More to Come

Internal Communications Rising in Importance, Opportunity

It may be a cliché to say that organizations don’t value internal communication as much as they do external. In the U.S., at least, it’s mostly true, and that’s disappointing.

In past years, you’d read that “this is the year when internal communication comes into its own,” or something similar. It was usually related to some sort of whiz-bang, usually electronic communication tool. Enterprise social media (or networks – ESN) like Yammer and Jive was supposed to be the game changer. For some organizations, it’s been a useful addition. Some, for example, use ESN to replace broadcast email and allow for better segmentation of internal audiences. But others point to a lack of executive leadership participation in these tools and a corresponding decline in overall adoption as a result.

We are excited about the digital workplace tools because they unify the communication and operations functions of intranets. That offers hope for true efficiency leading to saving time and money. (Sean Williams will be investigating at the upcoming IceByIgloo conference in Nashville in September.)

So, yes, we believe we will see positive changes in the perception of value of internal communication. But it will be us–the practitioners–who will have changed much more than our tools.

What is the role of internal communication?

In most organizations, it’s disseminating information. That accounts for the relatively low esteem such organizations have for the function. In the best organizations, the internal communicators:

  • are forging partnerships across silos,
  • building strong relationships deep into the organization, and
  • have the chops to serve as counselors at the highest level on the process and function of communication within the enterprise.

Internal communicators are discovering that employee engagement needs a business outcome beyond mere engagement. They’re using research to better understand the connection between engagement and metrics outside human resources to that end. They’re acting as gatherers of business intelligence, fostering knowledge processes, and delivering value well beyond simple message delivery. Sean leads a project for the Institute for Public Relations on establishing standards for measuring internal communication that includes measuring more deeply than mere outputs.

Not just tactics, please

The modern internal communicator isn’t wedded to their communication tactics, opting instead for a flexible approach that shies away from trendy toys not supported by research.  They’re answering questions, such as:

  • How well do employees understand our business strategy and their role in it?
  • How connected to our organization are they?
  • What is their level of enthusiasm for us as a place to work? To what extent do they identify with us apart from their paycheck?
  • What actions do they take in support of us? Whom do they influence at and away from work?

As the internal communicator prioritizes subject matter, there’s a clear distinction between nice to do and mission critical. That depends less on leadership sponsorship than receiver utility. They represent for the recipient, always asking, “what do we want people to think, feel or do as a result of this communication?” They’re not satisfied when someone answers that question with, “awareness.”

That’s not a pipe dream


  • The most recent GAP study (2014) from the University of Southern California shows that in organizations where communication functions are well-integrated and coordinated are much more likely to score high on internal success factors, suggesting that the function has a more valued role internally.  Integrated communication functions permit greater coordination, reduce waste and result in better communication outcomes. That’s good for internal comms.
  • Organizations that manage change effectively and that have effective communications are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers in financial performance, according to the Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI study. The study also notes that managers and leaders continue to be critical to both communication and change management success. Thus, the best internal communicators are essential partners with leadership in service of change effectiveness.  Never has internal communication been as relevant and urgently needed as today.
  • Organizational reputation depends on user experience, and user experience on direct communication with  employees. The emerging trend, therefore, is an internal communicator who carries a robust understanding of customer service, strategy, operations and the process of communication.

We still have to write, edit, shoot, analyze

We still will need peerless skills in the world of words, whether as writers or editors, and much as with journalists, we’ll need visual communication capabilities too – still and video photography, multimedia, etc. We will need technical expertise, understand how to dig into the data and glean insights, and apply them appropriately.

As long as we recognize and embrace this shift to a more robust skill base and a stronger business acumen, we will seize the day. We are becoming what we always wanted, and needed, to be.

Let True help you enhance your internal communication program. Find out how we can help.

Note: A version of this article appeared previously on Sean’s previous blog. 



What’s New in AdWords Search Advertising (SEM): Volume 2

Have you noticed some changes lately in your AdWords account? If not, you’re in for a treat!  Google has officially started rolling out the new AdWords user interface, with confirmation that it will be available to all advertisers by year end. Here at True, we have noticed that this new interface has only become available to our larger accounts, while many of our smaller size accounts are still operating on the original interface.While Google has not provided any specific criteria on the order of how they roll out this new feature, it is safe to assume they are starting from the top and working their way down the ladder with regards to account spend.

