Internal Communications Insight – Angela Sinickas

This article was originally published in Poppulo IC Matters Blog Interview by Denise Cox. (2014).

Today’s insightful view into measurement is provided by Angela Sinickas, ABC, CEO of Sinickas Communications, Inc., a management consulting firm focused on measuring the effectiveness of stakeholder communications. The firm’s client list includes 25% of both the Forbes 100 largest global companies and the Fortune 100 largest US companies.

What was your path to working in internal communications?

I became aware of internal communication at a fairly young age, probably about ten. My mother worked at Campbell Soup Company, and every month she received the employees magazine, Harvester, at home. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that there was a magazine that only employees of a particular company would be allowed to read. And it was free!

What are the skills you think an internal communicator needs to successfully implement an IC strategy?

When I started university, my family had pushed me to study the sciences as a stable career field. However, halfway through college, I had never once used my electric typewriter because all I was writing was reports on lab results. Against my family’s objections, I switched to journalism, though I never intended to be a reporter. I volunteered writing a newsletter for one of the campus student groups and wrote a few feature articles for the university’s daily newspaper. During my last year, I had a paid job working 30 hours a week doing a newsletter and community communications for our medical school, which turned into a full-time job when I graduated. From there, I moved to other jobs at the university, including media relations, and then eventually to other organizations: internal communication manager at the Chicago Tribune newspaper, consulting at Hewitt, VP of communications at Secomerica, a communication practice leader at Mercer, and then opening my own consulting firm in 2000.

What are the biggest challenges internal communicators face right now?

From the beginning, I was always interested in company management, not just being a great writer or editor. I was fortunate to be exposed to strategy development when I was at the Tribune; I volunteered to establish a style for all the departments’ operating plans and mesh them together. I don’t think communicators can become strategic until they fully understand what every part of their organization does, how they do it, why they do it and what needs to change in the future to maintain a competitive advantage. And they need to understand the company’s marketplace, competitors and customers. The biggest complaint I hear from executives about their communicators is that they’re great communicators, but they don’t understand the business. That’s why they need to do so much re-writing of what their communicators consider a good draft.

What are your thoughts on the state of metrics in IC right now?

The communication field has evolved rapidly in the last decades. Until the mid-1970s, internal communication was pretty much just putting out “the house organ,” typically a monthly employee magazine. Then strategic internal communication became a big thing. Then desktop publishing came out and many communicators just got into the creative aspect of that. Then they became strategic again. Then the intranet came out and they became all creative again. Then they became strategic again. Then, social media and they became creative again. I think that will always be the challenge of working in our field–how to maintain focus on the big picture of helping our organizations and our employees success, and not be distracted by the next “shiny new object” we want to play with.

I suppose it makes sense that I became scientific about communication, because I started my career communicating about the sciences at my medical center job. Some communicators still believe they shouldn’t have to measure something so intangible as communication. However, if they want to have management’s respect, and their fair share of resources, they need to speak management’s language of numbers. These days it’s easier than ever to capture some statistics by quoting numbers from our online usage statistics. While those show employee activity, they don’t demonstrate an improvement in business results due to that activity.

A good approach to research and measurement might include the following:

  • Every 12-18 months, a formal evaluation should be done (such as a survey or focus groups).
  • After key communications, like a Town Hall or a webcast, a post-event survey should be done to see if the event improved knowledge, attitudes and desired behaviors.
  • On a monthly basis, measurements like reading grade level, content analysis and usage statistics should be monitored, and adjustments made as necessary.
  •  Before any key communication goes out, from an updated website to a mass email, it should be pretested with at least a small number of employees who represent the organization’s diversity to see if anything will be confusing or culturally inappropriate before it is issued to all members of the audience.

Internal Communications Research and measurement isn’t hard

Research and measurement isn’t hard, and it doesn’t have to take a long time. Before starting to write, ask yourself and your internal clients how they will know that the communication will have made a difference. By thinking about that in advance, it’s often very easy to find a way to embed a feedback mechanism into a communication to measure its impact. For example, you can use different URLs in different parts of a communication campaign to automatically track from which source most people came to land on a particular online “action page” that is part of the campaign. Or you might try the communication with only segments of your audience in a pilot/control group test. Then you can easily track if a desired behavior change from the campaign is occurring more frequently in the segments that were exposed to your communication. Neither of these two approaches takes much time or money, yet being able to identify what’s working well, and prove it to your leadership, can be very useful in getting more staff and budgets in the future. And more respect.

Angela Sinickas reguarly speaks at events and conferences around the world, has published and made available more than 150 articles about communication strategy and measurement.