By Julie Ford on September 06, 2023



Listen to this episode to learn:  

  • Strategies for effective tech communication to non-tech audiences 
  • How to gain leadership support for internal communication initiatives 
  • How to create people-centric approaches for higher engagement 
  • Importance of consistency and branding in successful communication 
  • And much more!

Hosted by Julie Ford.


About the Speakers

Headshot (4)




Nicki Kastellorizios-Lee
IT Communications Manager,
Perkins Coie LLP

"I want to encourage all internal communications professionals to be bold, to look at your data and what you've learned in your campaigns, to try new things, and to put forward a really sound playbook and strategy. And then once you have that firmed up, be courageous about it, be ready to stand for it." 

Julie Ford
Head of Content at Sparrow Connected

Julie Ford talks to Nicki Kastellorizios-Lee, a non-traditional communications pro in a traditional industry, with DePaul Double Demon degrees in political science and in information systems. Together, they indulge in an insightful conversation about the people effect and keeping it human when it comes to internal communication.



Julie Ford 0:01 

Welcome to the IC Connected or ICON podcast. This podcast will challenge conventional thinking about internal communications. It will force you to think differently, consider bold ideas and step outside your comfort zone through real unscripted insights from some of the best internal comms pros and subject matter experts in the world. But most importantly, this podcast will help you elevate your career, and together will elevate the internal comms profession to the C suite. Welcome to the ICON Podcast.  


Today I'm speaking with Nicki Kastellorizios-Lee about the people effect. Nicki is a non-traditional communications pro in a traditional industry. She doesn't come with a formal communications background, being a DePaul Double Demon with degrees in political science and in information systems. She has been in the legal industry for nearly 20 years and has always had a passion for writing. Today, Nicki works for a large leading law firm known for providing strategic counsel solutions to many of the world's most innovative companies. The firm is consistently named in Fortune 100 best companies to work for and has about 3000 employees, with about 1200 of them being lawyers. Thanks for joining me today, Nicki. 


Nicki K. 1:08 

I'm happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Julie Ford 1:10 

Great. So before we dive into the conversation about the people effect, can you explain what exactly an IT communications manager is?  


Nicki K. 1:18 

Sure. So, the role itself sits within the technology department. And as their manager, I manage the portfolio for all technology messaging, which includes updates to our intranet, as well as of course, email campaigns. And they can really range in topics from strategic outlook messaging from our CIO to some change management processes, innovation topics, and of course, low level technology deployments, like new tools that are coming or updates to existing programs. 


Julie Ford 1:54 

Interesting. So how did you land in that role? 


Nicki K. 1:57 

The role itself was presented to me and it immediately struck a chord because I always had a passion for writing, and I love technology. I had been serving in positions like business systems, analysts, and love to listen to people and understand their business requirements for successful tool adoption and technology implementations. And so, I thought, what a unique opportunity to continue working on understanding how people and technology work together, because ultimately, technology needs to serve people in order to be successful in an organization, and being able to listen to people and make sure that those requirements are being met.  


And then I thought, and I can take all that and write on it. And so that, to me, was a unique intersect, that attracted me to the position. And the position was carved out very intentionally, because technology, and some might agree, can be a tough topic to write about. A lot of times technological background is needed, or at least very helpful to being able to translate terminology or concepts into something anyone can understand because there are varying degrees of technology savviness, in any audience in an organization. So, I think it was intentionally designed to bring in someone who was both passionate about technology, was able to sort of write on many levels about it and could make convincing and compelling creative messaging around things that might be perceived as dry. 


Julie Ford 3:38 

Yeah, that is definitely a good combination, the writing skills and passion plus the technology background, when you bring those two together, I think it's a really powerful combination that really helps you communicate effectively with the employees in your firm. You came into the role, obviously, with writing skills and a technological background, which is great, but was there anything that you had to learn on the job in order to be successful in your role? 


Nicki K. 4:08 

Yes, there were a number of things because I did come in from, as you said, in a non traditional background, I loved writing, and I think it's a strength of mine. And I love technology. And I love sharing information about technology, but we had to understand our readership better - our readers, our people. And so, especially with technology, messaging, we're usually asking people to do something, either change the way they do their job, or adapt a new tool, a new practice, change something about something that's important to them, and they have to really learn something new a lot of the time so that can always tend to create feelings of resistance, or anxiety or frustration. And so a lot of the writing has to account for that.  


We have to think about the reader - they are a person. And so, it's not just oh, this new tool is coming, or here's a new process. Take it away, it's okay. If I were sitting in the readers position, would I care about this information, why does it matter to me? What's in it for me? And, okay, what do I need to do, and making all of that very clear. And effective is sort of the unique challenge, I think about doing technology writing. And again, just keeping it human, keeping it relatable, keeping it creative, keeping it fun, not things typically associated with tech deployments. But that's something I had to learn. 