For those who have not yet had the opportunity to explore the capabilities of this new interface, here are a couple features we have taken note of:

Call Bid Adjustments

Looking to drive more phone calls from mobile search campaigns? I know we are. Here at True, we have multiple clients with a primary conversion point being to connect with potential customers over a phone call. On top of that, Google cites that “on average, calls convert three times better than web clicks.”

The good news is that we now have more control over how frequently we want our call extensions to show up with our ads using bid-adjustments. They can be found under the new “Advanced bid adjustments” section at the campaign level.

Promotion Extensions

As the name suggests, this new ad extension gives you the ability to display a promotion within your search ad. You are able to set these promotions during an occasion such as a holiday or special event, or a specified date range you’d like to promote your product or service offering. Additional fields include “Promotion type” which is either a percentage or monetary discount, the item name that is being discounted and the “Promotion details” such as a promo code or order exceeding a certain dollar amount.

Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like:

This new feature opens up some exciting new opportunities to further entice users to click, especially within the consumer products industry. We expect this new feature will contribute to increased CTRs as other ad extensions have already proven to do, so stay ahead of the game and take advantage of these before everyone else does!


Household Income and Parental Status Targeting

Google is making it pretty clear to advertisers that they are striving to provide the most extensive demographics information as possible to empower us to deliver the most personalized ad experience we can (even if it is a little creepy). This new reporting and targeting feature can be found under the Demographics tab, which summarizes this information in a clean format for advertisers to analyze and make adjustments on. While household income could previously be applied exclusively through location targeting on the previous AdWords interface, this new feature makes it much more applicable through bid adjustments and routine optimizations. Likewise, parental status demographics was also available on the previous interface, but only on the display network. With these new features, advertisers can now use this information towards search campaigns.

Here’s a sneak peek:


What’s Next?

During the Google Marketing Next conference back in May, several announcements were made regarding additional new features being rolled out in coming months such as in-market audiences for search and Google Attribution, their newly developed product. While they did not give exact dates of release, it looks to be a 2017 update.

This is what we know so far, but keep a close eye on your accounts this quarter and let us know if you see anything new! In case you missed it, check out our AdWords Search Advertising Volume 1 and feel free to contact us anytime if you need help with digital marketing.


The 3 C’s Toward Integrated Communications: Coordination – Part 3

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked. As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team. The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes. Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, a combination of bottom-up and top down. With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Integrating Communications with the 3 C’s and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comms help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Comms, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration. At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business units and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones. For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.


The “3 C’s” Toward Integration: Coordination- Part 2

Not too long ago, I introduced the “3 C’s” — as a pathway toward integrating communications, or at least realizing the benefits of integration. The first “C” is communication, where we reach out to one another to share information about our activities and solicit some feedback. The second “C” is coordination.

The definition of coordination is bringing into a common action, movement, or condition (slightly adapted from Merriam-Webster). I expand that definition like this: Coordination means mutual sharing of information that leads the parties to in some way alter that information, or its planned distribution. For example, you and I might discuss our respective goals and what we’re doing to fulfill them, and then alter our plans as a result of that discussion.

For example, at National City, we’d started communicating across our business unit silos, and realized that one of the units was planning a communication at the same time another unit had a major management announcement. In our discussion, the latter unit asked if the former could wait a couple of days to avoid conflict. That used to be a recipe for a turf war, but because we’d discussed the need to coordinate and agreed, the two units came to an agreement in short order.

That sequence got replayed a lot — the units would make a few changes to messages, timeline, or even audience to accommodate each other. It made for a much more harmonious team, but also made it easier on the audiences, who didn’t have to try and absorb multiple messages and priorities. It also had the ancillary effect of sharpening and making more consistent the business unit and corporate messages.

There were a couple of times when “corporate” needed to insist on changes, but prior to the onset of our communication meetings, we might not have even known something was coming from the business units, let alone have the chance to offer suggestions to better focus the messages. We also made our own adjustments from time to time — in particular, stepping in when a unit’s distribution got moved up and conflicted with our own activity.

That generated trust and credibility and permitted us to gain valuable visibility to an important business unit priority. Coordination is a logical follower to communication, and it sets the stage for the next part of our 3 C’s — collaboration.

