Listen to this episode to learn:  

  • Common challenges that internal comms pros face today (and solutions)  
  • Ways that internal comms pros bring incredible value to organizations 
  • Why organizations must leverage technology to deliver communications 
  • Tips on how to demonstrate strategic value and expertise 
  • Why it's critical to connect tactical efforts to organizational goals 
  • And much more! 

Hosted by Julie Ford.


About the Speakers





Alyssa Zeff
Senior Vice President
Davis & Company

It's really ironic, sad and infuriating in many ways, that people in the organization who are tasked with helping make sure employees feel valued are not feeling valued themselves. This is a function that ensures employees know and understand what they need to do to succeed in their role. They help drive productivity. It's time to flip the switch to start believing in and demonstrating our value.” 

Julie Ford
Head of Content at Sparrow Connected

Julie Ford speaks with Alyssa, an employee communication, change management and corporate communication professional, about the incredible impact internal communications can have on the success of an organization. Alyssa shares real-world examples and practical advice from her 20+ years of both agency and in-house communication experience. 


Related Resources from Davis & Co 


Julie Ford 00:01

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.  

Hey, everyone, welcome to the Icon Podcast. Today I'm speaking with Alyssa Zeff about how internal communications teams bring incredible value to organizations. Alyssa is the Senior Vice President at Davis and Company, a communications firm that delivers innovative solutions that help leading companies in a variety of industries and geographies reach, engage and motivate employees. Alyssa brings more than 20 years of both agency and in-house communication experience to her role at Davis and Company.  

Thanks for joining me today, Alyssa. 

Alyssa Zeff 00:58 

Thank you so much for having me.  

Julie Ford  01:00 

Before we dive into the conversation about the value that internal comms brings to organizations, can you share a bit more about how Davis and Company helps companies communicate with their employees more effectively? 

Alyssa Zeff 01:12 

Absolutely. Davis and Company was founded almost 40 years ago. And from day one, we've been solely focused on employee communication. We were really pioneers in this space. But what that really means is that we really understand employees, we've got 40 years’ worth of data and information, learning about what makes employees tick, what motivates them how they contribute. And it really helps us understand that they are the lifeblood of any organization.  

We leverage all of that expertise and knowledge to help organizations of all sizes across all industries, reach, engage and motivate employees. So, whether it's a big change, a new leader, a new strategy, HR communication, like benefits and wellness, we've really done it all. 

Julie Ford  02:07 

Awesome. So, as you work with these companies, I know you said they're in many different industries in different locations, or are there any common challenges that you see across these companies? 

Alyssa Zeff 02:18 

Definitely, there's a couple. The first thing that we hear consistently, no matter what size of organization, is lack of resources. And by that, I mean, it's either not enough budget or not enough people on their team -   just general lack of resources. And I'll start by saying this is not new, right, like I haven't heard in all my years of working somebody complaining about having too many resources.  

But what I do think has happened that is new, and has happened over the past few years, especially since COVID, is that there's this really increased demand for internal communication. COVID put a huge spotlight on our function. And it's not like our budgets grew exponentially. The demand has grown without necessarily the resources growing with them. Which means that the function really needs to leverage what they have and make it work even harder. 

Julie Ford  03:25 

Do you think there are any other factors contributing to this? I know you mentioned COVID, being one of them. Anything else? 

Alyssa Zeff 03:32 

That kind of leads us into another challenge. And the way I hear it, it often goes something like this, I need data to make the case for my resources and make the case for my function, but I can't get the resources, or the tools and technology that I need to get that data. It’s either for budgetary reasons, or I get pushback from it, that I'm not allowed to introduce a new technology into our system. You know, it's not untrue. This is a real challenge that I think our clients are facing. 

Julie Ford  04:12 

That's really interesting, because these are all challenges, we hear about in conversations with internal communications professionals that we speak to, at Sparrow Connected. Is there a common thread or connection between all of these challenges that you've uncovered in your work with these companies?  

Alyssa Zeff 04:27 

There really is - the bottom line is that the common thread between all of these is the feeling of being undervalued. And I've often heard it said as, we just don't have a seat at the table, or we don't have the same equal seat at the table as other functions

Julie Ford  04:47 

And what do you do when that situation arises? What do you do to encourage internal communications to get that seat? 

