Chapter 3 of the History of Internal Communication (1878 to 2024): The Second World War and its Aftermath

Yesterday, we explored how magazines spread in the interwar years. With the Second World War, internal communication underwent significant transformations. The war itself led to backward steps in relation to the communication channels that had developed in the interwar years. Most notably, shortages of paper meant that many publications became slimmed down.

Interestingly, internal communication does not appear to have been seen as a low priority. The cuts were very much about resources rather than communication dropping off the agenda. In fact, a BBC letter from the time reveals that from 1942 a special forces edition of Ariel magazine was produced for those fighting. Staff continued to engage with magazine and John Lewis’ The Gazette struggled to catch up following 1945 with a backlog of letters that had been sent during the hostilities.

Far from dropping down the agenda, the importance of communication became more prominent during the Second World War. The wartime Ministry of Information was put in charge of managing propaganda, as it was called at the time, and the ethics of these practices were debated in the years following the War.

In peacetime, there was a shift away from a centralised approach due to concerns about its compatibility with democratic values. These debates made this a formative time for public relations in the UK and, in 1948, the Institute of Public Relations was founded. The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the emergence and growth of PR consultancies, bringing about conflicts and debates within the industry about professionalisation and defining entry criteria.

The increased status of communication was not just about PR but also internal communication. In 1949, the British Association of Industrial Editors (BAIE) was formed, the predecessor of the Institute of Internal Communication. This was a major step towards professionalisation of communication practices. Like the House Organ Institute, it had a more specific focus on communication than earlier institutes. Unlike the House Organ Institute, though, it successfully lasted and grew in prominence.

The newly-formed BAIE played a vital role in shaping internal communication. It organised conventions, regional branches, and publications for its members. Just like, the Industrial Welfare Society and Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers in the interwar era, the BAIE played an important role in facilitating the sharing of best practice. The post-war years were a golden age for the company magazine, which continued to grow in numbers.

Front cover of a 1953 brochure outlining the aims of the British Association of Industrial Editors

The period following the Second World War marked a dynamic phase in the history of internal communication. From the expansion of company magazines to the formation and growth of professional bodies like the BAIE, these years set the foundations for the increasingly strategic approach to organisational communication that would follow.

Tomorrow we will focus on how communication developed in the pre-digital age and look at the emergence of the term ‘internal communication’.

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