Good Afternoon, I am Alana [general introduction] And I am Katie [general introduction] Together we will show you how communication is transforming inside today’s Post Office. We will give you two sides of the story – from the client’s perspective and from the agency’s perspective. No doubt you have similar relationships with clients or suppliers – so we’re hoping whatever side of the fence you stand, this case study will resonate!
Alana First, let’s start by introducing the Post Office, because even you know the UK well, there’s much about this organisation that may surprise you…
Alana You might be thinking of the Post Office as synonymous with the postal service, but in fact…
Alana The full range of our products and services might surprise you.
Alana You may be surprised to learn that….
Alana The size of our network may also surprise you. I’ve picked some brands well-known on the UK high street – M&S, Starbucks, Barclays and Tesco. Their brand presence is undeniable – but this is built on far, far fewer outlets. We have more than five times the number of outlets than Tesco, which creates a unique challenge.
Alana How does that background and that complexity impact my role as a communicator? Here’s a snapshot of my key challenges. Clearly, faced with a communications task on this scale, a great team is key. Internally, I have …. Externally, I have built relationships with trusted agencies. One of those is AB.
Katie Thank you Alana (I shall be handing out my business card later!). From my perspective, what is the foundation of a great agency-supplier relationship? I’m sure the other black-suited agency types in the room will agree it starts with an open and honest relationship – real sharing of the issues; a trust on both sides that confidentiality is a given. Next, an IC agency that doesn’t stand back to view things from a far but gets in, on the ground, to find out what people are thinking and feeling. For that you need a client that’s willing to grant you access – which again comes back to trust. Next, your job is to become an extension of the team without necessarily always thinking like one of them! Challenge where appropriate. Test solutions against what you know of best practice. But equally, respect the knowledge and experience that already exists inside the organisation. If you manage to do all that, and I believe AB and the Post Office have, you have a very firm foundation for creating and implementing fantastic communications initiatives – that really do make a difference. Alana From my perspective, the secret to success is…
Katie When Alana brought us in to the Post Office, our work kicked off with an internal communications audit. This was a mix of quantitative research – what communications were being produced, for which audiences, for what purposes, at what cost etc. And, qualitative research to understand what outcome all this communications was having on the audience. This work led to some bold recommendations…
Alana One of our key audiences and certainly our most challenging are our subpostmasters.
Alana Subpostmasters are a diverse bunch. [Explanation of their role and relationship with Post Office]
Katie One of AB’s first jobs was to launch a magazine for this audience. After some research and testing, we launched subspace . It’s a magazine that understands this unique relationship between subpostmasters and the Post Office. It takes a quasi-independent editorial line – it’s not afraid to challenge. In three short years, the response to subspace has been fantastic. It’s established itself as a core comms channel. It’s not unusual for 500 or 600 readers to contact the magazine after each issue with story ideas, letters to the editor and competition entries. Our editor, Andy Kates, has also managed to notch up an Award of Excellence from the IOIC.
Alana Next, an initiative I was particularly keen to get off the block for the wider Post Office was the Tone of Voice programme. The need for a Tone of Voice programme was clear…
Katie What exactly do organisations mean when they talk about tone of voice? The words they use – often that’s about plain language, losing the jargon, writing in a way that meets the needs of the audience rather than the organisation. It means bringing the organisation’s personality and value (the brand) to life by the choice of words, by deliberately using the first person, for example. Ultimately, it’s about making people sit up and take notice. There’s a lot of noise out there. Employees and customers are not going to devote their time to understanding your message, instead you have to devote your time to being understood.
Katie Here’s my one of my favourite example of a very poor tone of voice. And I apologise to anyone from BAA in the room!
Katie If you think your organisation might benefit from a clearer or more defined tone of voice but are worried about securing the budget for the initiative, this slide might help you. A better tone of voice – certainly when it means plainer English (or French, Italian, German) saves you money. There have been a few studies done on this and all the statistics on savings are very impressive. The argument is simple. Plain langauge leads to fewer queries and mistakes. People read, understand and respond more quickly and more effectively.
Katie There were several stages involved in this programme, starting with a fact finding stage to uncover the causes of the Post Office’s current tone and the issues it raised for people. That fact finding stage gave us a firm foundation to continue. There was a clear need to adopt a different tone – and this was more than a ‘nice to have’. There was business need to lose the jargon and terminology and communications in a more adult, peer-to-peer manner. We adopted a ‘train the trainer’ approach, identifying champions who were trained to help their colleagues write in a new, plainer style. We created the Post Office Plain Language Guide – which we got endorsed by the Plain English Society.
Katie Here’s a genuine example of a line from an internal Post Office form. When we sat down with the team who were responsible for processing the form, they told us that people rarely filled in this part of the form correctly. When we read it, it became clear why!
