Research Update (January 2024)

Archival Research

In the final month of 2023, our project has uncovered some fascinating insights into the history of internal communication. The highlight of our month has been a visit to the BBC Written Archives Centre. Located in Caversham, across the pictured river from Reading, this archive proved to have a vast collection of precisely the kind of clues that we had hoped to find at the outset of the project. The visit gave us access to some new magazines. The first was Prospero, a magazine for retired employees dating back to 1966. It began simply as stapled sheets, then evolved into a more formal booklet over time. The team also viewed the surviving two copies of Saveloy from 1928 and 1930, precursors to the BBC’s famous Ariel magazine that began in 1936.

Caversham, where the BBC Written Archives Centre is located.

However, the true gem of the BBC archive lay in the extensive run of minutes from the editorial board for Ariel magazine and a vast collection of memos. These documents are hugely valuable, providing a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes discussions and strategic deliberations that shaped internal communication. This is an element of internal communication that it is often difficult for us to see. The surviving evidence in archives tends to be the end product, which hides the considerations that went into its production. These memos on magazines date as far back as 1927, when there is one in which the idea of initiating a staff magazine was first raised.

Demonstrating the value of such documents, we found in the BBC minutes strategic changes hidden behind a façade of continuity. In 1954, Ariel was reimagined as a ‘management magazine’, showcasing the complexity of decisions hidden beneath a consistent name. The records also revealed the sources of inspiration for organizational communication, with a 1953 memo sharing publications from British European Airways and the Road Haulage Executive as models for a proposed new BBC management bulletin.

The BBC archive has proven invaluable for our project, offering a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes strategizing of internal communication over time. With a second visit planned in the new year, we aim to explore records detailing how the BBC marked its anniversaries, providing an additional layer to our understanding of institutional strategy.

Sharing Our Findings

A major step this month has been writing the first draft of an article that will be submitted to the journal Organization Studies. Focused on rhetorical history, the article introduces a model for the strategic use of historical narratives within organizations. Rhetorical history goes beyond a mere recounting of events. It explores how organizations construct and leverage historical narratives to establish legitimacy, foster trust, and influence the present and future. Unlike previous research on rhetorical history, our article takes a unique angle by examining how organizations employ historical narratives specifically for internal audiences. Our article also considers how rhetorical history has been used in the past, shifting the focus away from how present-day organizations use the past.

As part of our engagement beyond academic circles, we enjoyed collaborating with the staff at the Institute of Internal Communication to create a timeline commemorating its 75th anniversary that they will be celebrating in 2024. This will be a visual journey through history, including pictures from across the institute’s past. The timeline even reaches back to the days before the formation of the British Association of Industrial Editors (the original name of the Institute of Internal Communication). Before its foundation, there was a predecessor organization called the House Organ Institute. The timeline will also feature covers of magazines from the late nineteenth century and snapshots from a 1929 meeting of magazine editors in its visual narrative.

Some fascinating new content has been added to our website during December. A particular highlight was the conversation on the History of Internal Communication podcast with Katie Marlow and Dan Holden, seasoned communicators from CIPR Inside, the sub-group of the CIPR that promotes internal comms within the CIPR. Katie and Dan talked about the intersection of internal communication and public relations, exploring the impact of that social and technological changes have had.

December’s Source of the Month blog post looked back to the early twentieth century, examining Lever Brothers’ Progress magazine as a highly strategic internal communication tool. It explored how a discourse was crafted around Sunlight Soap that promoted it as not just a product but a lifestyle. The post drew intriguing parallels between this historical case and a twenty-first-century brand community centred around the StriVectin anti-aging cosmetic product.

The first full year of the History of Internal Communication project has been hugely productive. We are delighted to have found, in the final month, a treasure trove of the behind-the-scenes strategizing that we had been searching for across the year. Going into 2024, we look forward to finishing our archival research and further opportunities to collaborate with the internal communication community through our project partners.

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