Thinking like a journalist can help us all communicate better

Whether you’re communicating with employees, managers, customers – or just about anyone in any life or work situation – it’s crucial to get your message across effectively. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to get the action or reaction you want. To communicate better, we can all benefit from taking a leaf out of the journalist’s book.

Journalists specialise in capturing attention and powerfully telling compelling stories that cut through the information overload. A good journalist can turn whatever topic they cover – however complex, dry or niche – into sparkling copy that informs, engages and often entertains.

Reporters use the so-called five Ws – also known as the five Ws and one H – to make sure they capture all essential elements in their stories. And being guided by Who, What, Why, When, Where and How can enhance everyone’s strategic and tactical communication skills.

Here’s what to keep in mind before you start writing (or talking!):

  1. Who is your audience? This is the essential starting point. Before putting pen to paper, put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re addressing. What do they already know? What do they care about? Which factors will influence their level of understanding or interest?
  2. Why are you communicating? What do you want to achieve? What do you want your audience to think/feel/do in response? Why should they listen and care about what you’re saying? All this needs to be clear if you are to grab and hold their attention.
  3. What is your story? Exactly what do you want to say? You’d be amazed how often people haven’t even clarified their message to themselves, let alone for the recipient. Also key: what is the new, interesting angle that will hook your audience and keep them engaged?
  4. Where are you communicating your message? Think carefully about the most effective and appropriate ‘vehicle’. Which communication channel and medium fit best? Is it a press release, opinion piece, advertorial, white paper, email, employee newsletter, speech, poster, or social media update?
  5. When should you communicate? Timing is crucial. Whether you’re announcing news publicly, addressing employees or informing clients, when is the right moment to do this? What’s the best time to give the information they need, so you can make the impact you want?
  6. How will you address your audience? What is the right format (text / photo / video / graphic / other) and tone of voice? Regardless of the tone or format you choose, strong communication always means using clear, simple, jargon-free language.

Nowadays, we’re all creators and consumers of communication. No doubt you’ve been on the receiving end of too much complex, confusing, irrelevant or boring communication, so you’ll know how counter-productive it can be. Keeping that critical perspective when you’re the communicator – and always remembering the magic 5Ws – will help you cut through the clutter and make an impact.

Corona crisis brings internal comms to the fore

The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated social megatrends that may otherwise have taken years to evolve. The most obvious example is the almost overnight shift to working from home.

For years, many companies resisted home-working, suspecting it would damage productivity, creativity and teamwork. But, as the last seven months have shown, employees have adapted remarkably well, as dedicated at home as they are in the office.

But it’s presented companies with a big challenge: how to manage, motivate, inform and – very importantly – care for your remotely located employees? The answer lies in a function that many businesses have under-rated and under-resourced – Internal Communications.

Internal comms is now more important than ever before, finding its place at the beating heart of the organisation, keeping lines of communication open and making sure employees stay connected while apart.

From interactive newsletters and video town halls, to pub quizzes and Zoom cookery challenges, there are countless ways to build and nurture a sense of connection via internal channels. And, because so many of them, like Poppulo and Yammer, are measurable, it’s easy to see the high levels of engagement when the right balance is struck.

Ultimately, the best internal communication is as much about caring as it is about informing, especially during these Covid times. Working from home suits some people, but not all. It’s easy to feel isolated, disconnected and stressed by the conflicting demands of home and work.

So putting care into how you communicate, connect and engage with remote employees can really pay off, not only in helping them work better and smarter, but also boosting their happiness and wellbeing.

Lights, camera …audio? How not to spoil a good video with bad sound

In these times of home-bound working, many leaders are using video messages to communicate with their employees. To hit the right note, they carefully craft their message, find a favourable angle, and assemble their bookshelf backdrop. But is anyone thinking about sound?

To hear top tips on how to get the best sound for your home-made video, we spoke to a leading sound engineer, Joost de Glopper, owner of Mixed by Joost audio productions.

