large swathes of the UK workforce still working at the kitchen table or the back bedroom, they’re an increasingly useful engagement tool, valuable for knowledge-sharing, online learning and personal development.

Print

We’ve already talked about the benefits of print – and it’s not just reluctant boomers, with their copy of the Sun resolutely stashed on the dashboard. Evidence suggests that digital natives such as young Gen Zs – currently pouring into the workplace – are positive about print too. A Royal Mail survey found that 32% of young people trust print over the internet. Digital printing makes small print runs more affordable than it used to be, and colleagues working from home may value something physical landing on their doormat. But we might have to rethink our approach.

The list goes on. The most successful brands understand the basic truth behind all this: it’s content that matters.

Great content can be leveraged across channels – pulling news stories out of podcasts, delving deeper behind the headlines with long form articles, bringing stories to life with in-person videos.

At scarlettabbott, we call this approach mosaic content – because it allows audiences to access the formats they prefer and still piece together the bigger picture.

Imagination and planning

Sounds a lot? It is. But none of it is out of reach. And whether you’re Edward Enninful and the Condé Nast team transforming Vogue’s brand influence into a multi-platform voice of activism, or a comms professional with limited channels and resources, it starts with the same thing. A strategic approach, an inside-out understanding of your audiences, a purpose for each channel and a willingness to try, measure and pivot to more of the good stuff.

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