How to guide to running an internal communications audit
A Communications Audit is a systematic research method, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of current internal and external communications activities. Done well it can be a sound record of past activity, a snapshot of current practice and a road map for future communications.
There are many solid reasons for conducting a communications audit – it can:
- detect inconsistencies in your identity, style and delivery of key messages
- provide insights into your communication culture and effectiveness
- reveal what key audiences currently know about the organisation, your products and services
- and suggest how best to reach them in the future
- demonstrate your commitment to, and therefore generate support for, the communication function
- become the basis for creating an effective communication plan
- and in time create a more open, credible and collaborative communication function
- or just simply deliver practical recommendations for improving communication throughout your organisation.
There are so many variants within environments and audiences that we have tried in the audit process we use with out clients, to be as concise, clear and as logical as possible. It is structured around four discovery stages that we use to clarify:
- who communicates?
- why they communicate
- how they communicate, and
- how well they communicate.
Who are the communicators in your organisation?
A communications audit isn’t just about the marketing department or communications manager, this is an audit about how your organisation communicates.
There are *four basic reasons why an organisation will need to speak to someone:
- corporate communication (including CSR and financial comms)
- marketing (and sales) communication
- employee (partner and supplier) communication
- recruitment communication.
And pretty much every organisation is both hierarchical and role specific. So who, in their role, has responsibility to communicate in one of these areas?
This could be anything from a CEO’s monthly company briefing to individual line managers running weekly progress meetings, from the person responsible for authoring your website or social media to HR running a recruitment campaign.
TASK IT: At this point limit yourself to listing out each person in your organisation with a responsibility for communications.
Why are they communicating?
In any organisation there will always be a combination of communication priorities going on at any one time – but all communication will have a purpose within an organisational context. And very often, if not always, communication will be a consequence of business or organisational strategy – expansion, product launch, recruitment drive, merger, employee engagement etc.
TASK IT: Against each role or individual listed under stage one, explain what the purpose of that responsibility is. Typically this will either be to sell, recruit, motivate, educate or inform.
How are they communicating (Media)?
How are we getting our message out there? This is about the vehicle or the process used and could be anything from that line managers’ briefing – which could be a group discussion in one area or an electronic staff briefing in another, to the literature you produce, the website, email banners and footers, press releases, advertising, your exhibition presence and social media accounts.
TASK IT: Against each role and purpose explain what media is being used to get the message across.
How are they communicating (Style and Message)?
Style: What does all this ‘stuff’ look like?
Clearly this will be a mix of electronic and printed media. Electronic communication is easier to access and record and a collection of all your hard copy materials, spread out on the boardroom table will highlight issues like consistency, design and impact quite readily.
Message: And what exactly is that message? Accepting the variety of what will go into a management briefing or a campaign promotional, a recruitment ad, press release or blog – when you speak, do you speak with one voice?
What we are looking for here are patterns in style, content and tone. For instance:
- If the organisation is described in a boilerplate, social media profile or press release, how is it done and is it consistent?
- If reference is made to purpose, vision, mission or primary tasks – again – are they consistent?
- Are values or behaviors relevant – do they appear on the website, they may well be in recruitment communications – do they feature in staff briefings too and do they match up?
- Your big or key messages, the elevated (as opposed to elevator) pitch, the reasons why – how do they appear, do they appear, should they appear?
- Is one area of the business more attribute and benefit led, another more around emotion and experience?
- Does it all look the same? Is there consistent use of colour, type, grids in both on- and off-line materials?
- Does the logo sit in the same place, do you use a strap line, always or sometimes – are headings consistent?
- Are the materials you use consistent – stocks and weights of stock?
- Tonally – with many authors you may find many styles – do they vary – informal, formal, professional or colloquial?
- Technically – all content has structure, do you have structure? In your use of headings and intros and sub-headings, are you initial capped, bulleted or numbered – grammatically how does it all fit together?
TASK IT: You will need to work out how you can record all this in a meaningful and practical way – but ideally against each role, purpose and media group outlined above, should be added a summary of how the communication is packaged.
How have you been doing?
Measurement is often the element of an audit that falls away, your audit maybe limited to a report and understand function. Either leaving the interpretation or measurement element out, or to someone else. But logically, effective measurement is the only way to validate any piece of communication, so we recommend it should at least be considered as part of any communications audit.
Your first job will be to consider how that measurement process will work, how much time and resource you have, and what are the prospects of returning meaningful data.
The accessibility, accuracy and clarity of information here will depend on the nature of the communication. General marketing and profile-raising campaigns can be hard to measure, as audiences can be both wide ranging and hard to contact. The results of sales and recruitment activities can be more easily recorded and there are a raft a ways of getting feedback to employee communications.
Social campaigns, delivered digitally, can be measured empirically, through hits, likes and views however these can often be misleading, measuring numbers not value.
TASK IT: if you are intending to build in some form of measurement to your audit, the question to ask is really quite simple – against the purpose outlined for each activity above – if we are trying to sell something, or recruit or inform for instance, how are we doing?
As we have said, there are many solid reasons for conducting a communications audit, from simply delivering a practical, cause-and-effect account the way the organisation currently speaks to the world, to providing simple recommendations for improving your work moving forward, to potentially generating more support, collaboration and commitment to your organisations’ communications culture.
Whatever you decide you want to get from your audit, the fact remains that communication is the lifeblood of any successful organisation and in our view, performing such a review is going to help you do a better job as a communicator and increase your value to the organisation in the process.
So good luck, if you have a go then do let us know how you get on or if you want to talk it through in more depth or more specifically to your situation, then do just get in touch.