Communication champions – top tips

I was speaking to someone yesterday about the valuable role champions or networks can play in delivering great programmes and extending the reach of an over-stretched comms team.

I’ve always found these volunteer networks to be really helpful. They can add value in so many ways – as your ‘eyes and ears’ in the far flung reaches of your empire, as content providers, as grassroots activists, as an early warning system, as distributors of printed materials, as tidy-uppers of notice boards, as the voice of reason, and so on. 

I have developed and used champion networks wherever I’ve worked and I’ve learned a number of things along the way. Here are my top ten tips:

  1. Make sure your leaders are supportive. Champions shouldn’t be management moles, but it helps them be more effective if they’ve got the support of the top team (or at least the senior players in their part of the organisation).
  2. Select people who are credible in the eyes of their peers. You don’t want raving cynics, but nor do you want ‘yes’ men and women. You want people who are prepared to speak up when they don’t like something (but who aren’t militant) and who generally support what the organisation is trying to do (but without standing on their desk and singing the company song). Avoid the office odd ball and make sure your champions aren’t too junior.
  3. Be really clear about their responsibilities – are they primarily there as your ‘eyes and ears’, to help with logistics (e.g. distributing the magazine) or as content providers for a particular area? A clear role description will help.
  4. Make sure the network reflects the fault lines of the organisations – there should be representation from the key teams, functions, geographic locations, etc.
  5. Talk regularly – monthly or perhaps quarterly. If face-to-face is too difficult, arrange conference calls. This is really important. To be an effective team you have to create a sense of common purpose.
  6. Treat them as key members of your team. Recognise and reward them. Give them access to information before general release and where possible seek their input on messages, style, etc, before you roll out your communications.
  7. Make sure they’re clear on the boundaries of their role, but demonstrate that you trust them.
  8. Train them in the basics of good internal comms and ensure they understand your comms and business strategy and ‘live’ the organisation’s values.
  9. Consider creating a simple ‘Champion’s Toolkit’ containing proformas and guidance notes.
  10. Don’t expect too much too soon. Take it easy during the early days – you can broaden their responsibilities once they get the hang of the basics.

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