Integrating Communications with the Three C’s: Part 1

There’s substantial scholarship in the area of integrated communications, both against it and for it. The thrust of the argument is whether all communication functions are aiming toward an eventual marketing outcome — driving sales. I’ve frequently said that all marketing is communication but not all communication is marketing, but that could be a style preference: for too many marketers, all stakeholders look like customers, and all channels look like megaphones — I don’t want to “sell” to employees, community leaders, governmental officials, et. al., nor do they want to be “sold” to.
I fully recognize the elegance of a unified approach to communication strategy. We heartily recommend just that, so that even if we’re not all in the same department, at least we can have common objectives.
There are many benefits to integrating communications, but actually pulling everyone into the same department can be challenging, and we have to guard against efficiency getting the best of tailoring messages and methods to our audiences (stakeholders) and business objectives. So how do we realize the benefits of integration without necessarily integrating?
I’ve got a process: The 3 C’s — Communication, Coordination and Collaboration.  I want to give each of these the appropriate amount of attention, especially regarding how you measure, so I’ll tackle the first in this post, then write some more on the others.
Communication seems so easy and basic, but it isn’t.  I’m aware of two organizations – large, global, complex — where you learn very quickly that the various communication functions aren’t talking to each other very much at all.  In particular, matters of budget, strategy and tactics take place in isolation, siloed-off from the beady eyes at “corporate.”
In short order, that leads to inconsistency in go-to-market (we can be consistent and still have appropriate tailoring), and lack of appropriate visibility and strategic alignment. At National City Corporation, a regional bank now part of PNC, we were in the thick of the financial crisis.  The communication team was distributed — a relatively small corporate department, with the business units (Private Bank, Corporate Bank, Retail and Operations) hosting their own departments.
Given the crisis circumstances (anyone remember 2008? Me too), we needed to speak with one voice, to provide leadership and strategic understanding, to know what employees and customers were talking about.  So, we instituted a daily conference call for communication leads across the company. We started discussing these matters — not with an eye to seize the conversation and dictate strategy, but to better understand the situation and provide guidance.
Within five meetings, our working relationships improved. Within a month, we agreed to meet in person and work through a strategic process to better align our groups. Three months in, we were able to cut the meetings to weekly, because we’d started cooperating on many communication opportunities.
Communication opens doors — but only when it’s done with a heart for authentic improvement and understanding, not power grabs and dictates. More on the rest of the 3 C’s in later posts.

3 Ways to Stay Productive at Work This Summer

Warm weather is finally here and with that comes all the joys of summer: BBQ’s, swimming, vacations, late sunsets, baseball games – you name it! But one thing that tends to creep up during this time is a lack of productivity at work. And can we blame you? Absolutely not. When the weather outside is beautiful, and yet you’re stuck inside behind your desk, it’s hard to stay focused. Follow these tips and you’ll be outside in no time!

  1. Take a Sunshine Break: We all get caught looking out the windows, especially in the summer. Try the 50/10 rule where you work on a task for 50 minutes and follow that with 10 minutes of a mental break. During that 10 minutes, you could go outside for a quick walk around the building and get a little dose of vitamin D. You wouldn’t believe how beneficial a quick outside break will be for your productivity and happiness.
  1. Drink More Water: The never-ending pot of coffee at work is a great perk, but the downside is that you’re probably not drinking enough water. Even if you’re only slightly dehydrated, it can cause cognitive side effects and mess with your work capacity. Try swapping out a few cups of joe for a big glass of cold water to stay hydrated and focused.
  1. Manage Time Wasters: We all check our phones and access social media sites constantly throughout the day. While it’s great to keep up with your friends & family while they’re on vacation, you certainly aren’t helping your productivity. If you don’t have the willpower to *not* check your phone, there are several tools that can help! Selfcontrol will block access to specific websites like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail- all set by you, for whatever period of time you think will be best for your productivity. And if that’s not enough, Freedom will disable your Internet connection completely for the specific time frame you choose.

If you find yourself staring out of your window at work more than usual, give these three tips a try to stay productive this summer. Have any tips that you’ve had success with? We’d love to hear them.

p.s. Team True is celebrating the summer with a Spotify playlist! Each team member submitted their favorite songs of summer for this epic playlist! We hope you enjoy it!