Julie Ford 5:39 

Yeah, it's a topic that sometimes isn't the most interesting, especially when you're communicating to non technical people being lawyers. So I'm sure you've had to try and test and experiment with different ways of communicating about technology to your audience. And I guess that ties into your concept that you've shared about the people effect and really getting to know who your audience is, it goes beyond knowing though, it reminds us that the audience is human, and there's much more to humans than just their day-to-day work life. So, thank you so much for introducing that concept. And I'm interested in hearing more about it as we continue the conversation. It shows that your leadership really sees the value of communication, and the impact that it can have on the company and that they're willing to invest in communication. But I found that that's not always the case in all organizations. What do you think internal communications professionals need to do in order to get buying from their leadership? 


Nicki K. 6:42 

That is a challenge. It's a broad challenge across many organizations. I think that buying is best obtained when you have supporting data. But not just pure numbers, facts or figures, it is contextualized information, it shows that you have been a generous listener, that you've tuned in, again, to your audience, to who your readers are, you've taken in feedback, you've listened, you've implemented things. And then you might have seen improvements statistically on say, open rates, click rates, engagement, if you have a tool that does track the communication stats - open rates, click rates, that's wonderful. That is integral to any case, however, it needs to have a story around it, like any good data story, you need a data story for this. And your executives who are probably going to be supporting you, or helping you gain even more momentum are also people and they want to know what the valuable outcomes were from your messaging campaigns, and how they affected an organization, its people, positively? Or did it actually drive the adoption or the change or the ask that was needed to be achieved. So those are the things that we want to be thinking about is having some good data.  


Even if you're not sure where you stand, baseline what you've got, then track, it's going to take a little while, maybe a year or two, to really get a good data set on how your communications perform at the organization. Then contextualize it right? Get those anecdotal stories, feedback from people, comment and say, share. I talk a little bit about being a generous listener. This means really stepping back and listening, not just hearing and knowing that you're sticking your neck out, that takes courage, you are putting your communication up on the chopping block and saying, okay, tell me the truth - was this good or bad? Was it helpful? One thing I've done across all the technology communications in my portfolio is include a yes and no button to the question, did you find this message helpful? I'm happy with my results, but I don't rest on my laurels. And anytime I get a no, I just want to go see what they put. What didn't resonate, how can I do better? That takes courage. And I think executives also respect that, that you're sticking your neck out and you are talking to the people who are reading and you are trying to find out how to reach them even better. 

Julie Ford 9:35 

I want to understand a little bit more about what the objectives for technology communications are at your firm. What do you aim to achieve with the communications that you're delivering? 


Nicki K. 9:43 

Like any other enterprise wide or internal communication campaign, we are striving to drive a change that's important to the organization. And a lot of times that is something like adopting a new tool or a new program in technology, but there is a broader initiative. And that is socializing, innovation, a change mindset, and agility with technology, because we are living in the digital transformation and change is constant. So, in a way technology leads because we adopt new tools, or we have to adapt new ways of doing things. But really, we are also helping to create more of a change mindset in our readers. And it's important that they have a brand they can trust. So, when something comes from technology communications, we want to make sure it's very valuable to them so that they return to it in the future, when the next change comes across their screen. 


Julie Ford 10:57 

It's interesting, you mentioned about the rapid change, and all of the upheaval during the pandemic and all of that. And I think that just makes consistency so much more important. When people see consistent branding, consistent tone, consistent communications across the board, they feel calmer, or they feel safer. And they're more comfortable. And so, I think that really, really helps with, you know, you mentioned that everyone's exhausted, when they see your communication, they should not feel exhausted. And it sounds like you've figured out how to make that happen and bring that to life and your strategy, which is so amazing. 


Nicki K. 11:37 

Yes. And I want to take that one step further. As with any good brand, consistent experience is critical. If the reader comes every time and says, yep, another valuable message, next time, I'm going to read it again, no matter what it's about, I want to know, is it about data, literacy isn't about the next big thing in technology? Is it something I have to pay attention to like a new installation happening overnight, whatever the case may be, if you've had a consistent experience, you're more likely to trust it and want to go back.  


Julie Ford 12:10 

yeah, it's so true. And that applies in marketing as well. It's great that you've adopted that in your internal communication strategy. Are there any challenges that you believe are unique to your organization, specifically a law firm that is more traditional? 


