Winners 2022

Best in-house team: corporate communications

Unleashing Potential

Small can sometimes be beautiful as the two-man team at AkzoNobel proved, comprising – in their own words – the complementary skills of ‘strategic and creative’ Milly Hutchinson and ‘influential quality control freak’ Simon Colvan, with more than 40 years’ experience between them.

With an external audience spanning potential employees, local communities, customers, investors, media, industry and government, and an internal audience comprising 3,200 colleagues, the duo have their work cut out, with minimal budget for agency support, creative design or videography.

Hutchinson leads on public affairs and coordinates responses to crises while Colvan takes the helm on media relations, social media and copywriting. They share responsibilities for internal communications, event and project management and, like so many other micro teams with limited budgets and minimal agency resource, spend time learning new skills, such as shooting and editing videos, designing social media assets and evaluating media coverage.

As their entry says, ‘you name the activity, and the chances are one of the duo has ‘embraced it’ in the last few weeks’.

Increasingly, their approach has been to expand their internal networks and use their influence to gain support from channel owners, senior leaders, and gatekeepers across the business to establish the best platforms to reach and land messages to a diverse audience.

Recently, they had to onboard a new managing director, helping him to develop a compelling narrative and to shape what his style and approach would be. The duo then launched a programme of activities designed to educate colleagues on his new three-year strategy, and their role in making it a success.

The official launch of AkzoNobel’s Slough Research & Development Centre, home to 120 specialists, including chemists and weather-testing experts, involved a welcome event for colleagues, a grand opening attended by more than 50 stakeholders and customers, and PR outreach.

But they are also focused internally. Covid-19 involved many government measures, which differed across regions and the four countries of the United Kingdom, leading the duo to regularly update colleagues on what the changes meant at that time, and the corresponding approach and policies adopted by AkzoNobel.

They were also instrumental in the ‘return to work’ campaign, which outlined a new hybrid model for working. Similarly, they were at the forefront of Wellfest. Now in its second year, this two-week wellness festival, which is organised by colleagues for colleagues, involves 60 different events, each hosted in virtual tents, focused on themes such as personal growth, wellbeing, and hobbies. Nearly 1,900 free tickets were booked across the fortnight.

And when AkzoNobel announced its global partnership with Tour de France, the team brought it to life for their UK colleagues, with a Tour du Berkshire, which saw a team cycle to a local school and paint a shed.

The judges described the entry as ‘full of verve and personality’, adding: ‘Their ability to turn their hands to any/every kind of comms, particularly with such imagination on the internal comms side, is really inspiring.’

The AkzoNobel duo picked up the trophy because ‘their entry gave the best focus on the way the team works together, as well as an energetic and full-of-personality version of what they achieve’.