I am often intrigued to by what Internal Communicators can learn from their peers in the external communications world – the obvious areas being PR, journalism and marketing. However, I have also been giving some thought to what we can also learn from comms people in the world of radio.
Now, a bit of a tenuous link perhaps but bear with me… I personally am a huge fan of Greg James’ Breakfast Show on Radio 1. I listen to it every morning on the days I’m driving into the office, and guaranteed I’m smiling and laughing before I’ve even stepped foot in the office at 8:30am.
So it got me thinking, what is it that makes not just the Breakfast Show so successful, but also Greg James as a presenter? What is it that keeps me coming back as a loyal listener and feeling so engaged with the show? Ultimately the practices and principles of what makes the show so successful can also be applied in the Internal Communications world.
Greg James is known for his unwavering authenticity, which helps his listeners to connect with him. He appears genuine, enthusiastic for what he does and his listeners, and his personality shines throughout the duration of the show.
For Internal Communicators, this underscores a vital principle: the importance of authenticity in communication. While not every leader can possess a sense of charisma or be a natural speaker, we all have a personality in some shape or form, and it is important that communications reflect that. Employees do not want a message that feels cold, far-removed, or like it has been spun up from the corporate machine – we crave connection, and messages can really resonate when delivered with a personal touch.
Employees are more likely to embrace and act upon communications that feel sincere and personal. As human beings, we naturally gravitate towards authenticity. We seek genuine experiences and meaningful connections, whether in our personal lives or within our organisations. For those in IC, this means crafting messages and strategies that drive and support those experiences, which in turn can forge meaningful connections that resonate with employees on a personal level, fostering a deep sense of loyalty and engagement.
2. Connection and community spirit
Greg James often hosts fun and engaging events and games on his show such as “Pass the Pasty”, “Everyone’s Rubbish” and the iconic “Hide & Seek” challenges. When talking about the success of the Breakfast Show, Greg James has been quoted: “you remember the exact reason you got into radio, which is that it connects you directly with an audience. You’ve got a community.” These activities are a perfect distillation of that, they not only entertain, but they also bring people together, driving participation and a shared experience.
Internal Communication is not just about publishing a news post on the intranet and waiting for people to read it, IC is a complex area focused on driving engagement, supporting connections and fostering a sense of belonging at an organisation. As part of that, Internal Communicators must consider events or initiatives that encourage employees to connect, interact and collaborate with one another, leading to a more engaged and motivated workforce.
“I’ve always felt that radio talks to people, where I’ve always felt that TV talks at you”. Greg James understands the difference between simply communicating a message and involving listeners in the experience. This involvement creates a sense of shared responsibility among listeners – the show isn’t a one-way broadcast; it’s a dynamic conversation from start to finish, where listeners are active participants, not passive recipients of information. This level of involvement further creates a deeper connection and investment in the show.
One of the challenges Internal Communicators often face is leaders thinking internal communication is only about broadcasting messages, and they miss the trick of IC’s ability to foster a sense of ownership and participation across the business. Involving employees in shaping a strategic narrative, getting their feedback or input can transform communications from traditional top-down directives, into a collaborative conversation. When employees feel their voices are heard and their contributions matter, they can become huge advocates for the business, feeling more engaged and invested in their organisation and its strategic direction.
4. Consistency & regular features
For radio listeners, maintaining a routine is very important, building a sense of trust where they know what to expect, but also forming a structured schedule that can seamlessly integrate into their daily lives and routines. The Breakfast Show for example, always follows the format of the news every half an hour, with many of Greg James’ skits and regular features slotted around it, such as Yesterday’s Quiz, the 10 Minute Takeover or Unpopular Opinion. These segments may happen on different days, but tend to happen during the same timeslot, so listeners (for example those commuting) can reliably anticipate when to tune-in to catch their favourite segments.
Internal Comms professionals should establish a consistent communication schedule and style to build trust and reliability among employees. Regular updates keep employees informed and engaged, and makes staying informed an easy part of their work routine. For example, if they know the first Friday of the month is when the CEO releases a video update, that is something they know to look out for and can easily fit into their day.
Greg James and his team build inclusion into the Breakfast Show by embracing diversity from the music that’s played and the special guests invited on-air, right across to the content of the show, including addressing relevant issues and allowing listeners a voice to share what’s going on with them and the positive impact the show has on their lives. Greg James has often been referred to as the “everyman” with his relatability, regularly talking about his own challenges, dilemmas and experiences, such as his mental health and anxiety, and other struggles that many people can identify with in their own lives. These efforts contribute to a show that is welcoming, friendly and appealing to a wide range of people, regardless of their background or identity.
These are practices that must be instilled as the foundation of internal communications. Employers are to be a place where employees feel they belong, can connect with one another, and feel they can bring their best selves to work every day. Internal Communications teams must work with leaders to build an open and transparent culture, where employees feel comfortable talking about important issues, and equally, leaders are talking about them too. Language must be inclusive, avoiding stereotypes, or any type of language or humour that could exclude or alienate individuals.
Ultimately, building a culture of inclusion builds respect between employees and leaders, and makes employees feel heard and understood.
6. People stories
The Breakfast Show with Greg James has been celebrated for its ability to connect with the audience. Greg James and his team regularly weave relatable stories into the show, sharing personal anecdotes and experiences that resonate with listeners. Ultimately, people engage with other people, and Greg James said in an interview once that he had an epiphany one day that “there was no way that he (or any celebrity with a book to plug) could be more interesting, funny or relevant than the audience”. Bringing people into the show engages listeners – they are relatable people with stories which could easily be any one of them, and involving listeners makes the audience feel more loyal, committed and engaged in the show. These are fundamental principles which can be applied to internal communication.
The effectiveness of incorporating people stories into internal communications lie in its ability to humanise the message. Just as the Breakfast Show creates a sense of authenticity and relatability by sharing personal stories, internal communicators can harness this approach to make messages more honest, authentic and relatable to employees, connecting with them on an entirely different level.
Sharing stories of colleague’s achievements, challenges and experiences within the organisation not only provides a sense of connection, but also fosters a stronger sense of belonging and unity among employees. Involving employees in the storytelling process empowers individuals to share their own narratives, further strengthening the internal community, culture and overall employee engagement.
7. Multichannel approach
Technology and the way we communicate continues to change and evolve, and I think Radio has adapted well to involving the audience via the channels they use most. For example, listeners can text, phone, Whatsapp message or voicenote to get involved with the show. Whatever works for them, and wherever they are, there is a channel that suits them. Even after the show has aired, the best segments and clips are often posted to the shows Instagram account, reaching a wider audience.
Embracing a multi-channel strategy is vital in the digital age. Particularly with the rise of remote and hybrid working. Employees have varying preferences for how they consume information, and internal communicators should recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach to communications doesn’t work.
By adopting a multi-channel strategy, organisations can meet employees where they are, catering to their communication preferences, whether through video, the intranet, Viva Engage (or a similar social media enterprise channel), team meetings or town halls. Having a diverse range of channels ensures that the message reaches a wider and more engaged audience, and promotes a sense of inclusivity and a personal approach, allowing employees to choose how they want to engage.
These are my top take-aways I think Internal Communicators can apply to their day-to-day roles. As always, if you have any questions, anything you agree / disagree with, or if there’s something you’d like to add, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.