Alana It is important to us and the Senior Leadership Team that we had a reliable and accurate way of measuring the impact our initiatives were having on engagement.
Alana When I took on this role, an employee engagement survey was in use but I began to doubt its effectiveness.
Katie Engagement has become this catch-all phrase. We all want engaged employees. We all want to drive up engagement. But do we really know what engagement is? What does an engaged employee do – how does he think, feel and behave – compared to a disengaged employee? And, crucially, what’s the difference in terms of the impact on the business? For us, the key output of engagement that really made a difference to the business could be defined as ‘discretionary effort’. In other words, going the extra mile to better serve your customers or get the job done. However, what makes me feel engaged is not necessarily what makes you or the person sitting next to you feel engaged. The Post Office employs very different sets of people – subpostmasters running their own businesses, supply chain staff who risk their life every day delivering cash across the UK, branch counter staff serving the public and head office staff. We undertook some qualitative work to understand what made each of these groups engaged. And sure enough, there were differences. This slide shows the five elements that hold the keys to engagement across all audiences…
Alana To reflect the differences between each audience, we asked different questions of each audience group. For head office staff, engagement was driven by career prospects and training. For our Crown employees serving customers in branches, it is having the right resources and feeling part of a bigger picture. For subpostmasters, it is the way the Post Office supports their businesses. For the supply chain guys, it’s the control they have over when and where they work. By asking the questions that really mattered to each group, the Post Office is now able to get a far accurate reflection of how our people are feeling. The latest results show…
Alana The next challenge was to develop our online channels. With a remote and widely spread audience – and no resource for regular face-to-face meetings – digital comms presented a way forward.
Alana The idea of subspaceonline, as it became known, came while I was sitting in a room with a group of subpostmasters, listening to them talking, sharing their concerns, helping each other solve their problems. I suddenly realised that we needed to build a tool that allowed subpostmasters to do this remotely.
Alana We launched subspaceonline , in August 2010. This is more than a digital version of the subspace magazine. Subspaceonline has the latest news and branch stories, training tools, videos, picture galleries and some lively forums and web chats. It attracts 1,000 unique visits and 13,000 page views a week. It’s providing a channel for the subpostmaster’s voice to be heard, and building an online community of visitors who are sharing best practice. From a cost perspective, it is also reducing production and distribution costs in a number of areas. Branch-specific weekly performance data and annual contract amendments are now held securely on subspaceonline , and these alone deliver savings of £100,000 each year. The design of subspaceonline is kept clean and clear. Our research showed that this is not a technically savvy audience – many do not use the web often – so the user interface is straightforward and the navigation kept simple. The home page has a mix of Post Office, retail and general interest stories. It also features the latest poll snapshot question, the most popular downloads, blogs and forums.
Alana The Document Library brings together in one place the key reference documents for subpostmasters, including operational instructions, incentive scheme results and branch-specific sales reports – accessed using a unique PIN code. Subpostmasters can access a library of team training sessions, to run with their employees, on a broad range of subjects. This allows users to download notes, exercise sheets and any relevant videos.
Alana Two-way communication is encouraged under the Social tab. The forum is a major success story, and allows for honest comments – my internal comms team monitors the posts and answers questions or refers them to the best-placed person in the business. A series of webchats with business experts are also proving popular.
Katie In terms of the nuts and bolts, the same editorial team at AB creates both the magazine and the website. The team provides a daily editorial service, posting rolling news stories, help in moderating and managing forums – alerting Alana’s team to the issues being raised. The team are out on the road often, interviewing subpostmasters across the UK. Although trained as traditional newspaper and magazine journalists, they have become very adept at producing their own video and audio interviews. The website builds anticipation for the paper version of Subspace , highlighting some of the features in the week leading up to distribution of the magazine. The next issue of the magazine has a feature on Sheffield. So, when the team went up there to do the story, they also shot this trailer for the website…
Katie The real magic happens when all the channels link and feed each other. So, for example, when our AB editor Andy noticed the chatter on the forums about the appointment of the Post Office’s new managing director, Paula Vennells, he suggested a special edition of subspace. While she was interviewed, she was also filmed. This meant the audience could read about their new leader in the magazine and her on subspaceonline. Readers were then encouraged to contact both subspaceonline and the magazine with their feedback – and so a virtuous circle of comms was created.
Katie Here’s Paula’s video…
Katie The real fun happens when you use the channels to test the communications before publication. We knew from the forums on subspaceonline that foreign currency was a hot topic. So, we secured an interview for subspace with Sarah Munro, Head of Travel. Andy asked members of the forum to suggest questions for Sarah – they were not backward in coming forward! He then posed these questions to her and posted her answers in a live web chat that featured our guest interviewers. This gave the readers a chance to cross-examine Sarah and get to the heart of the issues. The result was a more in-depth article in subspace magazine – driven by the readers’ input.
