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Internal communication rediscovered: Ninety One case study

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges of today’s crazy world, faced by managers in multiple organisations, is keeping the teams engaged and creative. This comes down to one thing: communication. Corporate, internal comms functions were under-appreciated and underfunded for years, but this is now changing. Here, we share compelling examples of how well some companies understand their importance and can put them into practice in unconventional ways.

To the common problem of the pandemic employee experience: how to overcome disconnection?  Managers are seeking communication processes that enable them to connect with employees in meaningful ways.  Organisations face the challenge of maintaining momentum, cohesion and vibrant culture. However, until now, the available set of tools has been limited. Today, there are some powerful solutions, like virtual events, and more specifically, online ideation sessions. Until recently, the majority of virtual events have been passive experiences, based on the “watch and comment” model. Online ideation sessions represent the next generation of virtual engagement, following the “watch and participate” approach.

One of the early adopters utilising this new format, in their internal communication, is Ninety One, formerly known as Investec, one of the world’s leaders in asset management. While based in both London and Cape Town, with offices (and clients) across the globe, they’ve always needed to face the challenge of bringing their team together. The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the need for intelligent solutions.

In August 2020, Ninety One, supported by their strategic experiential agency Shelton Fleming Associates, hosted their first Global Marketing Offsite, 2020 as a virtual event, attended by approximately 90 members of their communications team. The project was a smart mix of live-TV-style broadcast, interactive ideation workshops, and a group Zoom call.

It could easily be called a hybrid event, since it connected the main studio, set up in the company’s HQ in London, with a satellite location, The Flux Lounge (also in London) and dozens of employees in offices and homes around the world. The goal was to discuss how marketing can play a more fundamental role in the way they build relationships with their customers. To achieve this, the event followed the 4i principle: inform, interact, immerse and ideate. But how was it put into practice?

Adopting an interactive TV production format for internal comms

COVID is affecting the world of business in unpredictable ways. It seems that with an increasing need for high-quality, online communications, a conference room with video call equipment may not be enough. The new normal may transform the corporate offices by adding one more space, a professional TV studio, to the infrastructure. TV anchor training may soon become a part of employee development programmes? Or the role of TV host will jump onto the payroll, who knows? One thing is clear; Ninety One utilised the magic of television to the fullest. For one day their HQ was transformed into a fully-functioning, live-TV studio. It had a simple yet elegant set design, reflecting the brand values. It had two anchors, leading the 6-hour event, facilitating discussions, interviewing guests, both face to face in the studio and virtually, via remote online feeds. The format could easily be compared to the way TV-news networks function. 



The way Ninety One decided to run their event, resembling an actual TV programme, may signal a more permanent shift in the perception and importance of internal communication. A new market trend. In the past, internal communications mainly consisted of newsletters, summer parties, and Friday casual days. In the past internal comms was a C-Suite level initiative intertwined with corporate decision-making, to bring the organisation together from an employer brand, culture and overall health standpoint.

“In today’s COVID-19 reality, these antiquated forms of internal communication may not be enough. Internal chat shows, with both live and pre-recorded video and digital content may play a crucial role soon. Multinational corporations are often more populous than countries; they can support their own, internal media channels. For example, Compass Group, a British, multinational, contract food services groups, employs more people than the population of Iceland, by almost a double.” – says Teresa Crook, the digital experiences director at Shelton Fleming Associates.

Online engagements across the world

Making it “big”, TV-style isn’t enough. In order to truly empower the employees, boost creativity and create a sense of community in a distributed team, a high level of interactivity is necessary.

In a virtual working environment, collaboration is the glue that bonds emotions and attitudes. In the case of Ninety One’s Global Marketing Offsite 2020, designed and produced by Shelton Fleming Associates, the online collaboration tool played a vital role in the event. The platform chosen was Co-Create by Engage Works, facilitated by experts based in The Flux Lounge, in London.

Co-Create allows interactions to be quickly activated via on-screen QR code or live-link. This  made it easy for the 90 participants to start brainstorming with digital post-it-notes on their smartphones and tablets. Imagery, video and sound-bites, verbal and written, could be captured in these sessions, energising the team. The ideation sessions were divided into different topics, splitting the team into smaller groups to work on issues such as brand identity and recognition, and new ways to engage clients.  



The online ideation session used Design Thinking methodology to ensure that the outputs are relevant to the team and helpful for the organisation. Since its debut in 1969, when Simon Herbert introduced the model in the “Science of the Artificial”, Design Thinking has revolutionised business models, education systems, innovation process, product and service design. Now it’s finding its place in the corporate world. It’s proving to be the perfect model for online ideation sessions, combined with the latest technological solutions, such as Co-Create.



“The internal communications function is undergoing the same shift that changed marketing communications over a decade ago, with the rise of social media. It’s becoming much more participative and interactive. It’s a 2-way communication now, and it will require new platforms and methodologies, evolving along with the organisations. The approach adopted by Ninety One is a perfect example.”adds Teresa Crook, the digital experiences director at Shelton Fleming Associates.
The big shift in internal comms is coming
If the COVID-19 pandemic proves one thing, it’s the fact that internal comms must be led, funded and measured, like any other corporate function. It must be viewed as an essential component of a company’s strategic development model. Managers no longer treat employees as a captive audience, engaging them in potential decisions requires a robust dialogue, discussion and debate. The recent virtual event, hosted by Ninety One, is the perfect example.
With immersive tech, intelligent UX and UI design of co-creation platforms, and inspiring content, virtual events can substitute face to face brainstorms, especially if used by international teams. They’re a format, complementary and useful in their own right. We will surely see more solutions like this shortly, as the importance of internal communication grows.