Research Update (March 2024)

February saw an important new step for the History of Internal Communication project, as it completed its transfer to Northumbria University with Research Fellow Joe Chick joining Michael Heller at the new university. The team had its first visit to the London campus of Northumbria University near Liverpool Street where we enjoyed a welcoming introduction from the staff. Alongside this, the project has continued with its research and working with the internal communication community.

Collaboration with Partners

Collaboration has been at the heart of our endeavours, particularly as we gear up for the Institute of Internal Communication‘s upcoming 75th anniversary on 12 March. Our team has been finalising content to commemorate this significant milestone. Working closely with the IoIC, we’re looking forward to seeing the publication of two items in Voice magazine that we have helped to produce. Firstly, we have written an article that weaves together past, present, and future perspectives on technological advancements, drawing parallels to illuminate timeless lessons in effective communication strategies. Secondly, we’ve collaborated with Rob Jones to produce a graphic timeline showcasing the evolution of internal communication over the past 75 years adds a visual dimension to the anniversary festivities.

We will also be marking this important milestone for internal communication on our own website. We have a forthcoming blog series that will offer practitioners a comprehensive narrative of the history of internal communication. It will present this as a story split into five chapters, with one being released each day of the week on the fourth to the eighth of March, ahead of the anniversary itself on the following week. This will not only mark the date but will provide practitioners with a definitive resource for those wanting to know more about the field’s evolution.

Another of our partners, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, was founded just one year before the IoIC. We have also been working closely with the CIPR who will mark their 75th anniversary as part of the CIPR Inside Summit on 19 March. Working with Eduvie Martin, we’ve prepared an engaging session that talks about why the history of internal comms is about the future as much as the past. Best of all, it will finish with the history of internal comms quiz and a chance to win prizes!

Archival Research

Our research into the history of internal communication has led us to interesting discoveries at the archives. A visit to the BBC Written Archive Centre unearthed a wealth of documents detailing internal communication strategies dating back decades. It was fascinating to discover that, even during the Second World War, arrangements were made to deliver a special forces edition of Ariel magazine to the troops. Rather than being a distraction from internal communication, new approaches were even being discussed. This reflects what we have found throughout the project, that crises often draw attention to the importance of communication and trigger overdue changes.

The BBC archive has proven hugely valuable for our research. It holds an extensive run of minutes and memos with behind-the-scenes discussions and strategic deliberations about Ariel magazine, and reports on wider internal communication strategies. In fact, our research at the BBC revealed the earliest usage we’ve found yet of the term ‘internal communication’ in the sense that we mean today, appearing in a 1953 meeting agenda. Although this seems a chance choice of words, rather than a term that would be recognised by others at this stage, it is interesting to hear an organisation articulating its strategy in this way.

The team also made several trips to the John Lewis Heritage Centre in Cookham. These provided further insights into the evolution of internal communication practices, with the extensive memos of John Spedan Lewis offering a window into the partnership model that defines John Lewis today. We’re very pleased to be able to say that the John Lewis case study has now been completed and the BBC one is also near to completion.

The John Lewis Heritage Centre in Cookham

Online Content

Our online content has been an important way of sharing our research with the internal communication community. February’s Source of the Month explores The Gazette, John Lewis’s company newspaper, tracing its evolution since 1918 and drawing parallels to contemporary workplace communication challenges. John Lewis is now famous for its distinctive workplace culture. Yet it, like many organisations today, faced challenges in changing its culture. It took a clear vision and strategic planning, followed by a gradual process of institutionalisation, before John Lewis staff fully engaged with The Gazette as a form of staff consultation.

The History of Internal Communication podcast welcomed Mike Klein, an internal and social communication consultant at Changing the Terms, as its guest this month. His insights into employee engagement and the changing landscape of internal communication made for a very interesting discussion. We are grateful to Mike not just for joining us for the interview, but for doing such a great job publicising it. It’s had a great response and prompted a discussion of our project on LinkedIn!

After the great progress of this month, we look forward to the two anniversary events with our partner in the upcoming month.

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