Nicki K. 12:25 

I think a lot of organizations have a lot of the same sort of perennial challenges with communication, right, everyone's busy, we're trying to tap into an overtaxed brain space. And those are caused by greater cultural paradigm shifts. And you know, there's all kinds of things happening in the world. And we're all just trying to sort of keep our heads above water with all the information flowing around when it comes to organizational messaging, that's a pretty common scenario.  


I think what might make law firms a little more unique in that is the model for work and the billing structure. And so with attorneys, they are generally, at least historically, doing the hourly billing. And that means any time not spent on client work is time that you have spent, and revenue that cannot be recouped. So, there is a sense of this has got to be worth my time probably even to a heightened degree. And that is always sort of running through my mind, how do I make this so clear, so concise, so creative and attractive, to get the attention, keep the attention for the time needed, drive the change, and again, create that credibility? Like, okay, I'm glad I took however long that took, because it yielded me an important benefit or outcome. And so that is a big challenge.  


And the legal industry itself is going through its own evolutions and changes right now. You know, traditional billing structures are still in place, but there's new competition. There're very democratized legal services now available that you can sort of do a lot on your own, like with Legal Zoom, say, for example, or there's other even other examples like that. And there's also competition coming from the big four accounting firms offering and providing legal services and consults. So law firms are in a position of also evolving to meet the changed workplace, the digital workforce, and the needs of their clients. Everything is sort of shifted. The digital transformation is in play. There is all kinds of new technology now also creating competition. Even generative AI like chat GPT creates competition in a way because it can do things now that some normally work involves. There's a lot happening. And so as with any organization, we are trying to keep our communications meaningful. 


Julie Ford 15:15 

Yeah, I understand that's especially important when the lawyers are billing by the hour, by the minute, even right. So, every minute counts, every minute they spend reading communication needs to be seen as valuable, which makes your job just that much more challenging. And how are you reaching your audience? Are you relying on email intranets, mobile apps, a mix of all of the things if you could just share a little bit on that, that would be really insightful? 


Nicki K. 15:45 

Right now, email is our predominant way of delivering messages. And we also have an intranet site where we post relevant news and, and stories. I think an omni channel approach is the future, I believe, we have to be looking at asynchronous and synchronous delivery of information. There are even tools out there that will tell you by reader, what their preferred method is like, this person never opens email, but loves getting popup notifications like, so there's ways to hone-in and really properly segment your audience based on their behaviors, their tendencies or preferences.  


But right now we're working with email. And email is also still popular within our organization, within law firms like it's still a way people want to be communicated with. Despite the flood of information, it's still probably one of the best ways to reach our employees. The challenge is always getting the right information in front of the right people at the right time. And there's omni channel opportunities that would enhance those things. But for now, that is exactly what we're doing with email. And it's making those emails more compelling, more creative. 


Julie Ford 17:01 

Yeah, and as you mentioned, Omni channel is the future. But you know, we've also talked about there's been a lot of change. What time is the right time to introduce that change? And, you know, you have to figure that out for your own audience and understand, you know, truly, what are the channels that your audience prefers to use wants to use will actually engage with? And so it goes back to the whole people effect that you brought up earlier? 


Nicki K. 17:27 

That's right. It's like step one is keeping it human. Right, that should always be like the foundation, the fundamental value in writing your communication. Step two, is getting a little more specific thinking about the reader - ask a reader and say, Okay, well, they'd be asking what's in it for me and sort of putting yourself in those shoes and thinking, Alright, how do I make this particular message resonate with just about anyone? And again, it's going a step further and saying, Well, let's properly segment can we look at our audience and say, this is very role based, this is very departmentally based, this is behaviorally based, you know, let's break up our content and break up our messaging streams accordingly. But you're right at the at the start. And at the end, it's all about keeping it human. 

Julie Ford 18:11 

Yeah, definitely. And so how have things been going for you so far in your role as the IT Communications Manager? 


Nicki K. 18:18 

Well, if I haven't conveyed it already, I'm pretty passionate about this. I love what I do. I love technology, I love innovation. I'm sort of a natural. A natural innovator, like I'll embrace change very quickly. And I think that is sort of conveyed in the in the spirit in which I write, but I try to always make sure I understand that not everyone feels like me. So I got to draw on the excitement of those innovators. But think about the laggards and the resistors. And then the middle 80%, who was like, okay, they're going into this helped me understand why I should write. So that's my challenge. And so when I'm writing things, I'm thinking about how I'm going to reach how I'm going to reach everyone as best as I can, and bind through the last few years having a tool that does track open rates, having a tool does track click rates and engagement, I have seen those things increase.  


