Research Update (October 2023)

September has been an exciting and productive month for the History of Internal Communication project. From exploring archives to forging new partnerships, we’re delighted to share our progress from a highly productive month.

Archival Work

A highlight of this month was our week at the Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive at Beeston in Nottingham. Here, we embarked on an exploration of Boots, our latest case study. The records gave a fascinating insight into how organizations have harnessed the power of rhetorical history. We looked back to 1977 in particular, when Boots celebrated its centenary in style, strategically aligning it with the Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee.

The cover of a special centenary issue of the Boots magazine from 1977. Boots News (14 Dec 1977). Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive, WBA/BT/27/39/2/5/82.

During our visit, the project’s team searched through a varied collection of materials, marking another case study as complete. We also made a visit to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where we immersed ourselves in the publications of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, discovering magazines dating back further than any other collection and the institute’s early interest in internal communication.

Our attention will now turn to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, with a focus on their records from the 1980s and 1990s, an era when internal communication seems to have adopted an internal marketing form. We’re eager to unearth insights into this transformative period in the field, in particular to uncover whether it is a change that was discussed by the institute at the time.

Working with Our Project Partners

In 2024, Boots will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the opening of John Boot’s herbalist shop in 1849. During our visit to the Boots archive, we engaged in fruitful discussions about how our project can contribute to this milestone. Our recommendation was to adopt a heritage approach, emphasising collective memory alongside factual history. This aligns seamlessly with Boots’ current advertising campaign, which revolve around the idea of ‘With You for Life’. Memory carries a powerful emotional value and an organization’s narrative can be strengthened by weaving a heritage into it.

This month, we proudly welcomed simplycommunicate as our tenth project partner. Our discussions with Marc Wright, Patrick Hulbert, and Aish Rajavelu have been enlightening. We’re excited about the collaboration possibilities and look forward to attending the simplyEXP event this November.

Our discussion with Jen Sproul and Rob Jones from the Institute of Internal Communication was particularly enriching. In 2024, they will mark their 75th anniversary, and we’re poised to contribute significantly. We’ll be crafting an article for their Voice magazine and taking the stage at the IoIC Festival to talk about the authenticity that rhetorical history brings to internal communication. Additionally, an online image gallery is in the works to share our archival discoveries with a wider audience in collaboration with the IoIC.

Sharing Our Findings

During September, we had the opportunity to disseminate our findings to some highly varied audiences. Michael Heller and Joe Chick featured on the latest episode of Katie Macaulay’s The Internal Comms Podcast, sharing insights that bridge the gap between historical learnings and present communication challenges. Joe also engaged in a discussion with Michael Millward for an upcoming episode of the Abeceder Quotation Conversations. Quotations from historic magazines sparked a fascinating discussion of parallels between past and present communication challenges.

International Podcast Day on September 30th was an opportunity to mark our project’s efforts to lead the way in the use of podcasts to disseminate academic research to a broader audience. Episode 9 of the History of Internal Communication podcast. featured Marc Wright, the founder of simplycommunicate, diving deep into the history and future possibilities of internal communication. Our Source of the Month blog post marked a significant milestone: ninety years since the appointment of Sir Stephen Tallents as the country’s first-ever public relations officer.

Our scholarly pursuits also found an academic audience at the University of Warwick’s Modern Record Centre, which is commemorating its fiftieth anniversary. The archive centre has been instrumental in our research, particularly for the Industrial Welfare Society and the Welfare Workers’ Association (now the CIPD), which both have their origins in the early twentieth century. The staff’s unwavering support and the MRC’s vast collection of documents have made it an invaluable resource for us.

At the ‘The MRC at 50’ symposium, we shared our research, exploring sources from the 1920s and 1960s that highlighted the age-old concern over the spread of misinformation. It became evident that these fears are not new. Firms have grappled with them for over a century, yet the underlying principles of effective communication have stood the test of time, resonating with both the past and the present. A curious short story from the 1920s about a welfare worker’s duties being disrupted by a rumour is now part of The MRC in 50 Objects exhibition, serving as a testament to the enduring challenges of communication.

September has been a productive month of discovery, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing for the History of Internal Communication project. As we reach the first full year of our project, we’re excited about the insights that await us in the coming months.

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