Rosie Valentine’s story of putting IC into Paddy Power

The Head of Internal Communications tells Marc Wright her story of how she helped the irreverent Irish bookmaker communicate better internally in just 14 months.

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Paddy Power is know for its distinctive branding, stunts and mischief. We’re an entertainment giant that has a presence in Ireland, the UK, Italy, Bulgaria, the Isle of Man and Australia with over 5,000 employees and 550 shops across UK and Ireland.

Less than 14 months ago there was no Internal Comms function in Paddy Power. There was a big demand for one and the Leadership team knew it was important. The company had gone from one room in an office in Dublin to global in a short space of time and it was clear there was a need to improve internal communication and messaging to our people.

At the time, I was working in the Marketing Communications team as a Senior Marketing Manager, focused on ‘below the line’ communication to our customers, when I was approached about applying for the Head of Internal Comms role. This area was pretty new to me and the role reported to the HR Director. My previous roles always sat within Brand, Marketing and CRM teams.

But I was excited about the challenge and I set off on my mission. My first priority was to hire a small team and do some research and get a sense of the size of the challenge by looking at:

  1. The current situation in each location
  2. People’s thoughts on what they would like to see and what good looked like
  3. Get ideas from people who worked in companies with strong internal communication

I created an internal comms survey for all employees and within my first 6 weeks I travelled to all our locations and held stakeholder interviews in Dublin, London, Italy and Melbourne. I reviewed the exit interview data to see why people left the business. I also reviewed existing technology and found some interesting things – such as that Yammer actually already existed in the business but no one knew about it. Our intranet was not set up properly so it had very low engagement and teams had started creating their own portals and blogs – which was adding to people working in silos.

What else did I find out…

Outlook emails and posters were used for eall internal comms. They tended to be inconsistent, with too many mixed messages. Silos were the norm and there was a lack of knowledge sharing among employees. Staff who were not in the Dublin Head Office felt rather left out and there was a lack of communications between offices. I had a lot to do!

I created an Internal Comms strategy which was about fixing the basics in 2015 and then moving towards the future of running them brilliantly in 2016. I set out to build some key things to focus on in 2015:

  1. Relevant, Consistent & frequent comms
  2. Embed key strategic messages
  3. Financial Results
  4. All staff Townhalls & Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs)
  5. Increase Leadership visibility / Communications

Leading through communication

Our new CEO, Andy McCue who was appointed in January, came with a very clear strategy and it was the direction people had been looking for. However, the biggest challenge was to bring everyone else on the journey. So increasing his visibility and cascading his new vision was essential for him to get commitment. So we held our first ever all staff Townhall meeting in Dublin. This was a great way for us to introduce our new CEO to the business and for Andy to introduce his vision to the business.

I also encouraged our various business functions to hold a Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), which were smaller functional townhalls so they could do this on a more regular basis. I created a toolkit so when the businesses hold their QBRS, they have guidance on the right format and the right focus to ensure the strategy is at the front of everyone’s mind and that employees are clear on the key focus for 2015. It is also a nice opportunity to call out recognition for key achievements.

We also run QBR feedback surveys after each session and share the results with LT and their direct reports using this info to improve on future sessions.

I also created a Quarterly business reviews, which were smaller functional townhalls so they could do this on a more regular basis.

We also run QBR feedback surveys after each session and share the results with the leadership team and their direct reports using this info to improve on future sessions.

Another key factor to consider in the strategy comms plan was how we cascade our Financial Results. My approach was to reshape how the financial results were cascaded and how the results linked to the strategy. This was a big difference and people took notice.

Now the CEO email goes out 7am with a summary of the results, update on our performance and strategy, bonus update and the focus for the next quarter. It was also the first time the results went global with emails cascaded to our colleagues in Australia at Sportsbet. We also share the results media coverage so our employees read about it with us first.

Linking external to internal

Aligning the external and internal communications especially in this social world is really important. We want our employees to hear it from us first.

Before we had an Internal Comms function the two channels were outlook emails and posters… for every time of message.

