Research Update (June 2024)

May has been a busy month for the History of Internal Communication project, with some fantastic practitioner engagement opportunities and extensive archival work. May’s research update looks at the progress made in sharing insights and encouraging practitioner discussions around the evolution of internal communication within organisations.

Engaging with Practitioners

The major highlight of May was our participation in simplyIC, a major event that gathers internal communication experts and practitioners from across the UK. Collaborating with Sophie Clapp, the archivist at our partner organisation Boots, the team gave listeners a whistle-stop tour of internal communication from its origins with the 1878 Ibis magazine of the Prudential Assurance Company. The session, attended by over 60 delegates, was well-received.

Michael Heller presents at simplyIC

This event also provided a fantastic opportunity for our team to meet face-to-face with key supporters of our project, such as Katie Marlow of the CIPR, Rachel Miller of All Things IC, and Eduvie Martin of British American Tobacco. The discussions at simplyIC were valuable for our research. The talk on the role of narratives in internal communication, in particular, resonated with our work on rhetorical history. This refers to organisations’ use of their own past to craft strategic narratives about themselves. Additionally, the team were able to distribute the project’s new booklet, which gives an overview of the history of internal communication and feature the timeline of the history of internal communication that was released on the project’s website in April. Our efforts to bridge academia and industry were further supported through our work this month with Emma Watson at Northumbria University, who is assisting the project in using its engagements to form an impact case study for the university.

In academic circles, the team contributed an article to the Association of Business Historians newsletter. It outlined our strategies for non-academic dissemination and was a testament to our pioneering work in extending research beyond traditional academic venues. The team has also been preparing a paper for the upcoming Association of Business Historians conference. This will introduce a new model of rhetorical history, looking at how organisations strategically leverage their history in communicating with employees.

Online Content

Our online platforms have seen the addition of some fascinating content this month, with a detailed focus on the BBC. The latest History of Internal Communcation podcast episode featured Michael Ellender, the Internal Channels Lead at the BBC, who shared his insights on the shift from traditional to digital platforms in internal communication. His discussion highlighted the challenges and innovations that have shaped the BBC’s internal communication strategies.

Additionally, May’s Source of the Month blog post, the first in a two-part series, used the BBC’s archival records to explore early internal communication strategies. This post provided a behind-the-scenes perspective on the story of internal communication at this iconic organisation. With minutes and memos dating back to the 1920s, we were able to begin the story with a suggestion from a meeting of engineers that led to the BBC’s first company magazine. Ongoing themes appeared across this story, in particular tensions between editorial independence and management oversight.

Last month we announced the launch of our history of IC timeline. A resource which will be valuable to practitioners and scholars alike, the timeline is free to be used for anything from presentation slides to online content. This month access to it has been extended further, as arrangements have been made for it to be added to the University of Northumbria’s Knowledge Bank. This initiative is part of our broader strategy to ensure our research is accessible and beneficial to a wide audience and is a crucial part of our efforts to create an impact case study out of the project’s work. Having it on the Northumbria Knowledge Bank will be an excellent means to track its impact.

Archival Discoveries

Our archival research has been particularly busy this month, including multiple visits to Cadbury. Located in the town of Bournville, famous for having been created by the company for its workers, the research provided fascinating insights. Its first company magazine, the Bournville Works Magazine, began in 1902, making it one of the oldest examples in the UK. With a number of name changes, the magazine continued until 2009. It then shifted to an online newsletter, although this did not last for long, reflecting how digitisation has caused a fundamental shift in the nature of communication rather than just being a paperless channel. Illustrating how the magazine had become institutionalised by the 1920s, we discovered an intriguing rival magazine called the Koko Kick that critiqued management practices, which was produced by Communist party members of staff.

The Cadbury factory in Bournville

Research has continued at the National Archives into British Rail. The team found a particularly fascinating celebration in 1975 of the 150th anniversary of the train. This is an example of the concept of rhetorical history that is a key concept that will be explored in the project’s publications. Examples of this theme were also found in the copies of Ariel magazine explored at the Bodleian Library in Oxford this month. As well as anniversaries, the BBC shows examples of history being turned to in challenging times. In 1955, the launch of ITV, ending of the BBC’s monopoly over broadcasting, was described by the Director-General as a ‘new chapter’ in the BBC’s history. Equally, a 2003 Ariel article put a more positive spin on Greg Dyke’s involvement in the Hutton Inquiry by describing the crisis as ‘historic year’.

The work completed in May sets the project up for a busy month in June, which will see the second part of our BBC blog series, a visit to the Institute of Internal Communication festival, and a presentation at the Association of Business Historians conference.

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