“In your video message, you will want to be calm and show leadership. But if your sound is off, there’s noise in the background, or you are difficult to understand, what kind of message does this send? You want the total picture – video and audio – to support what you’re saying,” says Joost.

Without access to professional audio equipment, however, what can home-bound leaders do to get their message across loud and clear?

There are some simple tricks you can apply to improve the sound quality of your recordings:

  1. Find the quietest – not the prettiest – spot in the house. Being next to an open window might offer favourable lighting, yet if you’re close to a busy road, noisy neighbours or school playground, that’s not going to help your sound.
  2. Be aware of ambient noises. Avoid being near appliances, like the fan of your desktop computer, a running dishwasher, or air conditioning.
  3. Avoid rooms with hard and large uninterrupted surfaces like big windows and hard wooden floors. Ideally, look for a space with rugs, carpeting, bookshelves, and angled surfaces that reduce echoing.
  4. Clap your hands. If you hear a lot of reverberation, this is a clear indicator this is not the place you want to be.
  5. If you can’t find an echo-free spot, put a duvet or pillows around you (out of camera shot) to soften the sound. Did you know voice-over artists sometimes record themselves under a duvet?
  6. Consider investing in an external microphone. You can get a decent one without breaking the bank. Just a simple lapel mic that plugs into your phone will easily be 20 times better than any built-in microphone on your smartphone or video camera.

Ultimately, says Joost, the best thing is to listen. “Just take a moment in silence to become aware of the sounds around you. There might be more than you think.” In the age of video messages, it’s time for audio to take centre stage.

Six reasons why you need a corporate newsroom

Information has never been harder to manage, especially for companies that need to communicate with a wide range of audiences: employees, customers, NGOs and politicians to name a few.

To cope with this, organisations can benefit from bringing the skills and practices of a newsroom into the heart of their communications. Thinking and acting like a media organisation is a growing trend among larger companies, giving rise to a new breed of corporate newsrooms.

Some of our clients, like Coca-Cola and ING, are already leading the way in this area and, as former journalists, we can see why it makes sense. We also know how it can be done and the benefits it can bring.

What is a corporate newsroom?

To avoid confusion, let’s start with clarifying what it is NOT.

  • It is not a press office
  • Not a group of spokespeople
  • Not about media relations
  • Not a news section on your website
  • Not just about pumping out content to your employees

So, what is it? We define a corporate newsroom as a central team that communicates the organisation’s strategy, using editorial standards, practices, and a journalistic mindset.

Why is a corporate newsroom needed?

  1. It tackles information overload

It’s never been harder for companies to cut through the clutter and noise of our information-saturated world. Professionalising how you tell your story, to internal and external audiences, will help you get heard. Learning tried and tested tricks from the media world, like great storytelling and human-interest angles, is key.

  1. It stops misinformation spreading

This is especially important at times of crisis. In a 24/7 information culture, news travels fast – and that means real news AND fake news. At times like this, misinformation can quickly escalate into a full-fledged crisis. A newsroom culture can ensure you get your story out – for your employees and external audiences – before they hear it anywhere else.

  1. It builds authenticity and transparency

Having a trusted and consistent voice from the company is key. A central newsroom can do this, building a sense of authenticity and transparency and helping you speak with one voice.

  1. It makes you human

One of the most common questions you hear from any journalist about a story is ‘what’s the human angle?’ News organisations know that stories about real people work best. This translates into a corporate setting too – a newsroom culture can help you humanise your organisation, helping your employees and external stakeholders see behind the corporate façade, into the heart and soul of your organisation.

  1. It boosts employee engagement

And when you do get your story out there, accurately, quickly and compellingly, you will be boosting employee engagement, which after all, is the aim of any internal comms team. PR Week recently reported a survey by the Confederation of British Industry which said that with 48% of companies say employee engagement is their key business priority for 2017, so now is the time to think of ways to turbo-charge engagement, and a newsroom approach could be one of the answers.

