Employee communications specialist
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 HR firms for a piece of the internal communications pie, and relatively few have carved out a profitable niche for themselves in this vital area.
Collette Hill Associates is an exception. Over the past decade, the firm has established itself as a market leader and a thought leader in the employee communications space—after taking a relatively circuitous route to the top of the market. Founder Collette Hill started out in food PR at the former Paragon, made the transition to business-to-business PR and then found herself working for a handful of professional service firms—including HR consultants—after striking out on her own. As HR became a hot business topic in the 90s, her expertise in the area grew, until she 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 was established in several related: it continues to work 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.
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 a 2004 Workplace Pride report exploring employees attitudes toward their companies and more recently a study designed to establish the benefits of effective employee communications. The firm also has a virtual monopoly on employee communications awards in the PR industry.
The firm has a team of 10, split between two practices (consulting, led by Hill herself, and media relations, led by director Rebecca Jones), and fees of around £850,000. Clients include AstraZeneca (media relations to promote AZ as an employer of choice to sales and marketing professionals); Iron Mountain (employee communications); ONE Railway (employee communications); Shell (employer branding aimed at graduates); Tesco (employer branding); The Employers Forum on Age (promoting age diversity at work); HR consultancy Chiumento; employment law specialist Consult GEE; global HR consultancy DDH; and business psychologists OPP. Says Tesco HR director Clare Chapman, “Since we started working with CHA back in 1997, Tesco’s reputation as an employer has been significantly enhanced by the volumes of positive coverage the CHA team generates.”
Interesting assignments in 2004 include the firm’s ongoing work for Tesco, generating 150 pieces of HR-related coverage last year; and its work for Shell, which began in July of last year and has generated 17 national feature stories. The firm also launched Leading Edge, a report on leadership potential based on the ambitions of the U.K.’s senior corporate leaders, on behalf of HR consultancy DDI in association with MORI. Most of the firm’s work is U.K.-based but CHA recently picked up its first piece of pan-European communications consultancy work for a major IT company.