Alyssa Zeff 04:56 

Well, you know, it's really ironic and sad and infuriating in many ways, that people in the organization who are tasked with helping make sure employees feel valued are not feeling valued themselves, right, that's part of their, their remit. So, this is a function that ensures employees know and understand what they need to do to succeed in their role. They help drive productivity. And I think it's time to flip the switch to start believing in and demonstrating our value.  

The first thing I would encourage internal communication professionals to do is to think about a time that they did feel valued. For me, when I was working in house, specifically in communications, it was always during a crisis. So that is a time when communication runs the show. Everyone is counting on your expertise, everyone is looking at you, you're sitting at the head of the table. What was it about that particular situation? For me, I felt confident, I knew everyone was counting on me, they knew that my expertise was going to make a difference, because reputation was on the line. 

So, think about starting there, what is it that you bring to the table? The next step is defining your role? What is the role you play in the organization, and that's going to be different from organization to organization. This can start with a list of what we do, what deliverables. But I would encourage people to take that even further, how are we contributing to the overall success of the organization?  

And let me give you an example of what I mean. Let's say you work on a wellness newsletter every month, because that's just what your  function has always done - HR wants an HR wellness newsletter, and your you deliver it. Have you considered Have you thought about what are the objectives of that wellness newsletter? For example? Are you trying to drive participation in a wellness program? Take it further. Are you trying to cut healthcare costs within the organization? How are you thinking about each tactic, article, deliverable that you're working on? How is it contributing to the overall success? How is it contributing to a business or organizational goal? Once you've mapped all of your tactics, and align them to goals, it can really help you filter and allocate your existing resources - are some business goals getting too much attention and others not getting enough? You know, you need to shift things around a little bit. 

Taking it even one step further, that can start framing a strategic plan for your function that contributes to the strategy of the organization. And really help you demonstrate the strategic role you play, then you can start to have really impactful conversations with your stakeholders. 

Julie Ford  08:33 

That's great advice. I think it's so easy. Even as a marketer myself, we get caught up on how many people opened, how many people read, what you're saying is that it's beyond that we need to look at business objectives, beyond just the opens, the reads the engagement, and really make that connection in order to communicate the value of the internal comms function, which is so great. Is there anything else that you recommend internal comms can do, in order to help leadership and other departments start to see that incredible value very clearly? 

Alyssa Zeff 09:09 

Absolutely. I'll start by telling a story. I left a big healthcare company. And somebody that had worked for me was taking on a new internal communication role. And she asked to have lunch with me and started wanting me to help her navigate her first 90 days. And she said to me, so the first thing I'm going to do is going to meet with all my stakeholders, and I'm going to ask them what they want from communication. And I said, I encourage you to flip that conversation. Instead of asking them what they want. Ask them what they're trying to do, what are their objectives, then tell them how communication can help them. We have to speak their language.  

Imagine the conversation, let's say one of your stakeholders was the head of it. And it could go something like this -  IT head comes to you and says, we need to make a how to video for our new Self-Help Portal. You could reply and say, okay, great. A video will take about this long. This is how much it will cost. This is what we recommend the video do, etc. Or it could go something like this -  IT head says, we need a how to video for how to use our new Self-Help Portal. And you say, can you tell me about this portal? Why are you launching it? What's going on, what's happening right now? Well, we're cutting back the staff of our help desk, we don't have enough resources. So, we need people to stop calling the help desk and start doing some  self-help stuff. Now you understand what they're trying to accomplish. And you say, great, here's where I think communication can be helpful. We can help employees understand why they should go to the portal, make it something they want to do, I'd like to come back to you with some ideas on how to do that. Ideas that may even be me be more cost efficient than a video. You can see how you're just shifting the dialogue and positioning yourself. A video can be very expensive, it may not be the best solution. You don't have to say yes to that. And instead, you're asserting your expertise because you're understanding what they're trying to accomplish.  

The other big thing is now you have to start capturing what you're doing. You mentioned open rates, click rates, that's all important, because it shows that's real tactical shows that the stuff that you're doing is being seen. But taking it one step further, showing that what you've chosen to do, is connected to something that they're trying to accomplish. And I think creating a simple dashboard or scoreboard that line up to objectives, line up to organizational objectives, that align up to the objectives for whatever initiative you're supporting, can really help get stakeholders to pay attention and understand what you're trying to accomplish. 

