Some of Britain’s railway signal boxes are so remote that the only person a signalman will see during a seven-hour shift will be the occasional driver of a freight train.
In fact, some of Railtrack’s 5,000 signalmen spend their working lives so far away from the company’s head office in London that before privatisation they rarely, if at all, met senior British Rail management.
When Railtrack took over responsibility for the signal boxes, it realised that these employees were essential to the smooth and safe running of the country’s huge railway infrastructure and a way had to be found to communicate the new corporate strategy.
Railtrack’s director of corporate affairs, Philip Dewhurst, says: “Senior managers were invisible to many staff who felt they were never consulted and rarely saw internal newsletters or memos. As we prepared for privatisation we real-ised we had to improve internal communications.”
Railtrack wanted all its staff to be ambassadors for the new company and because of the concerns many employees had about privatisation it embarked on a complicated internal promotions programme.
Crown Business Communications organised face-to-face meetings with all staff from head office senior managers to the most remotely-based signalmen to inform them of Railtrack’s brand values. Railshows were also held at 11 venues across the country where 100 signalmen at a time were invited to meet senior management and take part in Q&A sessions. Railtrack also revamped its staff newsletter, called Track Record, to give it a more tabloid style with copies now sent direct to a signalman’s home rather than to his signal box.
Good internal communication in any company is essential if the brand image devised by the marketing team is to be promoted effectively. Yet many businesses still seem reluctant to accept that, if a new marketing initiative is to succeed, then all staff must be aware of the corporate strategy, understand the benefits to them of providing good customer service or be fully informed about a new product.
David Silver, managing director of Intercommunic8 says research by his company across a number of industry sectors revealed that although 93 per cent of senior managers thought that there was a connection between staff communication and the bottom line, only 15 per cent asked staff for their opinions before launching a new campaign. The study also discovered that 85 per cent of companies did not have a human resources or marketing budget for internal promotions.
“One of the problems is that responsibility for internal communications falls between these two departments while marketers do not consider it to be as glamorous as above-the-line promotions. This is surprising because there must be an understanding of a new marketing campaign right through the supply chain down to the sales assistant in the retailer,” he says.
A separate report by The Research Business International for specialist service brand communications agency Camp Chipperfield Hill Murray claims the problem is worse among packaged goods brands than it is in the service sector where more than 80 per cent of its sample felt staff were an “integral part” of brand marketing. The same study says 76 per cent agree that internal communications is important to brand building (compared with 44 per cent for packaged goods respondents), although 88 per cent still put customer communication top of their priority list.
John Brewer, communications manager for Mazda Cars, says internal promotion throughout its distributor and dealer network is essential whenever the brand changes its direction or strategy. The company has run customer service days where dealers were shown videos of typical situations and then asked to discuss them. “It is a continual process because staff in the showrooms must be able to answer any question a consumer may have about an external promotion,” says Brewer.
Philip Cox-Hynde, senior partner of change management consultancy Harley Young, says one of the most successful forms of internal communication is marketing through behaviour. “Management must ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ to win the trust of their employees. To get people aligned to a company’s marketing message they must feel galvanised from the heart outwards. For example, if the brand is a young, energetic soft drink then the staff must feel that the company is a fun place to work. There are some companies that people will queue up to work for which do not necessarily pay more but have that important feelgood factor.”
Consultants from Harley Young will spend weeks attending meetings, shadowing senior management and talking to staff to analyse a company’s marketing strategy and how a brand is perceived internally. “We often get to the point where managers must take personal responsibility for problems and must look at their behaviour and the systems they have put in place,” says Hynde.
Where staff come into direct contact with the public there has been a significant growth in incentive schemes designed to help employees communicate specific brand values more authoritatively. For example, when oil giants BP and Mobil merged, the new company – known as BP – found itself with two staff cultures and two incentive schemes. BP wanted to communicate to all its staff that the brand’s new focus was as a broad retailing business and not just as a traditional petrol company.
BP’s company operations manager, Paul Longshaw, asked The Marketing Organisation to research the brand to find out how it was perceived by staff, how the employees’ performance could be improved and how that improvement could be rewarded in line with the company’s new focus. Longshaw says: “The research revealed that in the past neither BP nor Mobil had effectively made it clear what standards they expected from their staff or how these should have been achieved.”
The company overcame the cultural differences by holding training days at former Mobil sites when they were rebranded with BP’s green livery, and a completely new staff incentive scheme was launched using the theme “going back to basics”. Previously both companies had used mystery shopper techniques to reward staff but now employees are told when an assessor will visit and financial rewards are paid monthly on a team rather than an individual basis.
Graham Povey, marketing and operations director of Capital Incentives, which provides a multi-option voucher called the Capital Bond, says staff motivation is often overlooked when a consumer promotion is introduced. “Staff are often ignored by management who think the amount of money spent on point-of-sale material and advertising will be enough to get people to buy the product. Yet staff incentives do focus people on the company’s main goals even if some marketing managers feel internal incentives are unnecessary because it is someone’s job to sell the product or provide a good customer service.”
He adds: “Our vouchers are the nearest thing to cash but they have recognition value which means people remember they received them, unlike cash which they may use to pay a bill.”
In industries such as the IT or call centre market where there is a shortage of quality staff, incentives are not only being used to attract staff but to keep them. Wanda Goldwag, director of sales and relationship management for Air Miles Travel Promotions, says the human resources market has changed and internal promotions has been given a higher priority by many sectors as businesses look for different ways of retaining staff rather than simply paying them more.
“Travel incentives are sexier than money and some IT companies are offering Air Miles to guarantee staff stay for at least two years until after the millennium,” says Goldwag.
She adds that Air Miles Travel Promotions encourages its own staff to become collectors and Air Miles are used for internal staff incentives and rewards. “Everyone who works for the company should know the product extremely well and be advocates for the brand. All employees receive a book of Air Miles vouchers each worth ten miles and they can use them as a thank-you to other members of staff.”
In theory, getting staff to feel part of the marketing activity is the best way of ensuring that the brand message is conveyed positively to consumers. In the financial services sector banks and building societies have revamped their branches to make them more open-plan and approachable for their customers and have realised the advantages of asking staff for their views on impending marketing campaigns.
Nik Ingham, director of marketing at HFC Bank, says the company’s recent poster campaign featuring different animals prompted so much staff feedback that HFC launched an internal competition to design a poster for a future promotion.
Ingham says: “We were the first bank to have children’s play areas in our branches and the winning design features parents talking to a financial advisor while their child plays in the background. There will be a slogan along the lines of ‘You get a great deal from HFC – ask the kids’.”
The employee from the Rotherham branch who came up with the winning idea will spend a day at LGM – HFC’s sales promotion agency – in London to see their idea adapted. They will also stay overnight in the capital to see a West End show.
LGM director Jon Ficker says: “Internal communications is vital in a sector where staff are interacting with the public. Life can be complicated for someone working in a branch. They see all the corporate changes that the marketing department is introducing and they need to know where they fit in.”
If marketing teams do remember to ask for the views of other staff before unveiling a new campaign, many still neglect to tell these same people whether a promotion was a success. Chris Lovell, managing director of sales promotion and direct response agency LVB Draft, says staff like to know how many products were sold or if the campaign was a flop. “But companies must still be careful how they communicate. If they use a four-colour brochure to tell staff about a campaign it may send out the wrong messages and people will wonder why they’re not being paid more,” he says.
For any marketing strategy to succeed all staff must understand the concept and feel appreciated if they are to make it work. Like Railtrack, companies must be able to read the signals if their staff are feeling left out.