Communication Breakthrough #6 with Katie Macaulay

We all experience ‘lightbulb’ moments of insight or inspiration that shape how we think and work. Sometimes, they are defining moments in our careers. In our Communication Breakthrough series, our members share their stories in the hope they will inspire your own journey.

In Katie’s Communication Breakthrough we find out how a single phrase in a client proposal triggered something much bigger than was first imagined.

Introducing … Katie Macaulay

Katie MacauleyHello, I’m Katie Macaulay, managing director of the employee communications agency AB. We were founded in 1964 and are one of the longest established internal communication agencies in the UK. This year marks our 50th anniversary. AB has been a member of the IABC for decades.

I’ve been working in the profession for 24 years. As well as being MD, I head up our consultancy division — which means my specialism is the articulation of business strategy into something meaningful for employees.

Can you give us some background to your breakthrough moment?

I had just taken the job of running AB. An important part of my role involves pitching to new clients. A brief came through from an international audit firm asking for some fresh thinking in relation to its employee communications.

The firm had been broadcasting top-down messages to staff and not engaging in genuine dialogue. Not only was this hampering its communications, it was damaging the business, which needed to get more  — not less — from its people.

I wrote a proposal saying we needed to shift the firm’s communication ‘from cascade to conversation’. That phrase stuck with me. I realised it summed up the trend we were seeing with every client. I wondered what this meant for the future of employee communication as a professional discipline. (Incidentally, we won the pitch!)

And what was your actual breakthrough moment?


With my fellow consultant, Eloise Hindes, we planned the key chapters of a book. The first chapter needed to trace the history of employee communications from its growing pains in the industrial revolution to its more rounded role in the decades that followed.

Then, we had to get specific: we needed to explore what this shift would mean for the content we write, the channels we build, the measurement we undertake and the skills of internal communication practitioners.

Undertaking the research was an education in itself. Vast amounts have been written about leadership, communication and employee engagement over the past 70 years; we wanted to do justice to this body of work.

In the spirit of collaboration, we invited others to contribute. We were amazed by how forthcoming people were. So, at the end of each chapter, practitioners share their first-hand experiences of fostering and maintaining conversations in their workplaces. We have case studies and contributions from BT, Sainsbury’s, Oxfam, B&Q, Post Office, Crossrail, HSBC, Waitrose and Coca-Cola Enterprises.

That’s really when the breakthrough moment came: when we met others making this shift away from broadcast towards dialogue and conversation. We knew we were really on to something.

The book [Available on Amazon] was published in September 2014 to positive reviews. But in truth, our ambition was never to seek fame or fortune. We simply wanted to explore a topic close to our hearts and make a contribution to the future development of our profession.

From cascade to conversation

Do you have any lessons to share with us?

Keep searching for great practice and take the time to step back from the coalface to think about where you  — and your profession — are going. Remain curious and open-minded. You never become too experienced or knowledgeable to learn something new.

In trying to banish broadcast and engage in genuine and valuable conversation, the first step is learning to listen. Exceptional listening skills are rare in the world of business. For the book we spoke to a hostage negotiator to learn more about this powerful skill. In short, those who listen harder, learn more.

Connect with Katie
Twitter: @katie__macaulay
Email: [email protected]

Want to share your own story?
Drop us a line on [email protected]
We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Communication breakthrough, IABC Global news.