🎙️Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Arlene Amitirigala
Global Corporate Communications Leader
I enjoyed talking with Arlene Amitirigala to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
Arlene Amitirigala is a global communications leader with a passion for employee engagement and building a culture of inclusive leadership. She has worked for over two decades in the field of marketing and communication, including several years of international experience.
Her career journey includes stints with several notable Jamaican companies across the public and private sector before she transitioned to the United States. There, she joined Diageo’s Latin America and Caribbean business where she was responsible for leading corporate and internal communications for some 37 countries across the region before moving to London to assume the role of Head of Engagement & Employee Communications for Diageo’s Europe and Great Britain operations.
Born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, Arlene attended the Immaculate Conception High School. She studied journalism at the undergraduate level and her academic qualifications include a postgraduate certificate in Global Marketing Communication and Advertising from Emerson College, a Master’s in Communication from the University of The West Indies and an MBA with distinction from the Solvay Management School in Belgium.
Having lived for several years in South America and Europe, Arlene speaks both Spanish and French. She currently maintains a blog at www.TrulyArlene.com and hosts The Change Diaries Podcast on Apple podcasts. Married to Nimal Amitirigala and a mother of two, Arlene now resides in Toronto, Canada.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
I have always been passionate about the field of communications. I studied journalism at the undergraduate level, and I also completed a Master's in communication for Social and Behavior Change and an MBA. I worked in marketing and corporate communications for many years without realizing that Internal Communications was a burgeoning area.
I sort of stumbled into it when I applied for a role at Diageo in the Miami office over a decade ago. They needed a communications manager to roll out an internal campaign across the region, and I came on board. I thought it was exciting to apply my marketing and communications skills working with internal audiences.
I fell in love with the field and continued deepening my experience, taking on more senior roles and working on some fantastic projects that delivered real business benefits.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
Internal Communications is about making the magic happen. You help to deliver business results by enabling employees to turn strategy into action. I believe it is a strategic role that sits at the heart of the business, translating purpose, vision and values for employees - because everything starts with them.
Internal communicators support leaders in answering the key questions that all employees have on their minds and channeling their feedback. Questions such as: What’s our business strategy? What’s in it for me? Does what I do matter? How are we doing? and How can I help?
The biggest parts of the role usually boil down to storytelling, navigating change and coaching leaders to become inspiring communicators who cause deeper engagement, greater trust and spark breakthrough business ideas.
On the tactical side, it is akin to marketing communications – creating plans and delivering exciting campaigns through various channels. There is always a lot of writing so it’s important to love content creation.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
It was one of the first big projects that I did when I started in Internal Communications, and it was related to compliance, controls and ethics.
Across the business we realized that employees were unaware of what constituted a policy breach and did not fully appreciate the importance of their actions on a global scale.
I worked with the Director of Compliance to design and implement a comprehensive communications campaign across the region, built on the message of integrity. This was pre-internal social media, so we created leader road shows, videos using employees, competitions, newsletters and other collateral material. We even had skits and quiz show type games during training sessions to make it more memorable.
We created a strong compliance education program with lasting benefits. Employees had a deeper understanding of the policies and became more confident that they were doing the right thing in their daily jobs.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
It’s a really long list. I’d start with listening, observing and learning to love data analysis. That will tell you a lot about whether the messages are cutting through and reaching your audiences with the intended outcomes.
Ask the right questions. Often, someone will have a project where they think communications is the solution and when you drill down and ask what problem they are trying to solve, it changes things completely.
Learn how to make the long story short and distill information in a captivating way. Humans now have an attention span that is shorter than that of a goldfish. Make it easy for them.
Understand the business. The objective isn’t simply to communicate, it's to drive business success through causing a shift in how people think, feel and act.
Build great relationships and maintain a sense of humor. Both are essential.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
I am a member of the IABC Toronto Chapter and some LinkedIn groups for Internal Communicators. I try to attend a conference each year and network with peers. It’s a fantastic way to stay current, swap ideas and share learning resources.
The best aspect about internal communications is that you can read very widely - leadership, marketing, psychology or other areas of communication and you would be gaining relevant knowledge.
I’ve started a podcast called The Change Diaries. It explores change through a personal aspect. I’m obsessed with change because I think it’s the only internal constant in our lives. With internal communications, we’re navigating change. We help employees shift, grow with the business and fall in love with what they do all over again. So, while it’s not internal communications focused, it contributes to making people better communicators.
Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t ask you?
What’s ahead for internal communications? I think it’s going to grow in relevance. It hasn’t always been the fanciest, people first think of marketing or public relations, but because of what we’re going through with this pandemic — all eyes are focused on how we can keep our teams, inspired, connected and engaged — and internal communications plays a huge, strategic role in that process.
It’s going to become even more dynamic as we get closer to meeting people where they are. In the past, we had established channels. Now, it’s about reaching employees where and how they want to be reached and interacted with, using the technology and language that appeals to them. Even if it means using Tik Tok style internally, we’ll be adapting and embracing technology even more.