Everyone thought if they had an email and a poster they were sorted for every type of message e.g. Compliance have a new policy, procurement have a new team structure… a bike has been stolen… we actually got a request one time to send an all staff email for someone who needed a lift home!

Then we had our ah ha moment… We had to get more in control.. We needed to give people what they needed not what they wanted. They felt if they got a flat email and a poster out then ticked the job was done. We created a monthly comms plan to ensure we were promoting the right messages, at the right time through the right channels.

The most popular channel was email and I was keen to use my marketing experience from working on email campaigns to customers. After all the employees are like customers – I was trying to grab their attention in a very clutter world. We created a briefing process for all internal requests. This briefing template was similar to how marketers would work on advertising campaigns.

The So What? Principle

It was essential to ask the right questions because they often didn’t know what they were saying, they just wanted to get something out. This is when we introduced the ‘so what’ principle! We would listen to them and then ask:

  • So what?
  • Who cares?
  • Why should they listen?

Now if someone has an internal comms message or story to tell they need to think about what they really want to say. When they give us a brief we come back with a comms plan with how to position the campaign and what channels to use.

Smart newsletters

This gave us the backing to remove pointless low impact messages However, we were still only using basic outlook emails and we were having a nightmare manually sorting lists to ensure people in different locations only received messages related to them. So I started to explore email platforms to position the content in a more engaging way because I knew we could do better and there was so much more we could get from email as a channel.

We brought in Newsweaver and it was game changer. We created a Weekly PaddyFlash newsletter that allows us to tell all our great stories in one weekly update.

We wanted it to celebrate great achievements and promote our strategy; break down the silos between departments and geographical locations; announce new products  and share our exciting mischief and brand campaigns.

The newsletter also helps bring our brand to life internally; we want people to see this first within Paddy Power rather than hear it from a friend outside. We share our social media videos in the newsletter when they are live on Fridays and help drive views and engagement for our social team. We want people to see this first within Paddy Power rather than hear it from a friend outside.

We can also tailor our messages to different departments and locations so the other countries are getting relevant messaging to them and not details about our Halloween party that they were not invited to!

We send Weekly PaddyFlash out every Friday around 12pm so people can browse it over their lunch. We really try to create the talkability factor with the newsletter and for people to feel it they don’t read it they are missing out on crucial updates.

The platform has been in place 2 month now and the response has been overwhelming… we even got some many personal emails across the business saying “Well done, this is brilliant, this is exactly what we needed..”

The part we love the most is the measurement piece. We can see what stories people are interested in and what they like with the social like and comment features. We review the reports every week in our weekly newsletter meeting and this feeds into how we approach future campaigns. People love to hear about people and these campaigns have performed the best so far.

New channels

Video is a new channel we are working with. It is working very well for our CEO comms where he gives a quarterly update on our performance. He also does some short videos for events in different locations. Embedding these videos in our emails are working really well and getting a lot of clicks.

We created an app for our bi-annual senior leadership meeting in September with CrowdComms and it was the highlight of the event. Employees travelled from London, Bulgaria, Italy and Australia. The attendee list with photos and profiles was great for networking and finding out more about people’s roles and how people could work together on some key projects.

We also launched an app for our recent Talent and Development Day which took place last week. It was set up like a festival with lots of different sessions running at the same time. People used the app to navigate and book themselves around the sessions they wanted to attend.

Key lessons

In the last 14 months we achieved a lot with a team of two people and these are only some examples. We became a highly recognised team in a short space of time and we have a valuable seat at the leadership table.

Key thing to remember is don’t try to fix everything at once. 2015 was all about fixing the basics first so we focused on email as that was the most popular channel and the one our employees were most familiar with. Now we have a better understanding of what people want, we are better positioned to introduce so new channels and change behaviours. For the next 12 months we will focus on running our current comms brilliantly, revisit social media tools such as yammer and revamp the intranet.

My experience in marketing has definitely equipped me to better understand our employees, their motives and how to grab their attention so they take action. My secret ingredient is planning; I apply the same principles to my monthly planning as my marketing plans to ensure the right message land at the right time to the right people to get cut through and reach our target audience.