“Site communications contacts.” “Grassroots network.” “Communications champions.” Whatever terminology you use, having individuals across sites or functions who are “on point” for communications can be invaluable to any large-scale employee communications effort.
If you’re managing a centralized communications function or a major change initiative, enlisting the right employees as evangelists who can help spread your message can be a serious advantage. The key is to be strategic about how you both establish that network and sustain it over the longer term.
Every effort to engage with communications champions starts with the best intentions. “We’re going to get a bunch of people across our sites all excited about communications, hold a big kickoff call or two, and then forget they ever existed,” said no communications professional, ever. Same goes for, “We’ll just tap into our communications network when we have a major announcement that we need help distributing or need something printed locally”—also not a recipe for communications champion success. And yet, sometimes these scenarios are exactly how things play out, despite the best intentions.
Cultivating ongoing relationships with communications champions that deliver real value for all parties—as well as the business—requires a fair amount of forethought, time and consistent attention. Start by choosing the “right” employees, making sure you have representation across all relevant functions and/or sites. The right people aren’t necessarily formal leaders—look for the informal leaders and influencers too, those who have their “ear to the ground” and are in the know about what’s happening locally. Your communications champions aren’t necessarily even communications pros—just communications-minded folks who have the best interests of the organization at heart.
Once you’ve identified your participants, set clear expectations: What exactly are you asking your champions to help you achieve? What can they hope to gain from the experience? Be sure to set a cadence for ongoing conversations and stick to it. Consider meeting face-to-face at least occasionally to establish a personal rapport and to emphasize just how important the champions are to the success of your communications plan—and, ultimately, your organization.
Keep your champions informed and equipped with information and tools—talking points, slide decks, previews of breaking news—and help them feel prepared and empowered to help spread the word on your behalf and actually “champion” your message. Stay in touch. Don’t wait for big news or a communication “event” to reach out to your contacts. Communication is a process, and you need to foster these critical relationships on an ongoing basis.
Finally, be sure that your ongoing conversation with your champions is a two-way street. Listen as much as you talk, and you’ll gain valuable feedback and an organizational pulse-check that can be hard to come by when you’re sitting in a corporate office. By staying in tune with your audience, you can not only make your communications more effective but also serve as an important source of the “voice of the employee” for other functions and decision-makers at corporate.
Communications champions can function as a true extension of your communications team—but just like any relationship, maintaining a communications network takes work. But nothing good comes easy, and having a dedicated group of “feet on the street” just may be the key to taking your communications program to the next level.
Author: Kate Tomasco