Recently, one of our Creative Directors, Ben King, had the chance to be a judge on the panel for a set of awards focused on external campaign work. The experience got him to thinking about how we can bring the creativity of the outside, in.

“It’s a bright early morning, and it’s judgement day…

Well, design awards judging day to be more specific. Today finds me in London judging some pretty high profile, external creative campaign work. And with all this great work on show, what could employee engagement and internal communications learn from its external counterpart?

After quickly signing in, I join a queue and make small talk with the other judges who’ve also been lined up for the compulsory mugshot. A couple of minutes later and the horror of not being able to art direct my own portrait photo is over. I leave feeling visually abused, and in search of some much-needed refreshment. With coffee in hand I do a quick check of who I’m sharing judging duties with.

I soon realise I’m not going to be sandwiched between Robbie Williams and Ayda Field, and as we file into the judging rooms, I also notice there’s a lack of a Britain’s Got Talent-like ‘golden buzzer’. Today is a much simpler affair, (but just as hotly contested as any X-Factor-got-talent-on-ice show thing could ever be), and we’re huddled around a boardroom table in a swanky London agency, with a TV screen on the end wall, glowing with hopeful entrants.

Today I’m excited to be able to help great ideas get celebrated. And just as importantly, not let ideas get destroyed. Whilst no details about an entry are allowed to leave the room, it’s difficult not to get inspired by what’s on show. On an average studio day, we see a lot of great pieces of external creative work in publications, blogs and awards books. But today we’re getting the inside story. The insight of how an idea worked or didn’t, and the impact that had on people’s lives.

Judging is a fascinating experience and often, an educational one. External communications are known for breaking new ground and having creativity aplenty. But the same can’t always be said for internal communications. Employees are still people who are moved and motivated through emotion, compelling stories and reached with disruptive creative. Internal comms could, and should, be doing more to use creativity to cut through and create an effective dialogue with employees.

Great ideas are great ideas right, so what could employee communications learn?

Make it engaging & make it memorable

We don’t usually have the budget in internal comms to create the next John Lewis Christmas TV advert, but there’s no excuse for it to be done badly. And it’s one of the biggest mistakes many organisations make.

Great communications make people feel something. They tap into our emotions and create a reaction far more powerful than any rational reaction would’ve been. People don’t stop being people the moment they enter the workplace, and they can’t undo the way they are wired to respond.

In simple terms, any communication is trying to inform and influence our behaviour. So, make employees feel something. If they do, they’re more likely to engage, more likely to remember, and more likely to tell a colleague. And employee advocates are the business world’s greatest untapped market resource.

Also, whilst as obvious as it sounds, ditch the corporate stuffy tone of voice. Employees are human beings, they still react to emotional engagement. Take time to share your message in different ways. Try using the emotional hooks so often found in the world of external communication to better engage employees. Don’t bore them with theories, jargon and acronyms because you think it makes your message more credible – it doesn’t. We need to get our messages across in a human way, that will trigger emotion, stick in our memory, and make us want to play our part. Communicate well and people will start listening.

Make it inspiring

We’re all suckers for a good story (see Hattie’s storytelling blog piece here), and knowing how to tell a great one will help you inspire your people and land your message more effectively. Every. Single. Time.

The story you tell about your organisation should lead to employees wanting to chase a competitors van down the street (check our Royal Mail case study to see how we did this). Or feel so empowered that they virally start using your campaign messaging before it’s even launched organisation wide (yep, that happened too at Northwell Health). We all know the power of an engaged workforce, and stories can help us harness this.

Storytelling should be weaved through everything we do. If we can constantly keep innovating and looking for new ways to tell these stories, be that through different mediums or technologies, you can break away from the business as usual message, and land communications that stick in peoples minds, whilst building a great culture.

Make it creative

Slow intranets, lengthy emails, and newsletters couldn’t be further away from the experience we get from external brands’ best creative. But often internal communications are just not brave enough when landing business messages. Communicators often revert to the comfort zone of top down broadcast messaging, and including everything but the kitchen sink in the message. It’s a wonder that anyone gets past the headline.

Even a slightly disruptive headline and a strong creative idea can cut through and reach your audience with a message. And it’s not just about a one way message either. Employees want a conversation. With plenty of creative ways to encourage your audience to get involved and participate in the conversation, they can build their authentic employee story. In many ways, communicating with employees has never been more exciting or rewarding than it is right now.

Add to the great creative idea a sprinkle of joy and a bit of wit, then use channels people want to communicate through, and you’re on your way to an effective campaign.

And as we all finally open the first of the entries, the excitement, fuelled by coffee and speciality dairy free tea, builds. I’m hoping to be able to control the little bit of me that wants to stand up and shout ‘You’re through to the live round!’. So, I take another sip of coffee and a mouthful of pastry, and wait to see what else internal comms can learn.”