UPDATE: This article is now also available as a Slideshare!
I was driving to my local mechanic to address an unwanted clink (or was it a clunk?) that was beyond my expertise. I know the basics of taking care of my car, but I was without the necessary diagnostic tools to figure what the problem was, let alone the remedy.
So I pulled into the shop and then it hit me. Perhaps this is why so many struggle with their messaging, stakeholder relations, and sales targets. They never bring their comms in for regular maintenance.
The single best tool for figuring out how to fine-tune your messaging is the Communications Audit. With it, you take stock of your tactics, channel selection and evaluate their results so that you have a complete understanding of whether or not you are being successful. Too many businesses rely on their standard marketing metrics and never take the time to optimize their comms.
So whether it is a DIY project, or you bring in an outside perspective, here’s a 5 point check-up for your comms engine.
Point 1: Practice identification
Compile a list of communications practices that should be performed at some level, whether by a single individual or a team. Most can be grouped into three main categories:
- Strategy – Includes the core tasks of communications planning and strategy development.
- Implementation – Includes practices most common to an organization with an active communications function.
- Support and alignment – Includes non-communications-specific practices within the organization that help to ensure the communications function is successful.
Point 2: Practice maturity assessment
Next, develop a practice maturity scale that offers a continuum of possible performance levels for any given practice. Higher levels in the scale represent higher levels of organizational commitment to, integration of, and performance on the practice.
I use a simple six level continuum from 0 (the practice is non-existent) to 5 (the practice is embedded in the DNA of the organization and has complete support from senior leadership to frontline staff).
Point 3: Performance assessment
Now collect data about the communications practices, and to use it to make assessments about organizational performance and capacity. It involves using the maturity scale to gauge where your organization stands on all essential strategic communications practices. This step could also involve looking at actual communications strategy content or materials and making assessments about their quality.
Methods used to gather all the necessary material and information:
- Interviews with a select group of key stakeholders, by telephone and in-person
- Surveys offer standardization and a basis for comparison
- Document review:
- hardcopy materials
- digital materials (or in lieu of hardcopy)
- Links to online digital assets
- External access to internal communications platforms, off-site if possible
Remember to remain objective and not give yourself a pass on anything of import. This is where a new set of eyes is most valuable.
Point 4: Areas of improvement
Once the assessments are made, identify areas in which your organization can improve. No organization is expected to be top rated on all strategic communications practices, rather the assessment of where your company should be must be based on an accounting of its realistic capabilities of financial and human resources.
Point 5: Refine and repeat
Implementing the recommendations will require an action plan and setting of target dates, at which time a less formal audit can be completed to verify their effectiveness. The action plan must be realistic and prioritize recommendations for the greatest impact.
The key to keeping your comms engine running smoothly is to ensure that it is tended to on a regular basis. I think an annual audit is certainly best practice, but you should tailor the frequency to your needs.
Have you recently completed an audit? Did it reveal anything you weren’t expecting? Any hiccups in the process? Let me know in the comments below.
If you think your company is due for a communications audit, and you would like to engage me as a consultant, I can be reached at http://ab_comms.branded.me.