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Why communications audits are just what the doctor ordered

Anyone who’s a fan of medical shows is probably familiar with the concept of triage. When patients arrive at a hospital, their condition is quickly assessed in order to prioritize who to treat first, especially when resources are limited. The word derives from the French verb trier, which means to sift or separate.

In communications, we’re regularly asked to do more with less. We don’t always have the budget or manpower to take on everything we want to do all at once. In addition, we’re not always sure how we can improve our communications in the first place. Where should we start and what should we wait on?

At Dix & Eaton, we’re big fans of communications audits. Audits can be large or small, fast or slow. They can take many forms and examine focused areas of communications, or look at a number of areas in general. They can be designed to look at just external content that stakeholders see or include internal communications within a company or department.

Why conduct communication audits in the first place? To us, audits are like triage. We have a tough time making recommendations until we understand a situation. Audits give us a chance to set the context and diagnose a program prior to jumping into new messaging. It also helps us sort and sift to give more informed advice on how to prioritize our work. We often return with lists under the headings “must do, should do, could do” so clients can plan accordingly. Audits are part of the first stage of what we call our “3D” process (Discover, Develop, Deliver) that involves research, strategy development and implementation of the appropriate tactics, in that order.

What’s covered in a communications audit? In practice, anything you want…it’s really up to you.  Here are just some of the types of audits we conduct:

  • Crisis communications
  • Sustainability communications
  • Owned media content (including website, blogs, etc.)
  • Social media (name the platform)
  • Earned media coverage
  • Paid media (advertising) analysis
  • Investor communications, including annual reports and investor presentations
  • Internal communications
  • Sales and trade show content
  • Coming soon:  video, virtual reality and AI (chat bot) audits

How do we conduct a communications audit? When we do a deep dive in one area, we can pinpoint areas that are working best and those that need improvement. When we look at multiple areas of communication, we can prioritization recommendations as we discussed above, helping clients make decisions on where to double down and what to fix first. In many cases, we use an actual rating scale with 15 individual audit categories organized into three buckets.  Usually, these buckets have something to do with the presentation of the material, the material itself and our assessment of its effectiveness. After all, communications have to first reach a target, speak to that stakeholder and then accomplish a goal (i.e., change a perception, inspire an action). Our ratings approach allows us to “quantify the qualitative” as we try to layer some objectivity over what can be a subjective exercise.

Can you conduct your own communications audit? Sure, it’s possible.  We’ve seen it done many times. However, understand that you'll be coming at it from an inside perspective and your ability to self-diagnose could be limited. An outside perspective is preferable in order to gain an honest opinion that’s also based on knowledge of communications examples outside of your company and best practices in a fast-changing industry.

Are you hearing sirens? Next time you need to make improvements to any of your communications, think about how a hospital might respond. Would they send the patient (website, emails, sustainability report) into surgery straight away? Or…take a little time to diagnose the situation, sort through priorities and make sure they’re performing the right operation? Audits don’t have to delay your work or break your bank. But we strongly believe that communications audits are worth the investment.  You’ll place your resources where they’ll have the biggest impact and you’ll have better outcomes. What’s not to like about that treatment plan?  

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