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Great expectations

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Great expectations

Internal comms is all about relationships.

Sadly they can quickly sour when work doesn’t meet our great expectations. But it doesn’t have to be that way…

Often, our success as internal communicators can hinge on the relationships we have with internal or external colleagues. It requires trust, co-operation, listening and often patience – especially in the chaotic times we live and work in, where every project feels urgent and the stakes exceptionally high.

So, when you feel like all those elements are in place, it can be demoralising when a piece of work we’ve poured our heart and soul into doesn’t quite hit the mark. Or something we’ve received falls below our expectations.

But, whether you’re in-house or agency, there are steps we can take to ensure we avoid some of the more common pitfalls…

Create a briefing document

Time is a luxury we rarely have so not creating a brief is completely understandable; there are deadlines to be met and there’s no time to waste. You’ve had a conversation, and everyone seemed to understand. But did they?

Creating a brief at the beginning can save you lots of time later. It helps you think through all the various elements you need to consider (because a brief can be as much for you as it is for the person/people you’re briefing) and ensure that everyone is completely clear on who’s doing what when and what the final outputs and outcomes need to be.

Another benefit is that it serves as a good sense checker to refer to if the project scope starts to slip.

Build a collaborative client-agency relationship

Having worked both agency and in-house I would fully recommend that internal comms pros experience both worlds to see what it’s like on the other side.

From an in-house perspective, agencies can fall short of expectation because they’re seen as a resource rather than a partner. You get the best out of creative minds by involving them early on, seeking their input and collaborating rather than simply telling them what you need.

If you’re in-house and working with an agency, it’s also important to understand what the impact is when timelines slip. It can be tempting to think that you’re their only client, but the reality is that they’ll have multiple clients that they’re juggling, and they won’t always be able to accommodate last minute requests.

And agencies can get frustrated with in-house clients as it seems the goalposts are constantly moving. But rarely is that the fault of the client, they’ll be managing multiple stakeholders and working against a backdrop of constant change. Understanding that wider context early on enables agencies to support their clients more effectively by managing expectations on both sides.

Keep talking

Making time to regularly check in and review progress is a great way to ensure there are no surprises at the end. It sounds obvious but when you’re managing multiple projects it’s not uncommon to have the briefing session and then not come back together again until you’re unveiling the final output.

It’s a risky approach and can be easily avoided by keeping lines of communication open, creating a relationship and environment where people feel able to ask questions and double check their understanding without fear of being judged.

Ways of working

Recognise when there are multiple personality types involved in a project or campaign and understand how you get the best out of each other. Firing off an email with a list of amends might work for some people, but others need an opportunity to ask questions and clarify. Some prefer a written brief to a spoken brief.

Don’t assume your default way of working suits everyone else – spend time up front establishing ways of working for the project or campaign that everyone signs up to.

Be respectful

Watch out for setting unreasonable timescales or working practices. While you might be happy to work until 8pm in the evening, putting that expectation on others can lead to bad feeling.

There will always be situations where deadlines are beyond our control and can often move without warning. But rather than expecting other parties to drop everything to meet it, recognise that it maybe isn’t realistic and instead work together to discuss what the options are in the time that you have.

Having honest conversations is important. Remember, that when you’re asking people to work to tighter timescales than originally agreed, they might not only produce a poorer quality output, but it can also impact the work they’re doing for others. They might also inadvertently breach the industry body code of conduct that they belong to (for example, CIPR expects members to always deliver to the highest standards of quality).

Failure isn’t the end of the world

Sometimes projects or campaigns don’t work out and no one particular party is to blame. It doesn’t mean you have to write off that agency, client or colleague for ever more.

Part of being bold and trying new things means being prepared to fail and learn and doing it alongside people you can trust not to throw you under the bus at the first sign of a problem or wash their hands and walk away from it leaving you to deal with the fallout alone.

Sometimes the best work has come off the back of failure so get your heads together again and dream up the next campaign, applying everything you learnt from the last one.

We’re all human

We’re all human – we make mistakes and have off days whatever side of the fence we’re on. Bringing empathy and understanding into working relationships creates more positive environments where people can be at their best, rather than waste time worrying over a mistake. Acknowledge it happened, fix it and move on.

If we’re to create great working relationships that result in outcomes that meet our great expectations, we need to put the work in up front. Be clear what expectations are on both sides and put yourselves in each other’s shoes. And don’t forget to enjoy it and celebrate the successes that excellent collaboration can bring.

By Helen Deverell for Alive!

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

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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