How to Apply a PR Mindset to Your Employee Communications
By Tracy Hill
Tapping into a public relations mindset is a quick and easy way to up-level your HR communications—written, all hands presentations, video messages—and drive employee engagement. HR professionals are often on the hook for crafting internal employee communications. In this article, I'll share a page straight from the PR playbook. Because the framework for drafting a compelling press release also applies to writing for your employee audience.
Whether you’ve got weeks to prepare a message or minutes due to a “breaking news” situation, using this framework will save you time and sanity. You’ll be able to quickly identify key information to include, so you don't get swamped by questions or the need to issue a follow-up, clarifying communication. Taking a moment to organize your thoughts pays off.
Decide on the Tone
First, what kind of message is this? Is this a serious message, like an organizational change? Or are you announcing something fun, like a company picnic? The type of information you’re sharing should match your language and tone.
The intro emphasizes the important details. Distill these into 1-2 sentences or a few bullet points. PR folks are trained that they only have 3 seconds, if that, to grab an audience’s attention. We’re all highly distractible creatures—so make the information easy to consume and compelling.
- Subject line/headline
- Key message
- Action required/deadline
TIP: PR folks typically save writing the intro for last. That's because, in crafting the body of your message, the key points often become obvious.
Answer the 5 Ws and 1 H
Address the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of your topic. Share key information at the front end of your communication, and be as brief as possible. After this section, you can expand on all the drill down details, resources, or FAQs.
The questions don't have to be tackled in order, as long as you go through and consider each one:
- Who: Who is this message for? Who’s involved? Which individuals? Are you relaying a message on behalf of someone else?
- What: What happened/will happen? What do employees need to know or do?
- Where: Where will it happen? Also, where are employees located? Are there multiple offices or remote workers to consider?
- When: When did it/will it happen? Are there multiple time zones to consider?
- Why: Why does it matter to an employee?
- How: How will it affect the employee? And/or how does the employee take action?
TIP: Bullet points are your friend (if it makes sense to use them). It helps your reader to quickly scan and absorb information.
I've included an example open enrollment announcement. Not fun. But important.
ACTION NEEDED: Open Enrollment: [Insert Dates]
It’s open enrollment time again, which means it’s your once-a-year opportunity to make updates to your health plan and benefits. We’re excited to share all the positive updates [Company] has made, so be sure to attend our open enrollment meeting: [Day], [Date] from 1 - 2 pm PT | 4 - 5 pm ET.
Key dates and information you need to know are outlined below.
In the coming days, you will receive plan details and a benefits guide that highlights all the changes.
- Open enrollment window: [Date] to [Date]
- Enrollment will take place via [How]
- [Login to platform link] during the enrollment window.
- If you haven’t created an account, you will receive an email invitation to your work email address.
- You must actively elect/waive coverage before the window ends.
- If you don’t elect benefits, your health plan and benefits will expire on [Date].
- After the window ends, you can only make changes to your benefits if you experience a qualifying life event (like birth or marriage).
- Learn more and bring your questions to our open enrollment meeting:
- Wednesday, [Date], [Time], [Location/Meeting Room]
- Remote employees can [Dial In Here]
- [Will a recording be available after?]
In this example, once you’ve covered the key information, you can expand and add more details. Those who want to take a deep dive can read on. Maybe you’re changing carriers, but you want employees to know there’s a 99% overlap of provider coverage, so it’s highly likely their preferred doctors are still in-network. Maybe you're rolling out new benefits you want to talk about. Or, you have FAQs or resources to share.
Take a Final Deep Breath
Before hitting send, getting on that video call, or stepping in front of that all hands... pause to proofread. Not just for typos. For clarity. If you have time to test your message on a colleage or two, even better. An extra set of eyes or ears may catch something that didn't occur to you.
PARTING TIP: While the goal of a well thought out communication is to get in front of most questions before they're asked, you’ll still want to include “who to contact” information at the end.