Communications Audits: Successful Communication Strategies

By David Armanasco

As every business owner knows, the success of a company depends on its ability to create and implement a successful communication strategy. This article focuses on the benefits of conducting a communications audit. Knowing a company is completely and properly prepared to communicate with its internal and external audiences is critical. A communications audit is a systematic review and analysis of how well an organization communicates with internal and external target audiences. The audit should supply management with necessary data to make informed decisions regarding their future goals. A comprehensive audit should be conducted every five to seven years.

Improving Employee Relations

Audits are essential during times of transition and change, such as acquisitions, mergers, new corporate policies, launching new products, downsizing personnel or implementing new technology. Between audits, ongoing monitoring systems should be in place to ensure the success of a company’s communication strategy. The ongoing monitoring process is necessary to provide a solid background of information needed to develop or modify specific communications programs. When a produce recall is taking place the protocols need to be supported by a specific communications policy making it easier to deliver and receive information in rapid fashion.

The benefits of conducting the internal segment of a communications audit are numerous. An audit can determine whether the company’s communications strategy is understood, supported and implemented at all levels within the organization. The audit can also reveal the degree to which a company is satisfying the needs of their employees, or uncover any misunderstandings that may be causing poor employee morale.

The data collected will provide valuable information to top management regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal communication vehicles including e-mail, voicemail and face-to-face meetings. More specifically, the information collected will lend itself to improving efficiency, productivity and innovation within the organization.

It is imperative that employees at all levels within an organization understand and support a company’s vision, mission, values and goals. In order for this to occur, upper-level management must not only understand and support these aspirations, but also be able to communicate these ideas effectively to their employees. By conducting in-depth confidential interviews with top management, an auditor can not only uncover any communication problems that start at this level, but also ascertain management’s position and attitude regarding communication.

When offered a “safe” environment in which to share information, employees can be a vital resource in determining the success or failure of the organization’s internal communications strategy (safe environment in this context refers to a situation wherein employees feel comfortable answering questions openly and honestly, without fear of retaliation). A skilled auditor can employ methods such as interviews with focus groups of employees and anonymous employee surveys to uncover these situations. The candidates should be chosen through a random stratified technique in order to obtain opinions across demographic lines.

Utilizing the data collected from these methods, an auditor can also determine whether or not leaders within a company have created internal climates that encourage the support of the organization’s values and goals. Furthermore, an audit can offer valuable recommendations on how to better satisfy the needs of employees and provide insight on possible misunderstandings that can interfere with the success of the company’s communication strategy. Confidence in communications can enhance an employee’s ability to assure concerns expressed by customers and consumers.

Enhancing Electronic Communication

Advances in technology offer companies many options concerning both written and verbal communication. Just like the spoken word, there are rules governing the expression of emotion in the written form when using email, instant messenger and other forms of electronic communication. Punctuation and character formatting when used in electronic communication is extremely important in order to avoid misinterpretation.

By employing the same “safe environment” methods as mentioned previously, an auditor can obtain valuable information regarding how e-mails and other electronic messages are perceived. This process is not limited to electronic correspondence, but can also be helpful in learning how well employees understand all written communication including written policies, manuals, bulletin boards and reports.

Understanding Your Consumers

The benefits of conducting an external communications audit are numerous. An audit can uncover a lack of customer responsiveness at its fundamental level, recognize and examine customer perceptions, measure the pulse of the industry and produce information on current and prospective markets.

In order to evaluate the lack of customer response, a comprehensive analysis of both printed and electronic material such as news releases, brochures, annual reports, proposals, websites and television/radio advertisements should be initiated. Through this analysis, a skilled auditor can evaluate whether the lack of response stems from improperly communicating your company’s product or issue.

The extent of the audit may be as broad and deep as the size of the company demands. You may wish to evaluate the effectiveness of individual departments or the organization as a whole. Should you conduct an audit utilizing in-house employees or should you hire a consultant?

Before you decide, you may want to ask yourself if you have the time and resources available to allocate and whether you have the expertise and objectivity to interpret the data. You may want to conduct the audit internally, bringing in outside help only for specific areas. A few hours of a consultant’s time can save you both time and money down the road. Regardless of how you conduct the audit, it is essential to build an organization where communication is effective both internally and externally.

A recall is a headache and distraction from the normal stress of business. Customer relations are dependent on trust and performance. To make sure you are prepared to handle a crisis situation, such as a recall, the confidence in knowing that your company is set up to communicate with confidence is the basis of being prepared.

David Armanasco, a native of Monterey, is president of Armanasco Public Relations, Inc. (APR), which he founded in February 1985. Experienced in all aspects of marketing and public relations, community relations, public affairs, and crisis management, Mr. Armanasco sets the pace for his expert leadership team, advising them as required, and acts as a facilitator with clients and client issues. APR is well-known for expertise in land use, agriculture, banking, transportation, the arts, and utility industry issues. Mr. Armanasco served on the California Coastal Commission (1996 – 1999) and has received the Congressional Award and the California State Senate and Assembly Leadership Awards. In addition to his role as president of APR, Mr. Armanasco is an active participant in numerous charitable, community, arts, and educational organizations.

< Return to Articles

Categories: Preparation