Cisco's strategy behind internal comms

For PR professionals, the pandemic-hit year has not only put its crisis management skills to good use, but also pivoted its teams to focus more on internal communication amidst the many social restrictions implemented. Aside from conveying messages to the external world, PR professionals also had to ensure its staff are connected and engaged during this period of constant change and uncertainty. 

Earlier in June, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower reported that more than 600 employees have approached it for assistance as they felt the cost-saving measures implemented by their company were unfair or unreasonable. It then chalked it up to poor or delayed internal communication as the main factor behind complaints, adding that 74% of the cases were misunderstandings because employers did not communicate the measures well and/or failed to explain the necessity for adopting the cost-saving measures. This goes to show the vital role good internal communication has to play in this pandemic-hit year.

Besides ensuring that company decisions are made clear to its staff, the rising importance of internal communication also comes as companies look to keep staff and teams connected. This is especially so when work-from-home arrangements kicked in and teams were separated for a long period of time.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Prerna Suri, head of communications, Southeast Asia, Cisco, said the internal communications function has become much more strategic and important this year than ever before, due to people’s innate need to connect. The company has also placed emphasis on connecting with its own staff with initiatives such as sending care packages, having virtual catch-up sessions to increase camaraderie, and holding a five-day event for its managers to build their skills together.

More on her interview here:

Did you see internal communication taking a front seat in 2020? What were the biggest shifts you noted?

Yes, absolutely. Internal communication is much more strategic and important this year than ever before, as all of us have an innate need to connect.

To keep this connection alive, our leadership team had this great idea of designing a “Team and Culture Week” which was meant for our managers to build their skills and provide them with tips and tricks to succeed.

It was a five-day event with each day helmed as a panel discussion and over 1700 leaders joined us for the four sessions covered in the week by seven of our APJC executives. This goes to show that people are longing to connect with another.

If we ignore this connection and just focus on the external, we will miss out on a huge opportunity to connect with our own people, who are our biggest assets.

How have PR teams had to aid in maintaining a workplace culture as working from home becomes a norm? What were some of the best practices you put in place at Cisco?

I think it’s the biggest understatement to say that working from home is not easy. But, I’ll still say it. You have multiple responsibilities to juggle, in addition to your own work. Fostering a healthy work culture then becomes challenging as you almost feel you’re wedded to your work.

We all felt that in the beginning and I think our comms leadership really empathised with all of us. One of the nicest practices we have had at Cisco is to continue with our comms offsite, albeit in a virtual way. As a part of that, we were all sent packages of swag, but the most meaningful one for me was a book titled “Wild Success” which talks about the challenges a team faces and most importantly how they get through it together.

To me, it meant that my leaders cared for me and that made me more motivated to go that extra mile for them. We try and also catch up as a team and have virtual drinks, all of which increases camaraderie in an organic and authentic way.  

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced this year? 

I joined Cisco in March when the pandemic really hit us. So I was just two weeks into my role when we had work-from-home orders issued to us, in light of safety and public health considerations.

The physical isolation was quite challenging to be honest and being away from your team was definitely unnerving. Having said that, at Cisco, we are privileged as we have had a flexible work arrangement since the past many years, and much before the pandemic hit us. So, we had the right technologies and tools to support us. Our WebEx technology was a life saver in that sense as most of us connected virtually, swapping stories of our family members walking into the room as we presented an important meeting, cooking whilst attending a meeting, taking up new hobbies and all the while working!

I think the other challenge was not being able to meet journalists, key stakeholders and other partners. But again, it made us more creative and agile in a way that we never thought we could stretch ourselves. For instance, we decided to helm campaigns by showing empty spaces of our office, basically asking our people whether the place defines us or do we define the place? It is an existential question that a lot of us grapple with and at that time, it was a feel-good campaign which really struck a lot of chords. We also had a fantastic support system in the form of our People and Communities team, which helped organise many webinars and events on wellness, mental health and yes, even Zumba classes! All of this gave us solace in the fact that they were not alone and that everyone was anxious and having the same issues as everyone else around them.

 What has 2020 been like for PR professionals?

Whilst 2020 has been a challenging year for all professionals and businesses, there’s no doubt that PR professionals have had to adapt and be agile like never before. For an effective PR strategy to succeed, you need a good story and great content. However, with COVID-19 restrictions in place across the world, accessing those stories has been a challenge. At the same time, in-person interactions were severely curbed during the first few months of the year, and any kind of strategic engagements had to be done in more creative ways.

Enter the webinar.

Although a dreaded word now, 2020 has shown us how webinars are powerful tools to connect and the powerful use of technology to maintain those human connections. Remember that first video call with your parents, partners or children who were away from you during the lockdowns? That’s how 2020 changed the way we communicated, and I think this trend is here to stay.  

What do you think the future holds for PR?

The world needs a good story now more than ever. And with the right kind of PR, we can be ethical, authentic and tell a genuinely good story that is good for the world as well as for our business. Digital story telling will be at the heart of everything, content will trump over business slogans and people will remain at the heart of every campaign.

Join us on week-long journey at PR Asia 2020 as we delve into topics such as diversity, cancel culture, future of PR, PR with a purpose and many others from 8 to 11 December. Sign up here!

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