Communications Audits

Read about a communications audit of the California Congressional Delegation during the 2001 anthrax scare.
Image of Capital Building.

People judge an organization by its communications.

If you are using all means of communication effectively (including your web site and virtual communication tools); if your message is clear, appealing and easy to find; if your content feels professional and fresh; and if your overall approach to communications has continuity, a strategic focus and a tone that befits your mission, people will feel good about your organization and you will get your money's worth out of your investment in marketing, advertising and stakeholder relations. But, how do you know how you're doing? And, how do you know what, if anything, to change? Smart leaders find the answers in a communications audit.

What is a communications audit, exactly?

Sample Table of Contents from an Audit.
Click to view larger image.
Sample Audit TOC. Click to view larger image.

A communications audit is an analysis of an organization's interactions with its internal and/or external stakeholders. The goal is better communications. For objectivity, the process is usually led by an outside consultant. The evaluation may be "quick and dirty" -- perhaps just the consultant's review of communications materials --or comprehensive, involving broad input (via interviews, surveys, focus groups) and extensive analysis with strategic implications. Findings are usually delivered in a written report, a confidential presentation to leaders, or both.

When to conduct a communications audit.

  • as part of the strategic planning process
  • after a merger, a change in leadership or other major transition
  • after a critical incident, such as a natural disaster, to assess practices in context
  • whenever stakeholder perceptions are out of alignment with leaders' perceptions
  • whenever some stakeholder groups seem better informed or more satisfied with your organization than others
  • any time board members are saying the organization does not have enough visibility or the appropriate positioning
  • whenever messages, strategies or tactics are starting to feel stale
  • when you want to optimize internal support for communications
  • when you want to optimize alignment between Communications and other systems

What findings to expect.

Effective organizations use the findings of their communications audit not just to evaluate but to plan. You should expect to receive from a comprehensive communications audit:

  • a snapshot of your organization's existing communications: its strengths and weaknesses, gaps, blockages, missteps and untapped opportunities
  • insights into the structure of your organization's communications program and how it relates to the organization as a whole
  • insight into how your internal and external stakeholders feel about your organization's communications—and the organization itself
  • practical recommendations for improvement
  • deeper understanding of communications processes and challenges by non-communications personnel
  • powerful substantiation for planning and budgeting.

What to look for in a communications consultant.

Anyone can give you opinions. An effective communications audit takes experience and know how. For starters, not everyone can put your communications staff at ease during this delicate process. I have worked closely and well with dozens of in-house communications professionals. I'm one of them: their severest critic and their strongest advocate. When you choose a consultant for your communications audit, look for:

  • broad experience with all communications media--from print to web
  • familiarity with a wide variety of organizational types and stakeholder groups
  • extensive experience interacting with leaders and professionals in your industry
  • excellent interview, writing and presentation skills
  • impartiality
  • a collaborative approach

Excerpts from a communications audit report.

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Adobe PDF Icon  Click here to view a table of contents from an actual report.

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How's your communications? Contact me (Gail Terry Grimes) and we'll find out together.