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Holmes Report

Employee communications specialist


CHA bills itself as the workplace communications consultancy, and it clearly practices what it preaches. It made our top 10 list despite being one of the smallest firms in our survey because it scored off the charts on a variety of critical criteria: CHA ranked number one when employees were asked whether they found their job rewarding overall, whether they were committed to building their career with their current employer, and whether they felt they could balance the demands of work and life effectively. The company’s vision is to “bring out the best in people,” so training and development are at the heart of founder Colette Hill’s business philosophy. Each employee, even those on our three month work experience placements (which have won two National Council for Work Experience awards), is assigned a personal mentor, drawn from the firm’s pool of experienced senior managers and directors, responsible for championing an employee’s personal and professional development, and an outside personal coach is also available.

            For clients, meanwhile, CHA provides a distinctive specialist capability. Internal communications presents a major opportunity for public relations consultancies. In a knowledge economy, employees really are a company’s most valuable asset, and research has continually shown that open communication between management and workers increases satisfaction, productivity and loyalty. But PR firms have found themselves competing with management consultancies and specialist human resources consultancies for a piece of the internal communications pie, and relatively few have carved out a profitable niche for themselves in this vital area.

            Over the past decade, however, CHA firm has established itself as a market and thought leader in the employee communications space after Hill was approached in 1997 by Tesco—one of the first U.K. companies to see recruitment and retention as a source of sustainable competitive advantage—and hired to help make the supermarket chain an employer of choice. Other similar assignments followed, and CHA expanded into several related fields: it works with HR consultancies; it helps major employers brand themselves; and it creates and implements internal communications programmes, helping companies articulate their vision and manage internal change. And Hill has done everything she can to reinforce the firm’s unique position in the market, creating an impressive thought leadership platform that includes the CHA Insight Panel, bringing together leading thinkers in the field to discuss and debate the issues of the day, and numerous research studies, including Business Behaving Badly, introduced in March and examining the impact of corporate courtesy on business success.

            Hill leads a management team that includes managing director Rebecca Jones, account directors Tania Menegatti (who leads the employee communications practice and oversees the firm’s own employee communications) and Sarah Williams (who leads media relations); and marketing manager Kate O’Nions. An important addition in 2006 was Rebecca Williams, who joined from Salt and leads employer branding for IT company RM and media relations for HR consultancy Chiumento, while leading a new research practice that conducts the firm’s thought leadership surveys and manages employee focus groups for clients, among other activities.

            The firm’s employee communications practice expanded at a healthy pace in 2005, with projects including in-depth planning and communication audits for software company CSC and Thames Water, messaging workshops for National Grid and communication consultancy for Novell and Iron Mountain. Fee income was up by more than 15 percent and the firm is on track to hit £1 million this financial year. Major wins over the past 12 months included DSGi, E.ON, Oracle and Research Machines, joining a client roster that includes AstraZeneca, Shell, Tesco, HR consultancy DDI, business psychologists OPP, and The Employers Forum on Age.

            “CHA ensures consistent messages around our culture, values and benefits are shouted about in the media,” says Andrew Armes, head of resourcing and talent at AZ, who credits the firm’s efforts with reducing his company’s cost per hire by about 25 percent. And Catherine Cook, internal communications manager at Thames Water adds: “The work that CHA has done has been very helpful to us. Their report has given us something tangible and objective to use as a starting point for our new strategy. And the process—from the interviews through to presenting the report—has helped engage people at the most senior level.”

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