Katie It’s great to see the community spirit of subspaceonline and subspace start to grow. During Red Nose Day – a big charity event in the UK – visitors to the site uploaded pictures to the site’s Flickr page of their antics charity-raising. And…
Katie Readers of subspace magazine are now taking a copy of the magazine on holiday with them – and sending us pictures to prove it! This causes immense hilarity and excitement in the office. We don’t get out much.
Alana There’s much talk about social media – it’s certainly the ‘next big thing’ – and while we should embrace it, it is not a panacea. It’s a great way to have the conversation, especially when face-to-face communication is a logistical challenge. But we can’t just build it and stand back. Although social media is informal and personal, it is still a broadcast medium – as internal communicators we still have to manage, moderate and direct the content, just as we do with our other broadcast tools. The idea that ‘if you build it and they will come’ is not entirely true. Even early adopters need to see some clear benefit of investing their time in visiting your site. For us, and I suspect for many, technology is still a barrier. We are not a completely wired-up organisation, so some thought still needs to be given to the plumbing – how, where and when people can actually log on.
Katie What social media can do, is break down the old, hierarchical flows of internal communications. You’ll be familiar with this… information flows from top to bottom and, we hope, back the other way. This process can be time consuming, the various hierarchical levels tend to act as filters that can distort the message and if a key relationship breaks down at any point in the chain, the employee can feel very much in the dark. Social media takes this hierarchical flow of comms and does this…
Katie What we get with social media is something more organic and fluid - networks of influence. The role of IC is different. This becomes less about controlling the message and more about engaging, influencing and advising. I believe it’s a more creative and dynamic role for us as professionals.
Alana To help us get it right, we check our ideas and our content with readers. Our readership panel for subspace magazine started 18 months ago. There is now a pool of around 20 that we call on before we start writing each issue. We hold a conference call with 4 or 5 members of the panel to review the previous issue and discuss future articles. At the last readership panel, we talk about an interview we had lined up with a Network and Sales Director, Kevin Gilliland. We asked for the questions they most wanted us to pose in the interview. The response we got was ‘who is he?’ – explain what he does – his role and responsibilities – and why he’s relevant to us. It’s this kind of feedback that keeps us from our ivory tower and helps us stay connected to the frontline. Here’s a member of our readership panel explaining his role…
Katie At the beginning of this year it was time to take stock and examine how well the Post Office was communicating. We conducted a survey online and on paper, with each audience group receiving their own questionnaire based on the channels they receive – face-to-face, business TV, magazines and newsletters, even the operational comms tools they use in their day-to-day work. We tested the effectiveness of each channel based on its overall purpose – helping to serve the customer, explain business strategy, provide news updates, etc. More than 2,000 people responded and the results were very positive. The average effectiveness rating for Post Office channels is high, at 71 per cent. Each questionnaire also included several open questions asking people to suggest improvements to each channel. With 2,000 responses that’s around 14,000 (mainly) helpful suggestions! So plenty of food for thought as we move forward!
Alana So, what’s next? We have made some great strides in communications at the Post Office but we are not complacent. We know there is still lots more to do. If I was to describe the next leg of the journey, I would like to see the barriers between audiences coming down. I’d like to see common messages being of interest and relevance to Post Office people no matter where they sit, what role they do or at what level they are employed. We are also moving to an era of engaging people on a deeper, more emotional level with stories of personal experience about working for the organisation. This is less about having all the answers and ensuring a strictly logical and linear comms plan, and more about creating a picture in someone’s mind – engaging with them in a deeper and more compelling way. Let me give you a hint of what I mean by this. [Brief explanation of the Post Office story]. Thank you for listening and perhaps now is a good time to take any questions.
Alana As a senior communicator, my relationship with the person running the organisation is key. Her concerns are my concerns. So, what keeps my managing director awake at nights? This slide will give you some background into the wider context in which we operate in the UK.
Post Office Transforming communications inside a 365-year-old institution Alana Renner, Post Office Katie Macaulay, AB
Social media is not a panacea, it’s just another way to have the conversation
You still need to manage, moderate and give direction
Even early adopters need a reason to adopt
The biggest barrier is technology – when, where and how you log on
Dear colleague letter; Newsletters; staff magazine Team briefings; meetings Canteen/water cooler gossip Conversations with my line manager “ How I find out what’s happening.” All-staff events From formal knowledge hierarchies….
What keeps my managing director awake at nights? Making the most of £1.34billion of government funding Fierce competition Cultural change – moving to a sales culture Maintaining pressure on costs while driving up engagement Synchronising clicks and mortar delivery Protecting and enhancing the brand Decline in traditional markets