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Getting down to business 

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Getting down to business 

As more and more business leaders are sitting up and taking notice of internal comms, is it time we brushed up on our business know-how before we take our seat at the top table?

As underdogs of the communications world, IC pros are dab hands at referencing theory such as the Kubler Ross Change Curve or more recently the IoIC Professional Skills Framework. And we do that because credibility matters especially in an industry that is so often misunderstood.

But to truly gain credibility with our senior stakeholders, do we need to have more than a comprehensive understanding of our own industry and be as equally proficient in the world of business?

There will be many IC pros unfazed by their CEOs throwing around terms such as EBITDA, angel investors and IPOs. But chances are there’ll be just as many in a cold sweat trying to discreetly Google under the table.

If we are to be seen as a business critical function able to hold our own against heavyweights such as finance, operations, HR, and marketing, we need to have a good grasp of business fundamentals. Not only so we can translate it for employees or even join in important conversations, but because it allows us to make strategic communication decisions that have fully factored in the wider business context.

So how can we get to grips with the world of business?

Many people research the organisations they work for and the industries they’re in right before their interview for the job. But organisations are constantly evolving and with that new challenges and opportunities will emerge, so research should just be part of what you do.

If you hear murmurings of a possible merger or acquisition, don’t wait for it to be confirmed before finding out what’s involved. Let Google be your friend – although ideally in advance of a meeting rather than under a table! Be ready for when that conversation occurs.

And be aware of current events. What might Brexit mean for your organisation? And what might you need to communicate as a result? Thinking ahead and being prepared for various outcomes is just the type of strategic business thinking a CEO is going to want in their top team.

Curiosity may have killed the cat…

But it’s the making of the internal communicator.

While it’s important we can demonstrate business know how, realistically you’re not going to know everything, especially as much of what we learn is from on the job experience. Your colleagues will have more respect for you if you admit you’re going to need to ask a few questions, rather than muddle through and get something that could be business critical wrong.

Build strong relationships with key stakeholders, ask to shadow them so you can get a better understanding of what they do and the types of decisions they have to make.

And in many ways, you don’t want to become too much of an expert as you don’t ever want to move too far away from the average employee. You still need to be able to gauge whether they will understand something and if you become too entrenched, that will get harder and harder to judge.

It’s never too late to learn

When we think of professional development, it’s tempting to think of things that will enhance our communications skills rather than also considering areas outside of that remit. Taking a course in business or financial management is a great way to get to grips with the basics. It will also give you confidence that your knowledge is accurate and based on recognised teaching and theory.

And confidence is key to gaining credibility. It’s one thing knowing the fundamentals of how a business lists on AIM but if you’re not confident enough to demonstrate that knowledge to stakeholders, you may find yourself left out of the loop.

The truth of the matter

It could also help you look a situation from other angles, and consider it in ways you hadn’t before. For example, if you’re telling employees about potential redundancies, you will need to anticipate questions you might receive – often related to the health of the business finances.

And let’s face it, senior stakeholders can sometimes give woolly answers to those types of questions. It’s your job to know what questions you need to be asking them, and know enough to recognise when they’re not being completely truthful.

Employees will ask the questions anyway, and you owe it to them to have done your homework especially when it’s a highly emotive and potentially distressing topic.

The human element

Understanding business can also help you view the senior stakeholders in a different light. It’s very easy to look at them and the decisions they make and forget they’re human beings, especially if decisions appear cold or callous. But with your business head on you might have a new appreciation for the stress they’re under and that some decisions are necessary if the company is to survive.

And on the flip side of that, the more you understand about the decisions that being made at the top, the more you can remind them that decisions made based on figures in spreadsheets have a real effect on real people.

The internal comms industry is full of extremely talented and passionate people who all deserve respect and recognition for the value they add to a business. That’s why it’s so important that we don’t trip up on a fairly basic business topic and undermine all our other attributes. Spending a bit of time swatting up on business basics could finally earn you that seat at the top table, and more importantly, give you the confidence that you earnt it.

By Helen Deverell for Alive!

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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