THURSDAY 10 JUN 2021 11:45 AM


Nicola Lally, director of communications at accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO, explores the commercial value of communications.

Now, do you want to hear a good story?

And in my 20 years of working in communications, I’ve never had someone say ‘no’ to that question. Which is what makes my job so satisfying but also so impactful. I see this article not just as exploring the business case for internal communications, but rather the business need.

Boardrooms across the country are now clear on one fact: communications is commercially significant. Over the last 15 months, many companies saw the true commercial edge of both reputation management and internal communications as they tackled a global health pandemic, global recession and global agendas from race in the workplace to climate change.

Communication was the glue that held people together while COVID kept them apart. I can list many intangible benefits of communications: the creation of forums that help bring clarity and connectivity, the sharing of stories to build confidence, and the decoding of internal and external intelligence to strengthen our decision-making. And I’m sure you can list specific tangible benefits that you’ve seen in your business: perhaps increasing pride in your company, positive reactions to your C-19 comms, readership of your communications channels, positive sentiment and messages within the media, and direct business leads from press profile.

And if that was last year – what’s to come next year? I recently created a model of what the strategic context looks like for my firm for the next three years; it lays out major milestones – and perhaps plot twists – that lie in waiting in the next chapters of my firm’s story. To name but a few, we face post-COVID recovery, a switch to agile working, increasingly regulatory flow, shifting employee and external expectations, and demands for transparency and instant response.

Within that context, we want our business to continue to grow and succeed. To gear up for that, we need proactive comms, reputation and ESG strategies that are designed for the type of firm we are and want to be – and that can be delivered with executive heft, right from the top. Which means recognising the commercial significance of communications and continuing to lift the profile of effective communications long after lockdowns are over.

This is not just important to our Comms teams or CEOs. Recognising the commercial significance of communications – and the senior hires, investment and commitment to career development for the comms team that this brings – signals to employees that the Board understands how much they care about how well they are communicated with. How we communicate is often representative of how we run the business. Whether we listen to McKinsey or Gallup research on employee engagement or just recall our own company’s experiences - we know that listening to, and communicating effectively with, our people will help them to be as productive and as engaged as we need them to be in the face of changes ahead. This is as important as it is hard, particularly if you work in a large or growing matrix business that’s drowning in information.

When you next switch on your laptop, remember that there’s a unique skillset required in your business that you alone can fill: to apply a reputational and engagement lens to commercial challenges. The success you’ll see will be in both those tangibles and those intangibles. Yes, you’ll have KPIs and KRIs attached to your comms programmes. But success is also that your Board feel advised at, and by, excellent communicators, so they are more able to succeed and more able to unlock productivity in their teams.

So, I ask you to sit confidently, rather than comfortably: confident in the commercial significance of what you do but not so comfortably that you stop building on the many learnings of the last year.