MONDAY 29 APR 2019 2:14 PM


The inaugural Internal Communications and Engagement Awards are taking place in London on 13 May. Heathrow Airport has been shortlisted at the awards

Picture the scenario – you’ve got your next internal comms campaign ready to launch. Your team has created a suite of fantastic content and collateral aimed at improving awareness of staying safe at work, #worksafehomesafe. There’s a head-turning design style, engaging copy, inspirational video content and colleague storytelling. You’ve invested time and money to make a positive impact, but not all routes to your intended audiences are owned and managed directly by your team.

As the UK’s largest single site employer, at Heathrow Airport we face an internal communications challenge like no other. With 7,500 direct colleagues, and 67,000 contractors across 400 suppliers, we must communicate with highly diverse groups from baggage handlers to security officers, cabin crew to air traffic control. Every colleague plays an essential role in keeping the airport moving, keeping themselves and each other safe, so it is crucial that we are able to reach to the edges with our internal communications.

Communication champions, comms networks, embedded communicators. Many large organisations will have a group of people who don’t report directly into the central comms team, but who are crucial in making your internal communications effective. When you have a campaign that needs to go business-wide, their local knowledge, channels and understanding the nuances of their audiences is essential. However, not all of them are full-time communicators, they often sit within a part of the operation that is both physically and culturally further away and have local leadership demands which can pull them in many, and often unhelpful, directions. How do you bridge that gap and help those colleagues not just be an extension of your team, but feel part of it?

A key part of our internal communications strategy last year was to improve the structure and support we gave to our ‘embedded communicators.’ By recognising the challenges mentioned previously, we put in place a rhythm and routine that enabled our extended team to feel more connected with the central team. This includes fortnightly meetings with central and embedded team colleagues where we discuss the upcoming campaign plan, share best practice and understand what is happening at a local level. Our campaign approach is split into gold, silver and bronze depending on the level of investment, duration and number of touch points we reach across the airport. We involve the wider team in developing the plan for the year to take into account their local activity, avoid clash and duplication and to seek opportunities to align. By gaining their insight we can develop materials that are relevant to their audiences and can be easily adapted if needed.

We recognise that training and development is key, so we run quarterly masterclasses to hone skills on areas such as campaigning, filmmaking and strategy. As their line managers’ expertise tends to be operationally focused, we support them with biannual performance reviews and objective setting so they are getting the same feedback and personal development any professional communicator would get.

Finally, we do two full away days a year where we look at the strategy and give the embedded communicators the opportunity to be part of that development so they feel invested from the outset. It’s also a good excuse to enjoy some socialising and getting to know each other better.

The ‘team’ may not be ‘my team,’ but it certainly feels like it.

Richard Walden is the head of internal communications at Heathrow Airport

To book your tickets for the awards, click here