Julie Ford  12:20 

That's a great idea. I love the idea of creating a dashboard. I'd be actually really curious to see what one of those would look like. And I think that's something the audience would be interested in as well. So yeah, if you maybe there's a future conversation about that specifically. That's great. I think the example you shared really brings it to life. And we'll definitely inspire the audience to think differently. Even as a marketer, when you ask somebody, you know, what do they want, a lot of times they don't really even know what they want. So I love the idea of asking more questions, understanding the context, getting the background story, and then coming back with a really well thought out strategy that's going to align with the objective. That's all great. That brings us to the end of our conversation, do you have any final thoughts or advice for internal comms pros who are looking to reposition themselves and gain credibility and value in their organizations? 

Alyssa Zeff 13:22 

I do. And I'm gonna go back to something I heard from a communication leader I respect tremendously. He's had an incredible career, he's been like a mentor to me. So in response to the comment where internal communicators say, we don't have a seat at the table, he says, you do have a seat at the table. But if you use it to take other people's orders, that's how you're always going to be treated. And that really resonated with me, we are a function. That's a science. That's an expertise. As much as all the other functions sitting around the table, be it legal, regulatory, medical compliance, all of them. We have the same evidence based expertise. And if we sit there and take everyone's orders, that's how we will be treated. But if we sit there as though we deserve that seat at that table, then we will command the respect for the function. That and with respect, comes resources and value and understanding. So that really resonated with me, and I hope it resonates with the listeners as well. 


Julie Ford  14:29 

Surprise question for you, Alyssa, do you think it's time for internal communications to be rebranded? And if so, how would you rebrand the function? 

Alyssa Zeff 14:39 

Yes and no. It depends on the organization. I see what's happening in many organizations. The employee experience is starting to encompass internal communications and report up to like a CHRO. So, if you are responsible for the overall employee communication, employee experience, excuse me, then I think you can be rebranded as employee experience employee engagement. But there are a lot of other things that go into that beyond communication. On the other side of that, if you are truly a communication function, and either you sit within a business unit or you report into a chief communication officer or something like that, then I think the branding of communication is correct. I think I like the word employee versus internal. So that's one nuance, I think  it speaks to more what we do, because  that's who we are, that's our audience, those are our stakeholders, those are our consumers, not just something that lives within the walls of a building, virtual or not. But it's actually there is an audience there. 

Julie Ford  15:58 

For sure, it's a question I've been asking people that I've been speaking to, and everyone has a really different and unique answer. But you know, I think people have a perception of what internal communications means, right? And it's a function that's been around with the same name for a long, long time. That's what triggered that question for me. I'm like, hmm, if this really is a strategic function, maybe it needs  a new brand, or it needs to be revived and repositioned in some way that gains that respect, immediately.  

Alyssa Zeff 16:32 

And what a great recommendation to somebody who's trying to demonstrate their value. If that's what you're trying to do within your organization, and your remit includes a lot of that, then definitely rebrand yourself, you know, it should reflect the work that you're doing. 

Julie Ford  16:53 

Definitely. So, it's not necessarily a universal across the board, let's rebrand the function. It's case by case company by company, professional by professional. 

Alyssa Zeff 17:02 

It's what the advice that I've given today requires work a lot of hard work. And it requires understanding how your business works, understanding how your company organization works. If you want to have that strategic seat at the table, you have to have the strategic knowledge. We are sometimes required to know more about every function and every business unit than many other functions because we touch all of them. So, if that's what you want, then go for it. Rebrand yourself, and roll up your sleeves and be that strategic advisor. 

Julie Ford  17:46 

Take the lead, right, step up and take the lead and make it happen. Great. You've shared so many incredible insights today, Alyssa. I'm so glad that you were able to join me and have this conversation. If our listeners want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that? 

Alyssa Zeff 18:00 

Definitely go to the Davis and Company website, which is Davis and co dot com. And you can find our contact information on there and me on there, for sure. 

Julie Ford  18:10 

Awesome. Well, thank you again so much, and I look forward to connecting with you again soon. 

Alyssa Zeff 18:14 

Thank you so much for having me. 

Julie Ford  18:16 

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 “we lead comms” 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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