Internal alignment drives success

Given the scale of strategic and structural change going on inside companies, one of the most important challenges facing CEOs is to communicate that change internally. Internal communication to secure internal alignment is, perhaps, a polite way of putting it. Probably the biggest block to progress for our clients – and perhaps ourselves – is internal politics. Turf, territory and ego prevent productive change. If the chairmen or CEOs of our clients saw what we saw, they would be horrified. If they and we devoted half the time that they or we spent on internal politics on the consumer, client or competition, they and we would be considerably more successful.

You could argue that most of the communication we co-ordinate is aimed at internal audiences rather than external ones. Some people, such as David Ogilvy and Allan Leighton (when long ago he was at Asda) have maintained that ensuring your internal constituencies are on side is often more important than external ones. Only when internal communications are working can your company talk positively to customers, potential customers, suppliers, potential employees, journalists, analysts, investors, government and NGOs.

Building such virtuous circles in a uni-branded company is one thing. Inside a multi-branded company such as WPP, which has grown by acquisition, our tribes operate independently to deal with dis-economies of scale and client conflict. Things are far more complicated. Trying to ensure over 110,000 people face in the same direction at the same time is not easy. On the other hand, once achieved, internal unison and common focus make a very powerful army.

It may not be fashionable to talk about charismatic or strong CEO leadership; the focus is more on the CEO as coach, mentor or team leader. But our experience is that the most successful companies with which we work have CEOs who understand the importance of the brand, have a strong vision and implement that through a strong CMO.

After all, at long last, it is understood that all business strategy is really marketing strategy, starting with the consumer and working backwards from there. Most of our companies develop internal communications through Advertising, Media Investment Management, Information, Insight & Consultancy, Public Relations & Public Affairs, Branding & Identity, and Healthcare and Specialist Communications. However, no single operating entity exists within WPP to execute internal communications on a worldwide basis. Still an opportunity for the future.