Research Update (November 2023)

The Project’s First Anniversary

With October marking the first anniversary of the History of Internal Communication project, this is the perfect moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made in unearthing the fascinating evolution of internal communication practices. Over the past year, we’ve traced a story that begins with early company magazines and moves into the digital age with the current debates over the role of AI in communication. One striking feature is how the core principles of effective communication have appeared in a similar form across all these years that have seen radical transformations in society.

We’ve been delighted by the support we’ve received from the internal communication community this year. This has not been limited to our ten project partners, but also the fantastic individuals we’ve met at the Institute of Internal Communication Festival and our 550 followers on LinkedIn. Many of you have reached out to share your insights, which has been invaluable in shaping our project.

Our Online Community

A vital element of our engagement beyond the world of academia has been our online presence. Our Source of the Month blog posts and our podcast series have been a big hit over the last year, amassing over 250 listeners to date across ten podcast episodes. We’ve had the pleasure of engaging in thought-provoking discussions with industry experts, and this month was no exception. We had the privilege of meeting with Dev Mistry, the Global Internal Communications Manager at DICE, an online event hub. Dev, with over a decade of experience in PR and communications, shared his insights into the role of internal communication in PR, strategies for inclusivity, and the power of storytelling. The conversation ranged from making voices heard within organizations to the impact of social media on fostering inclusive communities.

For Black Introvert Week, our Source of the Month investigated the historical evolution of workplace psychology. We explored early pioneers such as Hugo Münsterberg, Elton Mayo and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, who sought to use psychology to optimise worker engagement and productivity. After the Second World War, the emergence of the ‘authoritarian personality’ concept paved the way for psychometric testing. We also highlighted the industrial focus on integrating immigrant workers in the 1970s, primarily centred on language barriers and the challenge of integrating a diversity of ethnicities. The Black Introvert Week campaign has challenged traditional personality tests like Myers-Briggs, emphasising the recognition of a diversity of personalities within the workplace.

Our community of followers has been invaluable in helping us answer questions that the archives sometimes can’t. One question we’ve grappled with is when different organizations first established a department with the title ‘internal communication’ and appointed staff members with this title. Surprisingly, relatively recent changes like these are sometimes less documented than those from a century ago!

Thanks to the insights of three former Royal Mail employees, Sam Bleazard, Matt Eastley, and Nick Cook, we now have a clearer picture of the evolution of internal communication within this organization. Their recollection is that, by 1990, internal comms personnel were present but likely sat within HR teams. Each postcode area had an Employee Relations & Internal Communications officer whose role included publishing a magazine and organizing events like the long service award presentations. The first Communications Manager appeared around 1996.

The knowledge that our online community has shared has been grounded in their professional experience which is an invaluable resource for our project. If you have information on when the term ‘internal communication’ was first used in your organization, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You will be making a great contribution to us and the  history of IC.

Partners and Archival Research

We have greatly enjoyed collaborating with our ten project partners over the last year. Recently, we had a meeting with our partners from CIPR Inside, the internal communication section of the CIPR. We’re eagerly anticipating the chance to introduce our project to even more members at an event before Christmas and we’re excited to be contributing to the CIPR’s conference in 2024.

This October, our archival research took us to the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Our aim was to investigate the origins of the internal marketing style of internal communication that was a feature of the 1980s and 1990s. Given that internal communication’s responsibilities have often been distributed across various departments in UK organizations, we were keen to ascertain whether marketing departments were pioneers in internal marketing. The earliest mention we found was in a 1987 edition of the Quarterly Review of Marketing which, interestingly, raised ethical concerns about internal marketing. Yet, the 1990s and 2000s saw guidebooks on internal marketing with a less critical perspective.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing in Cookham.

Our archival work has also been continuing with the organizational case studies. The Boots archive has digitised many of holdings, which has given us to access over 1,000 pages of company magazines, just as Unilever has also done with many of theirs. Looking ahead, we will be beginning our work on John Lewis as a case study with an upcoming visit to the John Lewis Heritage Centre in Cookham. Afterwards, we plan to take a break from the archives to reflect on the bigger picture and what we’ve learned from our research so far. With over 14,000 photos taken during our first year in the archives, there’s certainly much to think about!

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