Government responses to the COVID crisis have been a mixed bag; some leaders have taken the pandemic in stride and absolutely aced the test (looking at you, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern!), while others have been left floundering. Of those that struggled, there’s a common theme to the complaints leveled at the top tiers of government: their communication simply wasn’t up-to-scratch.

Organizations, too, have been put to the test during the pandemic, with the need for clear communication and thoughtful, timely responses to reassure everyone from customers, to staff, to stakeholders.

And, as we ease our way out of this crisis and return to in-person business, effective communication is going to be even more important.

There will be challenges to overcome — people are facing new hardships, new ways of working, and perhaps fears about emerging from the safety of their homes and computer screens. There may be a newfound feeling of anxiety over the things we used to do without a second thought. Organizations and their clients are finally examining their stance on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s fair to say there’s a lot going on right now!

And the one thing that’s going to help organizations make these challenges easier for their employees, their stakeholders, and their customers is clear, concise, and effective communication.

So, as we head back into offices, or as we take a longer-term approach to remote working, it’s the perfect time to think about conducting a communications audit.

An audit isn’t a test.

First things first: don’t let the word “audit” worry you. We know it sounds kind of scary — maybe the very thought of it propels you into a pre-exam mindset and has your stomach flipping over. But it’s really just like a health checkup for your organization’s communications.

Its purpose isn’t to trip you up, rather it’s about ensuring you’re playing to your strengths and allowing you to address any unexpected gaps that might be harming your organization.

The benefits of an audit.

The best audits are based on solid research — both quantitative and qualitative — that will determine the organization’s communication effectiveness and solicit opinions, concerns, and perceptions of stakeholders who represent internal and external audiences. We collect both qualitative research (face-to-face interviews) as well as quantitative research (online survey, data review, etc.).

Done well, an audit will uncover any communications gaps as well as provide a guide to help address the communication organizational structure and build strategies to enhance visibility with key audiences.

Key areas to focus on.

When conducting an audit, we recommend the following key focus :

Engage stakeholders.

Asking the primary stakeholders (internal and external) for their insights, overall perceptions, strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and client satisfaction is one of the best ways to start a communication audit.

Review your printed and online communications.

You might think your communications messages are saying one thing, when actually they’re being understood in a whole other way by your target audience, whether that’s external stakeholders, your customers, your employees, or even the wider public.

And the only way to find out if this is the case is to ask the difficult questions and, more importantly, to listen to the answers with an open mind.

Test the power of your organization’s identity.

Brand identity supports your organization’s values and gives you a strategic advantage over the competition. It has the power to draw in clients and make them feel connected to your organization. So, does it still work? Is it current, responsive and relevant? Does your identity complement, not conflict, with your values? Testing the brand with stakeholders during an audit either reaffirms the power of your organization’s identity, or reveals it might be time to revisit, refresh or reimagine your brand.

Review of the communications department structure.

Again, the intention here isn’t not to catch people out but to ensure that everyone within the communications department is being given the opportunity to play to their strengths in a way that works for them and for the organization.

This can be done through a combination of interviews with communications staff and an assessment of skill sets, as well as a review of job descriptions and of the department’s ongoing capacity and needs.

Using the data.

Gathering data, observations, and insights is only one part of the puzzle — the real come with stage two: using your research to inform decision-making on the future of your communications strategy, whether that looks like a full-scale change in strategy, potential restructuring of the communications department, enhancing your brand, or simply a few minor improvements to refine your organization’s key message.

We know communications teams are frequently being asked to do more, with less and an audit is the perfect way to highlight any issues, preferably before they become insurmountable obstacles such as de-motivated employees, a department that consistently misses targets, or a communication strategy that consistently fails to say the right thing, to the right people.

If you think your own organization could benefit from a communications audit, we can step in as impartial advisers, conducting the research you need to help you reflect on what’s working well and sharing our insights and recommendations on what could be tweaked as you move forward and reset to our new version of normal. Get in touch — we’re happy to help!