On October 22 and 23, I was fortunate to attend the IABC Employee Communication conference at the lovely Le Méridien King Edward (known as the King Eddie by Toronto locals). I must admit that my notes were sketchy and I did not blog or tweet during sessions, but I do hope you can glean something from these highlights…

Opening keynote
Keeping the brand fresh: Leverage your internal brand to drive employee engagement
After opening his keynote address with a funny story about being branded an “alien” during a visit to the White House, Richard Ellis, SVP of Communications and Public Affairs at McDonald’s Canada Ltd., showed us how his team worked to engage employees and include them in a rebranding effort. “Start on the inside first,” Richard advised, and “think of your people as a strategic branding tool” so as to “turn your employees into brand ambassadors.” Using traditional and social media, the burger giant succeeded in getting both the public and staff on board with the revitalized brand.

Richard did a nice job of setting the tone for the conference, helping internal communicators to feel that their work is important and that they have reasons to be proud of their successes.

How to transform your intranet into a dynamic employee communication tool
I haven’t checked yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a fan page somewhere for William Amurgis, Manager of Intranet Strategy at American Electric Power. It seems that William is a popular speaker, and I can see why. His message is compelling, his examples clear and his style very warm and self-effacing. Gasps arose from the room as we saw his company’s intranet, including oodles of tools for enhancing employee productivity and reinforcing corporate messages. Among them were a Facebook-like app, a video channel, and a soon-to-be-launched internal Twitter client  – all developed in-house. William reminded us several times that the purpose of the intranet is to enhance employee productivity. Imagine!

Taking the “corporate” out of corporate communications
And then we have Exhibit C: Steve Crescenzo of Crescenzo Communications. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Steve in action, and he is  something to behold as a presenter. His example-filled talk is rapid-fire, irreverent and right on the mark. Many of us left the room determined to strip the jargon and bafflegab out of our corporate communications, and to stop doing the same old thing just because “it’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Steve also facilitated a lively session at the end of the first day, encouraging attendees to share what they’d learned, offer up their own examples, and gain a better understanding of the content they’d adsorbed that day.

Shifting from monologue to dialogue: Accelerating strategy and driving employee engagement with social media
I became a fan of Best Buy after seeing then-COO Brian Dunn speak at the IABC World Conference in San Francisco in June 2009. Now CEO, Dunn is committed to investing in employee engagement, because he see the business value of doing so.

In this presentation, Carolyn Ray, VP of Employee Engagement at NATIONAL PR, and Jennifer Rock, Director of Employee Communication for Best Buy, demonstrated – in more depth than Brian was able to do in San Francisco – how the team at Best Buy has been working to engage employees through both traditional and social media channels. One “traditional” channel is The Chair – literally a chair in the lobby of corporate HQ, where once a week, employees can chat with a representative of employee comms about a topic of the week. Of course they’re also using many online “dialogue” tools, including a wildly popular discussion board.

Morning keynote, second day
Tales from the world’s laziest communicator: Engaging employees through social responsibility communication
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Patterson, Director of Corporate Responsibility at RBC (Royal Bank Canada), when she spoke at an IABC Toronto meeting last spring. She is by no means a lazy communicator, but I like her attention-getting session title. In her talk, Lynn described the RBC Blue Water Project, which was used as a cornerstone cause to build the bank’s global brand and connect its 80,000 employees around the world. Lynn revealed the “cheap and cheerful” tools she used, including newsletters and polls.

(You can access the blog post of my interview with Lynn here if you’re an IABC member; otherwise you can download the MP3 file directly here.)

Engaging multiple generations
IABC President Julie Freeman was a pinch-hitter for another presenter who was ill. Julie did a really nice job talking about the various demographic groups we need to talk to as internal communicators, and how we often must use different media to reach out to everyone from “traditional” (the oldest generation at work) to “Gen Y” or the digital natives.

Closing keynote
I was honoured to be asked to deliver the closing session on “The present and future of Web 2.0 in employee communications.” Yikes. This is a huge topic, but I managed to craft a 45-minute message, outlining the social media tools some organization are using internally now (from wikis to blogs and podcasts and more), and what we need to be aware of for the future. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am seeing trends toward Facebook-like internal directories; the increasing use of blogs and microblogs (think Twitter); and the need for internal communicators to team up with their brethren in PR and Marketing to monitor the Web and respond to comments when necessary.

Employees of the future won’t want to wait for your newsletter, and they’re already telling your story inside and outside the organization – using multimedia. They’ll increasingly rely on unofficial channels, and form their own networks. And they want mobile access to information. (How do your Internet and intranet render on an iPhone?)

Finally, I exhorted attendees to commit to continuous learning and to take advantage of the exciting opportunity before them to help build a corporate culture based on powerful internal communities. Numerous studies show the link between employee engagement and business performance. And we know that Web 2.0 technology, properly applied, can help us improve engagement. So, there’s never been a better time to make a case for enhancing internal communications, right? (This was a luncheon speech, and no one threw any rolls, so perhaps I was on the mark.)

If you were at the conference, please add your own comments!


  1. Great summary, Donna. I’ve begun adding social media to my daily monitoring of traditional news media and can testify that employees are telling our story through blogs and other channels. I’ve reached out to these well-meaning and enterprising employees to make sure that their posts are properly reviewed and their information is accurate.

  2. Donna —

    Thanks for the nice summary, and for your kind words. I also enjoyed the Best Buy presentation… and, of course, your closing keynote.

  3. Donna, thanks for rounding up the conference. My own notes were sketchy at best and I was buzzing from so many new and exciting ideas it was nice to relive it again through your post! I thoroughly enjoyed your closing keynote, great job!

  4. Experts have talked about this before. How many times have you read about the importance of ‘adding value’ for your audience? How many times have you read about ‘building trust’ with your readers/prospects?
    Many, many times. You know it well. Every marketing guru has spoken about this topic. I’m sick of hearing it. But it STILL bears repeating. http://www.onlineuniversalwork.com


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