Research Update (April 2024)

March was a milestone month for the History of Internal Communication project. The Institute of Internal Communication reached its seventy-fifth anniversary on 12 March, offering the perfect opportunity to share our findings.

Institute of Internal Communication Anniversary

To mark the anniversary, we produced a narrative history of internal communication as a series of blog posts. Chapter 1 explored its origins in the nineteenth century with the publication of the Ibis Magazine in 1878, highlighting tensions between employee involvement and corporate control. Chapter 2 discussed how the First World War catalysed internal communication’s professionalisation. Chapter 3 focused on the Second World War’s transformative impact, despite paper shortages, shaping communication strategies and post-war practices. In Chapter 4, the birth of the term ‘internal communication’ was traced, along with the transition to diverse communication channels and the role of professional organisations like the British Association of Industrial Editors. The final chapter explored the digital era, from intranets to social media platforms, examining the balance between technological advancements and human-centric communication principles, guided by institutions like the Institute of Internal Communication.

Cover of the seventy-fifth anniversary edition of Voice

We also had the pleasure of working with the IoIC on an anniversary edition of Voice magazine. The team contributed an article exploring the historical and contemporary role of technology in internal communication. It reflected on past technological advancements like magazines, film, and email, highlighting the importance of focusing on the fundamentals of good communication when innovating. While AI offers efficiency, there are concerns about its ethical implications and the risk of losing human connection in communication. The project also supported Rob Jones in producing the magazine’s visual timeline of the history of internal communication and featured as guests for the second time of the institute’s Future of Internal Communication podcast.

Sharing our Findings

In addition to the IoIC anniversary, we had a number of other opportunities to share our findings. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations also celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary last year and this was marked at this year’s CIPR Inside Summit. The team spoke at the summit about the importance of understanding the history of internal communication, emphasising its relevance for practitioners today. As well as giving a history of the occupation, the talk discussed the institutionalisation of internal communication, its role in employee welfare programs, and its relationship with broader societal changes, including the professionalisation of public relations after the Second World War by figures like Stephen Tallents. Following the talk, attendees of the summit had of the opportunity to show their knowledge with the History of Internal Communication quiz!

The project’s findings have also been shared among academic audiences. Two of the team’s members, Michael Heller and Joe Chick, recently transferred to Northumbria University. In March they spoke to an audience from Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University and neighbouring Newcastle University about the non-academic outputs of the project. It is unusual among academic projects to have such close partnerships with industry organisations. The team spoke about the ways in which they have engaged with practitioners and their plans for future engagement such as workshops addressing practitioner needs. The talk emphasised the importance of creating evidence of impact through activities like focus groups and feedback surveys to be able to demonstrate the way in which academia can have an impact on practice.

On the History of Internal Communication podcast, we were pleased to welcome Isabel Hull, the Research and Content Director at the IC consultancy Kademy. Isabel shared invaluable insights on mastering change communication in today’s workplace environment. She talked about maintaining a coherent message across channels, navigating the pitfalls of unofficial channels, and bridging the skills gap in communication teams in the fact of technological advancements. Isabel told us the key messages from Kademy’s latest report entitled What’s changed about change communication?

Archival Research

Progress has also been made with the archival research. The first steps were taken on researching two new case studies the National Archives: the National Coal Board and British Rail. The team are particularly interested in the editorial dynamics at the National Coal Board’s publication Coal News and its role in shaping public opinion and facilitating communication. Coal News was launched in 1961 as a tabloid with independent journalistic oversight, represented a departure from the conventional National Coal Board magazine. This transformation allowed for greater editorial freedom, enabling the publication to tackle controversial issues such as pit closures and managerial decisions head-on. Despite the high number of mine closures in the 1960s, the era was characterised by a more harmonious approach than the much more famous closures of the 1980s. In large part, this was facilitated by effective communication strategies like Coal News.

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