  1. It clarifies your company’s strategy

If you are still not persuaded about how a corporate newsroom can help, think about that other core task facing any corporate and internal comms team – communicating the company’s strategy.  It’s easier said than done and, frankly, many companies are struggling to do it effectively.

A recent survey says that 82% of CEOs think their employees understand their company’s strategy but only a third of employees agree. Clearly, in many companies, the message is fundamentally failing to get through.

These are just some of the reasons why a corporate newsroom can help you – and why they are on the rise among some of the world’s most communications-savvy companies.

Putting a newsroom structure in place need not be as hard as it sounds, and certainly need not involve new headcount or costs. In many cases, it’s simply a question of adopting a journalistic mindset, thinking more like a media organisation and applying a consistent set of editorial practices to help you tell and target your stories more effectively. We’ll talk about this more in our next blog.


Find out more in a recent webinar on how newsroom culture can boost your corporate comms in a Gorkana webinar given by Stampa directors, James Curtis and Abigail Levene:

Email Embarks on New Era of Employee Engagement

The world’s first email was sent by computer programmer Ray Tomlinson in 1971 – to himself. It was the delivery of the message that went down in history, rather than the content: Tomlinson’s message said no more than “QWERTYUIOP”.

In web years, the nearly 50-year-old email is a dinosaur, but don’t expect to see it in a museum just yet. Despite the rise of social networking, instant messaging and mobile communication, the trusty old medium has timeless appeal. This is especially true in business, where email remains the most popular form of communication and a hotbed of innovation.

Double-edged sword

For internal communications, email is a double-edged sword. It’s a fast and convenient way to reach your employees, but more and more emails are adding to the very real problem of information overload. An average 126 email messages hit the inboxes of office workers every day. The digital juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down, with the number of emails expected to reach 130 per day in 2020.

With so much information competing for your employees’ attention, how do you make sure your message breaks through? Especially if you’re trying to engage your employees around important strategic topics, how do you cut through the inbox clutter with emails they actually want to read?

MailChimp vs Newsweaver

One way is to use an email marketing or newsletter tool. These are helping to evolve email from the digital dark ages of one-way traffic, turning it into a responsive and interactive medium. However, with a myriad of email marketing and newsletter services popping up, finding the right fit for your company can be a challenge.

One of today’s best-known email platforms is MailChimp. The user-friendly service offers a quick and easy way to create good-looking newsletters and email campaigns for your employees. Regardless of how tech-savvy you are, you can build customised templates that are tailored to your company’s needs. Especially if your organisation is still relying on text-only HTML mailings to communicate the latest company news or department updates (don’t worry, you are not alone), MailChimp is a quick and easy way to modernise your internal communications.

MailChimp was originally designed as an external email marketing tool, however. Although it can be used for employee emails and newsletters, it’s worth exploring specialised alternatives.

One of these is Newsweaver, a software company that caters to the needs of internal communications. Its sophisticated service not only allows you to create a custom-made design, but built-in social features such as likes, polls, ratings and comments encourage two-way communication. An elaborate system of tracking employee engagement helps you gauge how well your company’s strategic content is landing with employees. And detailed employee data tools allow you to create personalised content that resonates with your staff. Old-school email used to send into a black hole. Today, new email technology opens up a world of new possibilities.

No one-size-fits-all solution

Whether you’re a seasoned professional, or just setting foot into the world of employee mailings, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. When it comes to selecting an email service provider, there are some key questions to consider:

  • How many emails will you be sending, and at what frequency?
  • What are the levels of interaction you are looking for?
  • Do you want to connect with employees over a variety of media channels?
  • How much control do you want over the design of your email and can you plug it into internal systems?
  • Will your IT team allow you to use a third-party email platform?

Once you have figured these out, you will be surprised how much innovation and opportunity there is in today’s email technology. We have moved way beyond the old days of send and receive.