Go Back

View from the Street: How a people-centred approach can purge boring PR

Anna Dickens

Associate Partner

Let me know if this sounds familiar … 

Company spends a lot of time, money, and effort on something. 

That company then announces its achievements to – what it imagines to be – a captivated and awaiting press. 

Embargo is lifted, announcement made. 

But no one cares.  

There can be a range of reasons for this outcome – perhaps the timing and targeting wasn’t right – but mostly it’s because no one bothered to consider if the audience was interested. 

No one paused to ask themselves, does this matter outside a core group of stakeholders and is it really news? 

Most of us live in a bubble fabricated by our surroundings and influences, but some corporate cultures can be more like an opaque dome. Communications teams – often understaffed – get bogged down in the churn of announcements dictated by hierarchical priorities. Meanwhile, there are often more interesting and compelling stories to tell about the company which go overlooked.  

Ask most news editors what kind of stories they want to cover and they will tell you ‘people stories’. Stories about people sell papers – or digital subscriptions – and companies are full of people. 

While purpose and mission-led messages adorn company webpages, the corporate values are being lived out daily by those who work there. These stories are the ‘show and tell’ of what a company does and are often its most impactful narrative.  

Even a corporate announcement – say about a new apprenticeship programme – can become exponentially more impactful if the news is shared through the lens of someone on the programme learning a trade or reskilling for a new career.  

One of the barriers to collecting and sharing these stories is the way some companies approach internal communications. Many executives will proudly say “our people are our greatest asset”, but rarely is that asset properly rewarded with high-functioning and adequately resourced internal communications. This results in internal communications being one directional – top, down – and it reduces the opportunity for these high-impact stories to surface. 

Company decision makers can also be risk averse and too proprietorial in their approach to company communications. Once again, a little bit of investment in employees though training and guidance can help them become trusted and authentic spokespeople.  

If people really are a company’s greatest asset, then there is a wealth of expertise and insight sitting within the building (or virtual office). This insight is the well for the thought leadership activity that so many companies have rightly built into their communications objectives. If thought leadership is done well it can unlock dialogues, relationships, and possibly new ventures.  

Doing thought leadership right means focusing on what is interesting to your audience, not on announcing what you have done. If you have made substantial improvements to the carbon emissions of your estate, well done, now tell others about the challenges and solutions so they can follow your lead.  

The underlying challenge – and why more companies don’t invest what they should in communications – is the difficulty to measure impact. Clicks and column inches don’t measure the reputational goodwill that a high-profile and positive story imparts on influential stakeholders. But if people are your greatest asset, you should invest in them – not just in helping them perform in their roles – but also in helping them tell your story. The rewards will be substantial and long term.