When we think about marketing and communications strategies, we tend to think first of external-facing campaigns such as traditional advertising, social media marketing and and earned media coverage -- when an organization's news is covered by print, broadcast or digital news outlets. In my decade of strategic communications experience, however, I have found that an organization’s external communications are only as strong as its internal communications, for the reasons outlined below.
1. An external brand is a reflection of an internal brand.
A brand is an expression of what an organization is and what it aspires to be. For a parish or other religious organization, its brand may be described as its unique “charism.”
The brand that a company projects externally is inevitably rooted in the brand that it lives out internally. This “brand” is comprised of the organization’s mission, vision and values, combined with the people, activities and interactions that take place within the organization every day. The experiences that external audiences have with a brand are delivered by internal staff members, either directly or indirectly. This is why internal teams must believe and work in accordance with their own organization’s brand before that brand can be effectively projected externally.
In order to ensure a brand’s authenticity, it is important that the brand is connected to the organization's mission, vision and values–and that the organization operates and treats its internal team members according to those guiding principles. Additionally, appropriate internal staff members should be involved in an organization’s branding/re-branding processes. This will help build connections with the brand as well as trust among members of the organization.
2.Internal audiences influence external audiences.
Influencer marketing is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, the influencer market in the U.S. was valued at a record $16.4 billion in 2022, according to Hubspot.com. Influencer marketing connects a brand to a person within a specific community that already has a large following, and helps put the “product” in front of a new audience. Ambassador marketing can be even more valuable than influencer marketing, according to Ad Age. A brand ambassador has a longer-term marketing relationship with a brand and can be a trusted source of information about the brand for consumers.
Sometimes, an organization’s best and most trusted brand ambassadors can come from within the organization itself. These individuals know the organization well, and if they authentically believe in its mission and values, they may be willing to share its brand messages with their own audiences–via word of mouth, social media, email or other channels. These audiences may include members of the organization’s target audience, and if so, they will be the recipients of an effective and cost-efficient marketing strategy.
Trust and authenticity are especially important in communications about faith. An individual’s decision to attend Mass for the first time or to engage with the Catholic Church in some way, for example, often happens through a personal invitation by a trusted friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance. What if all Catholic parishes thought of internal staff members and parishioners as potential brand ambassadors? How might that change parish communications? How might that change the number of people at Mass each Sunday?
3. Streamlined internal communications processes increase productivity, clarity, and space for creativity.
It is fairly easy to think of an advertisement or communication that was not received well by its intended audience. Sometimes, it is unclear how this disconnect happened. But other times, it is clear that an important step was overlooked in the organization’s internal processes (i.e. appropriate leadership review).
Just as weak internal processes can negatively impact a brand’s reputation, strong and streamlined internal processes can make an organization’s communications sing. When a clear process is established for how communications take place–from conception to delivery–there is less room for confusion about who is doing what, when and how. This means that staff members’ precious time, resources and brain power are freed up to focus instead on the strategic planning, creative content development, and proactive problem solving that will set their communications up for success.
4. Internal communications can become “external” at any moment.
In today’s increasingly digital culture, sharing communications is quicker and easier than ever. While this is beneficial, it also allows for internal communications to be shared externally by just about anyone. This poses a risk to organizations working to control the narrative around sensitive and/or important announcements.
Given the reality of this risk, each communication that is distributed within an organization–no matter how “internal” it is intended to be–should be carefully crafted, with messaging that reflects the organization’s mission, values and brand. It is also important for organizations to develop–and communicate internally–a process which outlines the steps for development and distribution of communications to various audiences.
Additionally, communications plans should be developed for each specific communication/campaign, which outline the timeline and steps involved in that effort. For example, a communications plan may include the date and time that an email announcement will be sent to employees, followed by the date and time that the announcement will be provided to external stakeholders. Such a timeline should typically allow enough time for internal audiences to read the announcement before it is provided to external audiences, while also ensuring that external audiences receive the information directly from the intended source quickly enough to get ahead of unauthorized sharing by internal staff members.
Educating internal teams about the reasoning for and importance of following communications processes/plans is crucial in order to build trust, understanding and compliance among staff.
5. When a crisis hits, your process can save your brand.
Unfortunately, an organizational crisis can hit when we least expect it. Whether it is related to a natural disaster, personnel issue or a brand reputation concern, it is important to address the situation quickly.
Crises typically do not allow much time for strategic planning of communication. Additionally, the stress that a crisis brings can affect one’s ability to think clearly and rationally. To proactively mitigate these challenges, it is important for organizations to develop and maintain a crisis communications plan, and to communicate that plan with appropriate internal constituents so that the organization is prepared to act accordingly.
This plan might include different potential crisis situations, outlined in “tiers” or other categories, with a detailed communications plan for each situation. The plan should include specific directions and action items along with designated team members who will handle each, in an appropriate cadence.
Regardless of the structure and details of a crisis communications plan, developing and implementing an internal process can help an organization navigate the challenges and mitigate the adverse effects of unexpected events.
The team at KPC is passionate about supporting faith-based organizations in enhancing their internal communications to lay a strong foundation for successful external results!