When I was editor of the weekly communication trade publication The Ragan Report in the 1990s, all I had to do to get a raft of letters was refer to an employee publication as a "house organ."
The operative phrase was: You just set employee communication back 30 years!
Silly, I know, to think you could set a whole profession back 30 years just by using old terminology.
But I do miss the underlying assumption, that this was a profession progressing. Progressing in all sorts of ways—from top-down to interactive, from "babies and bowling scores" to strategic, from corporate platitudes and stilted language to human candor.
These days, if you were going to set the profession back 30 years, in which direction would you push?
Aussie communicator Paul Murton remarked on a blog the other day that he was talking to a colleague, and they came to a discouraging conclusion:
while the importance of ’strategic’ internal comms (linked to business strategy and engagement) started rising in management eyes (say) 5-10 years ago, it now seems it’s now more often taking a back seat to tactical communication that just keeps people informed as an afterthought. External comms, PR, investor relations, marketing comms are still where the investment goes and internal comms teams are being depleted (and paid less in less-senior positions) in companies all over the place.
Is it just two people in Sydney who think this, or is it more widespread?
Ah, yeah. It's more widespread.
In 1996 on Ragan Communicaton' behalf I launched a thing called the Journal of Employee Communication Management. In my first editor's letter, I called it "The Harvard Business Review for internal communication." It came out six times a year, and each issue contained six practitioner-written essays, of 3,000 words each. These case studies, confessions and clarion calls would generate rebuttals, spark year-long debates and serve as the bases for keynote conference sessions with titles like, "Employee Communicator's Manifesto."
Sounds like 1896, doesn't it?
The journal thrived in the first few years of publication, remained profitable for a number of years after that, and lasted until about 2008, when it died, not because the Internet made such journals obsolete (the Harvard Business Review is still coming out). Mostly, it died because there weren't enough people in the whole world who were actually thinking about employee communication to write 36 decent essays every year, let alone read them.
And now I see the former publisher of that journal promoting its 20th annual Corporate Communicators Conference by promising, "No abstractions. No pie-in-the-sky theory. Only: practical tips and strategies that you can use tomorrow."
Reminds of what my dad used to say, when the family seemed at a standstill, "Let's do something, even if it's wrong."
But he was joking.
Communicators, where are you going?
And for the love of house-organ cheesecake*, why?
* A free tube of Preparation H to the first geezer who can tell us to what I am referring here.