What’s New in AdWords Search Advertising (SEM): Volume 1

As digital marketers, we know so well that Google likes to keep us on our feet with frequent updates to their AdWords platform. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on how vigilant you are when managing accounts. As a glass half full type of guy, I like to look at this as an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve and further optimize campaigns. Let’s take a look at two recent AdWords changes in 2017.

1. Changes to Exact Match

There was once a time when “exact” match keywords meant, well, exact match keywords. This is no longer the case. Back in March, Google announced that these match types will now be eligible to show for close variants including plurals, typos, abbreviations and adverbs. They can also ignore word order and function words such as “the”, “to”, “for” etc.

What This Means to Search Advertisers
This could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. One side might say this change is essentially giving advertisers less control over what search queries they would like to target, and as a result forcing them to be more diligent when checking their search terms report for irrelevant queries, and adding more negative keywords to compensate for the terms that otherwise would not have qualified for exact match.

On the flip side, this change could potentially open the door to missed opportunities. At this point, Google is very good at interpreting a searchers true intent. With that being said, a simple misspelling or word order could have previously hindered your ability to show up for exact match keywords that are highly relevant and match your intent. An example from Google is “men’s dress shirt” and “dress shirt men’s”. The intent of both queries is the same, and will now be treated as such.

The beauty of change in digital marketing is that everything is extremely measurable. As Google continues to roll out new changes, we will begin to see the implications they have on our accounts and how to properly optimize them with data-driven decisions.

2. Ad Rank Thresholds

For those unfamiliar with Ad Rank, it is Google’s method of prioritizing paid search results based on an advertisers maximum bid and quality score. What is a quality score, you ask? A quality score is Google’s algorithm that determines the relevancy of keywords, ads and landing page experiences. It also factors in click-through-rate (CTR), and is scored on a scale of 1-10. The higher your quality score, the lower your CPC. Here’s an easy example we like to reference:



So, What’s This New Ad Rank Threshold All About?

The Ad Rank threshold is Google’s way of holding advertisers to a higher standard. As the total number of advertisers using AdWords continues to increase, we can expect continued quality control from Google to ensure they are providing users with the best experience possible. This means advertisers will need to meet minimum quality requirements in order to show on the first page of search results, making your quality score that much more important. Thanks, Google!

Another factor that comes into play when meeting this new Ad Rank threshold is max CPCs. As if increased competition in AdWords was not enough of a battle, there has already been speculation of this change leading to higher CPCs depending on the number of results matching a search query. Thresholds will differ by query type and can be weighted based on the number of keywords with high quality scores.

While Ad Rank thresholds are still rolling out, we can expect to see them take effect going into June. Keep a close eye on quality scores and average CPCs to find out if you’ve been impacted by this change.

Need help making sense of all this AdWords talk? Head over to our Search Advertising page and submit our contact form!



Internship Reflection: My Time at True Digital Communications

Today is our intern’s last day at True- and we can’t thank Bailey enough for all of her hard work the past several months. Here’s her reflection on her time at True!

Over the past 4 months, I have had the privilege to work with amazing people, clients and one very cute pug named Murphy. As the content intern for True Digital Communications, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Believe it or not, as a True intern you are not sent on coffee runs or made to sort papers – although one day I did upload 1000 USB’s with marketing collateral for a client! At True, interns have the freedom to create content for clients, learn about digital marketing and become familiar with analytics. I was able to sit in on client meetings and connect with partners from all over the world. At True I didn’t feel like the intern, nor was I treated like one.  During my three days a week at True, although I wish it were more, I was not just an intern, I was part of the team.  

During my time at True, I learned not only about my profession but also a lot about myself. As a senior at Kent State, it was a very busy semester for me. Tackling 19 credit hours, my senior capstone, a job where I had to travel on the weekends and my internship, I was nervous that it would get overwhelming. I learned that having an internship you love made a busy schedule less stressful. I realized I love the agency setting. The upbeat ever-changing workload made me, a not so morning person, excited to wake up and go into the office. I learned that it is okay to mess up. This was my first real internship so there were times that I made mistakes. These mistakes gave me the opportunity to pick back up and try again.

