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A short guide to running a communications audit

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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 reasons for a communications audit – it can:

  • find inconsistencies in your identity, style and delivery of messages
  • provide insights into your communication culture and effectiveness
  • reveal what key audiences currently know about the organisation, your products and services
  • 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
  • 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 in the audit process we use with our clients, we have tried to be as concise, clear and logical as possible. It is structured around four discovery stages that we use to clarify: 

1. who communicates
2. why they communicate
3. how they communicate
4. how well they communicate.

1. Who are the communicators in your organisation?
A communications audit isn’t just about the marketing department; it’s about how your organisation communicates. 

There are four basic reasons why an organisation will need to speak to someone:

1. corporate communication (including CSR and financial comms)
2. marketing (and sales) communication
3. employee (partner and supplier) communication
4. recruitment communication.

And pretty much every organisation is both hierarchical and role specific. So who, in their role, has responsibility to communicate in each of these areas?

This could be anything from a CEO giving a 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 each person in your organisation with a responsibility for communications.

2. 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, a product launch, a recruitment drive, a 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 be to sell, recruit, motivate, educate or inform.

3. 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 a staff briefing to a corporate brochure, website, email footer, press releases, advertising, your exhibition presence or 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: Clearly this will be a mix of electronic and printed media – so what does all this ‘stuff’ look like? 
Message: And what is that message? Looking at the variety of materials you produce – when you speak, do you speak with one voice?

We are looking here for patterns in style, content and tone:
how is the organisation described in a boilerplate, social media profile or press release – are the descriptions consistent?

  • if reference is made to purpose, vision, mission or primary tasks – again – is this done consistently?
  • your big or key messages, the elevated (as opposed to elevator) pitch, the reasons why: how do they appear and are they consistent?
  • does it all look the same? Is there consistent use of colour, type and 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 on consistent stocks and weights of stock?
  • tonally – with many authors you may find many styles – do they vary – informal, formal, professional or colloquial?

TASK IT: Work out how to record all this in a meaningful and practical way. Ideally against each role, purpose and media outlined above add a summary of how the communication is packaged. 

4. How well are they communicating?
Measurement is often the element of an audit that falls away, but understanding how a piece of work stacks up against the reasons why it was commissioned is a key way to validate that piece of work, so it should at least be considered as part of any communications audit.

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 – if you are trying to sell something, or recruit or inform for instance, how are you doing? 

In conclusion
There are many solid reasons for conducting a communications audit, from simply delivering a practical, cause-and-effect account of the way the organisation speaks to the world, to generating more support, collaboration and commitment to your organisation’s communications function as a whole. 

Whatever you decide you want to get from your audit, 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. If you want to talk it through in more depth or match it more specifically to your situation, then do just get in touch. 

Adrian Kimpton