The annual Bledcom PR conference focused on internal communication for the first time this year.
More than 70 papers were submitted and delegates from around 20 different countries were present. As a venue for an academic conference, it’s hard to beat, in Vila Bled, on the shore of Lake Bled in Slovenia.
A wide variety of internal communication perspectives were presented. These ranged from change and crisis communication, to employer branding, engagement, identity in virtual organisations, networks, language, ethics, culture and education. The scope of topics and academic interest is clear evidence that internal communication is firmly on the agenda within academic public relations circles.
Three themes emerged at the conference:
- There is a lack of established internal communication theory
-There is a growing demand for internal communication education
- Internal communication is an inter-disciplinary activity; it cannot prosper from an isolationist position.
For some delegates, the first two themes are problematic; how can we teach internal communication if there is no theory? This does pose challenges. However, the approach taken on CIPR Internal Communication qualifications is to provide relevant insights from the fields of management, psychology, communication, engagement and public relations. This enables practitioners to think more deeply about practice and manage their approaches more strategically.
The longer term solution is for academics to develop theory rather than bemoan the lack of it. Bledcom 2011 is a start. It would have been great to see more papers that tackle this issue more directly. Roxana Maiorescu from Purdue University captured attention with a breathless and walkabout presentation style on her paper on applying Goffman’s concept of framing to internal communication. This was a rare example of an attempt to use established theory from another field to move internal communication theory on.
Nigel de Bussy from Curtin University, Australia, provided some ground-breaking research that shows a clear association with internal communication, based on dialogue, and corporate financial performance. This is a paper that will provide practitioners with some great evidence to show the C-suite how internal communication generates real financial returns.
Laoise O’Murchu from the Dublin Institute of Technology, provided the results from her current PhD research and a model of internal communication assessment that again will have a real practical use for practitioners.
Former CIPR Internal Communication Diploma student, Laura Smith, like Roxana, made a brave attempt to do something new, this time in relation to the ethics of internal communication. This is a topic that rarely gets a mention and as internal communication continues to grow in importance, the ethics of what we do is bound, finally, to generate wider interest.
There were many other interesting presentations, too many to mention here. All the slide packs will be made available later this month.
My own presentation included a review of the way that internal communication is measured.
Bledcom 2011 is a watershed in the professionalization of internal communication. It is now up to academics and practitioners to pick up on what was presented and to move it forward.