I worked with a knowledgeable team who gave me advice and feedback on my work and offered me valuable tips about my future. I feel as if I have met lifelong mentors during my time at True. I have acquired connections that I will hold onto forever and each member at True has taught me something different. Whether it was a recommendation on an insight post, how to sort through data on an excel document or even where the closest Chipotle was – everything I learned in my four months was positive advice that will help me in my future.

Although my time here flew by, I learned a lot along the way and am thankful I was able to be a part of the True Digital family. I want to thank everyone for making me feel important and preparing me for my future ahead. Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll be back to visit. I’ll miss Murphy too much not to.

We’ll miss you, Bailey! Best of luck in all of your future endeavors! 

Meet True’s Summer Intern

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Meet Latisha, our new content intern for the summer! In this blog post, she tells us more about her PR experience so far, what she likes to do in her free time and where she sees herself in the future!

Name: Latisha Ellison

School: Kent State University

Major: Public Relations

Year: Senior

Other internship experience: Flash Communications, a student-run agency located in the Kent State University Communications and Marketing office. We write stories for the Kent State homepage and the faculty and staff e-newsletter.

Do you have any hobbies? Does trying different red wines and binging the latest Hulu original count?

What are 3 fun facts about you? I celebrated my 21st birthday in Barcelona.  I became an aunt at the age of 5. I’ve seen all three queens live, in person (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj).

What’s your favorite snack? Popcorn and M&Ms

What do you hope to gain from your internship at True? I hope to gain a better understanding of how an agency operates and a better understanding of how to measure social media’s impact on brand growth.

What made you interested in an internship at True? I knew that a lot of the focus is on digital communications (surprise!) and I want to learn more about being digital and to gain and expand on those skills. I also heard there was a really great collaborative culture at True, which is something I’m looking for in a company.

Where do you want to be in ten years? I’m a firm believer that no matter how hard you try, life has its own agenda for you, so I have no idea where I’ll end up. Hopefully I will be at a purpose-driven company working with a passionate team, and hopefully working with a local nonprofit in some capacity.

Welcome, Latisha! We’re so excited to have you on our team!


The “Marketing” Connection to Internal Communications

There’s a brewing problem in marketing, and the solution to it might be staring back at us across our desks at the office.

When you’re making a decision about a product to buy or service provider to hire, how do you do it? For years, if you knew someone who worked at the company, you’d ask them. Social media has expanded that network from your first-level contacts to people around the world. Sites like GlassDoor, Great Places to Work, Indeed and many others offer first hand reviews from the people behind the scenes.

In response to this development, some companies are trying to bring marketing techniques to bear. They launch campaigns to encourage social sharing by employees, going so far as to script tweets and Facebook posts. They might target specific sites and ask employees to write reviews about how terrific the company and its products are. This is a mistake.

The connection between “marketing” and internal communications needs some work. At a regional bank some years ago, we reported to the marketing department, and our principal internal client looked at a newsletter one day and exclaimed, “These are like, articles!” Patiently, we agreed. They indeed are articles, collections of sentences and paragraphs that inform, inspire and motivate. What she wanted were ads. Brand-connected images with cutlines, graphical illustrations…things that evoked mood rather than information.

We wound up somewhere in between, but the lesson I took away from that experience was that marketing and communications weren’t the same thing. Marketing is based on an exchange relationship – you give us money, we give you stuff. That dynamic lends itself to the high-visual, low-detail world of advertising.

But internal communications needs context and detail alongside the motivational, emotional feel of marketing.  That’s not to say it always is textual, or that it’s always lengthy. The sort of relationship IC is about is a communal relationship – the sense of getting people to identify with the organization, its mission, its vision and its values. When that sense of identification is well established, employees are more satisfied, happier at work and more fulfilled. They tell others. Organically.

Developing identification relies on building comprehension, understanding and commitment, and that means managers and supervisors play a crucial role. Manager communication effectiveness is highly correlated to those factors, according to research Dr. Julie O’Neil of Texas Christian University and I conducted a few years ago.

What marketers should be doing instead of thinking of employees as one more set of influencers to exploit is to partner with internal communicators to support managers and supervisors with solid tools, techniques and information to help them lead, guide and better understand their employees. Improving the communication environment will help expose issues and problems, develop solutions, innovate and generally make for a great place to work

If that happens, organizations will reap the rewards of a motivated, engaged workforce – which helps the organization win in the market.