So what I'm attributing that to it, at least it's my hope is that the brand has been established as clear, concise messaging that has value it's worth me stopping what I'm doing to take a look at it, give it a read, making it very readable, then right skimmable ideally, keeping it visually appealing and keeping it creative. And then seeing if those results in higher rates. And so I've seen that type of growth. And that's really important. And some of the open rates are very compelling. And I think when I first was excited to share those findings with leadership with my chief and with others, I was like, Oh, would you believe these open rates? And their first response was well, so what? Like, what outcomes did it lead to? And that really was a reframing for me. Yes, the data is super important. I'm not going to understate that. But contextualize stories, making sure that you know, you're representing the feedback that's come in, I think that's really important. And that will increase readership and increases buying at the executive level, all those things are things I have been working toward. And I did this buying through a strategy and a playbook.  

And one of the core pillars in my strategy is keeping it human, which can mean a number of things. But knowing our audience right now, keeping it short, keeping it simple, keeping it engaging. Those are always sort of at the center of what I'm doing. And taking in the feedback, sticking my neck out asking, did this one work for you, I thought it would work as a sender, did it work for you, the reader or the recipient. And don't ever be afraid to take that feedback. And it can be a little daunting, but it is how you will learn. It is how you will know if the organization is supportive, you can even bring in a consultant. I did that, I had an audit performed on all my communications, I worked with a wonderful consultant crescendo communication. And it validated a lot of what I was doing well, it also gave me clear indicators on where it can make some improvements.  


So, it was all very exciting. It might be step by step first demonstrating the value, gaining up that buying, you got a little more by now you can say, Hey, I'd like to bring in a consultant really move from good to great on my communications. And that's kind of how it goes. It's incremental. 

Julie Ford 21:53 

There's no quick fix, right? You've dedicated a lot of time to this, and you're still learning every day. And it sounds like listening and feedback has been one of those things that has really helped you excel and continue to improve on your communications. Do you have any final thoughts or advice for internal communications professionals that you want to leave them with? 


Nicki K. 22:18 

Yes, I want to encourage all internal communications professionals to be bold, to look at your data and what you've learned in your campaigns to try new things and to put forward a really sound playbook and strategy. And then once you have that sort of firmed up, be courageous about it, be ready to stand for it. It is based on your experience, your expertise, and your findings from your data. You need to believe in it. Because if you don't believe in it, why would anybody else. And finally, be ready to make a change and be ready for what's next. Because even though you may have a really bold strategy, and your playbook is working very well, sometimes things change. And we have to be ready to make adjustments that meet our readers where they are.  


And one example of this I recently encountered data, yet to fully determined is a change in interaction with our links, I'm seeing in our communications that there are less or fewer and fewer clicks on click through links. And in the past, this was a sort of solid practice well understood in marketing, as well as in internal communications. And lately, those numbers seem to be going down. I will continue to test that hypothesis. But I am wondering if people need a little more information before they go out to click and read anything from your message. And I think that's a new area that we want to maybe adjust. 1 


Julie Ford 23:57 

Yeah, that's interesting that you mentioned that Nicki, because I've noticed a similar trend in marketing. For years and years, the click through rate has always been what marketers have sort of measured success on and now I feel like across the board, it's just declined. And I even Googled it like, why our click through rates going down. It is maybe a bigger trend. And if you're seeing it in internal communications, and I'm seeing it in marketing. Maybe there's something bigger going on in terms of how people, humans, which we talked about before the people affect how people want to consume information and how they want to learn and, you know, maybe we need to be even more strategic about how we are actually expecting people to interact with our content. Maybe we need to put more content in the email itself. You know, so, it is a really good point that you share that we need to always be looking at the data and using that data to evolve the way that we're delivering information to people. Because people are changing, the world is changing. And we can't keep doing the same things that we've done for years and years. 


Nicki K. 25:13 

Absolutely agree. We have to adapt to our readership or we will lose them. 


Julie Ford 25:17 

Exactly. Yeah. I think that's very sound advice. Thank you so much for that. I really enjoyed our conversation today, Nicki, and I really want to thank you for taking the time. It's been a pleasure. If somebody wants to connect with you after listening, what's the best way for them to do that? 


Nicki K. 25:32 

Absolutely. I'd welcome that. I am on LinkedIn - Nicki Kastellorizios-Lee. Looking forward to staying engaged.  


Julie Ford 25:42 

Thanks, Nicki.  


Nicki K. 25:43 

Thank you. 


Julie Ford 25:44 

Thanks for listening to the ICON podcast. This podcast has been brought to you by Sparrow Connected, head over to sparrowconnected.com to learn more about the internal comms platform that is elevating the internal comms profession. And be sure to follow weleadcomms on LinkedIn. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast channels and tune in for the next episode. 

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