Among the wealth of material written about strategic communications planning, virtually nothing is said about how communications advisors operate on their ‘home turf’, in relation to their internal clients such as senior management and colleagues in program or policy shops. It’s a peculiar omission, because the way in which you approach internal client relationships—the ‘how’ as opposed to the ‘what’ of strategic communications counsel—can make or break your success on the job.
What makes internal client relationship management so important? The answer, though we communicators often cringe to hear it, is that our work is a support function aimed at advancing a larger organizational mandate. Executed well, it’s all about alignment, integration and co-creation with the internal partners we serve. But in reality, it’s all too common to find tensions or breakdowns in internal relationships between communications advisors and their program or policy clients.
Things tend to go awry in three main areas: (1) communication (irony alert!): keeping internal clients updated on the work you’re doing on their file; (2) lack of preparation: showing up to a meeting without enough background on the topic or context to be able to contribute insight or value; and (3) misalignment between the concerns and priorities of internal clients and those of the communications advisor.
The good news is that making a few adjustments in your approach to internal client relationship management can produce more positive relationships.
- Consider the internal client’s reality, and make it your business to learn about it: her main pressures, her timeline priorities, and what she’s evaluated on.
- Always arrive to meetings prepared. Though you are not expected to be an expert in the client’s subject matter, you do represent the communications function and the importance of strategic public environment analysis.
- Approach the internal client as a value-added partner. At each exchange, consider whether you can add value by offering new ideas, forwarding interesting articles, or bringing insights about best practices from elsewhere.
- Think about conducting an internal client satisfaction survey, which can deliver eye-opening insights on how you can meet their needs better.
These approaches will produce more productive relationships with your colleagues—and they’ll likely boost your own sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with this inward-focused dimension of your work.