Internal Communications: Informing Your Organization’s Cheerleaders and Ambassadors

September 1, 2014

by Cheryl L. Serra

Cheryl L. SerraSure, you want the world to know about the snazzy new piece of equipment your hospital has purchased. And of course you want to sound the bugle about the big-name doc who’s joined your staff. There are ads to buy and PSAs to write, for sure.

But what about what some say is one of your organization’s largest assets—your staff ? What sort of internal communications best arm them to serve as your walking advertisements? How can you use internal communications to share your company’s goals and to update employees about key initiatives?

Brigham and Women’s: Using a variety of internal communications vehicles

Michelle Cerulli, Senior Writer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston, says there are numerous ways to reach out to staff. BWH is a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School with nearly 17,000 employees, some 12,000 of whom are physicians. It has a lot of stories and information to share. The hospital educates, informs, persuades, and engages staff by strategically tapping into those stories and distributing them in a variety of ways.

Cerulli says BWH’s internal communication efforts are segmented by the communication or message the organization wants to share. Several publications are for hospital-wide audiences.

For example, for information “for and about the people of Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” there’s the BWH Bulletin. This weekly employee news publication is distributed in hard copy throughout the hospital and is available online. Its audience is diverse and includes nurses, physicians, researchers, administrative staff, food service staff, and patients. Recent articles include information on funded and completed research, a video feature about a long-time X-ray technician on staff, and news of hospital training and events.

Most of the communication vehicles, Cerulli says, are geared to more general audiences (including PikeNotes, the company intranet), although some have more specific targeted audiences. For instance, BWH Clinical & Research News is a science- and medicine-focused monthly online publication aimed at reaching clinicians and researchers. The hospital also has a publication geared toward nurses and patient care services staff.

Another successful BWH internal communication campaign was launched in conjunction with the president’s office a couple of years ago. The idea was to acknowledge employees who went out of their way and beyond the parameters of their job description to make the patient’s hospital experience special, which might mean taking a few extra minutes to comfort a patient, Cerulli says.

The campaign’s name, The Brigham Way, reflects that hospital staff members take these “extras” seriously. Their Brigham Way deeds and stories are highlighted across various BWH communication vehicles, including in spots shown on digital television screens located throughout the campus that advertise upcoming hospital events and other campus “news you can use.”

In addition, about once a quarter, new Brigham Way honorees are treated to a luncheon with the hospital president as a way to credit their contributions to the hospital.

The BWH communications team of 12 consists of a vice president, a director, a manager each for internal and external communications, and staff. The group meets internally to discuss how it will communicate strategic hospital commitments identified by hospital senior vice presidents and leadership.

For instance, patient affordability is a key commitment across Partners HealthCare (PHC), a not-for-profit health care system founded by BWH and Massachusetts General Hospital. PHC decided to reach out to employees and ask them to pitch ideas for cost savings. The best ideas were investigated and implemented.

Doctors Community Hospital: Internal stakeholders as ambassadors

Angela T. Wilson, Director of Marketing and Communications at Doctors Community Hospital in Maryland, says various groups within the organization use internal communications.

For instance, executives use them to provide updates regarding strategic objectives, business developments, and achievements. They also use internal communications to engage employees to share their experiences so that others can build upon their success and analyze lessons learned.

Human resources staff use a variety of communications strategies to attract and retain employees who share the hospital’s mission, vision, and values. Department directors use them to reinforce department-specific strategies and objectives and to increase awareness of new policies and procedures. And foundation members reach out to increase awareness and participation in various philanthropic initiatives.

Like Cerulli, Wilson uses numerous communications vehicles within the organization, including newsletters, an intranet, social media, fliers, meetings, and events. “Internal stakeholders are great ambassadors for an organization,” she says.

A common theme: Importance of truly listening and providing quality information

“I think that sometimes as communications professionals we might think that we know what information people need, but it’s often helpful to just ask them,” Cerulli of BWH notes. “So we do a lot of surveys just to make sure we’re on point. We have this great resource, our employee intranet, but if employees can’t navigate it to find what they need, then it won’t be helpful to them. So a lot of times we’ll do small surveys asking people what they need, and then we craft a plan from there.”

“It is a collaborative effort that is guided by a shared understanding of the importance of internal communications,” Wilson says of these efforts at Doctors Community Hospital. She says that internal stakeholders rely on organizational communicators to provide them with timely, honest, and consistent information. This, in turn, builds trust, focus, clarity, morale, and respect.

“As some research suggests, such characteristics can often equate to elevated satisfaction and experiences among patients and visitors, as well as contribute to increased employee job satisfaction and retention,” Wilson says.

Cerulli says the bulk of the work that she and BWH Associate Writer Kim Hooper conduct is writing and editing for the various communications vehicles. Particularly in a health care setting, where people are often dealing with difficult medical issues and decisions, it’s important to share the good news and make people feel more at home.

Cerulli says internal goodwill need not come with a hefty price tag. The costs associated with The Brigham Way campaign are merely the time to identify, photograph, and write about employees and the money to pay for their lunch. However, the acknowledgment and sense of community these efforts provide employees—as another famous campaign notes—is priceless.

Cheryl L. Serra is an award-winning freelance writer and marketing communications specialist. She may be reached at