In research and policy communications, it is often hard to discern whether the work you’re putting in is helping you to achieve your aims.
This is especially true when you want to try something new – like introducing storytelling into your comms. How do you identify fertile ground in which to build storytelling practices, and where might you generate more capacity to do so?
It can be even harder to evaluate your comms effectiveness if you don’t have a strategy in place.
If this sounds familiar, a great place to start is to take stock of what you have been doing, learn more about your ecosystem, and uncover strengths and weaknesses. In other words, complete a communications audit.
What is a communications audit?
Needing a communications audit is like when you have a light in your house that keeps flickering.
You’ve been ignoring it for months because you don’t know why it’s flickering, and you don’t have time to get your head around it.
You might change the bulb, but that doesn’t help. Even worse, you might never switch on this light again.
There are many reasons why your lights might start flickering, and you need to diagnose this first.
Essentially, you must review the situation and decide on next steps. In the long-run, it’s quicker and less draining to take the time to address it properly.
A communications audit is exactly that: a review of the organisation’s practices in order to ensure that they reflect your comms objectives and are up-to-date with the landscape in which you operate.
Why should you do a communications audit?
Publishing content on social media, sending out newsletters, writing policy-focused blogs on your website. Each of these has the potential to engage your audiences with your research insights. But this is not guaranteed.
A comms audit helps you uncover reasons why some of your practices have not been offering the desired results, and how they can be improved. You are able to identify key missing elements, look broadly at your landscape and competition, and get inspiration from best-in-class.
This will help you to decide what is working, what isn’t and where improvements can be made.
How do you do a communications audit?
When performing a comms audit, you can expect to find out whether you are following current best practice and what changes might help you achieve your objectives.
But first, you need to switch out of delivery mode and into a ‘reviewing’ mindset. This will prevent your many day-to-day activities clouding your judgement. And it will help you look at your comms practices in relation to one another, and to organisation as a whole – observing how they do or do not complement each other.
In short: you need to take a look at your comms practices with fresh eyes.
Carving out the time is probably the hardest part. From there, we can break the task down into four main steps:
1. Start by identifying your organisation’s communications objectives
First, you need to remind yourselves of your organisation’s comms objectives and whether or not you are achieving these. If you think that there are things that fall through the cracks, is there a hypothesis about why, or what you could improve?
This hypothesis will inform the scope and focus of the comms audit.
Focus is what you look for. In this instance, your focus will be on storytelling. What’s going well so far, and what other opportunities are there to tell a story? What are other organisations doing that we can learn from? You could then look at this across your chosen communication methods and channels.
Scope is how you look for it. That could be on your website, social media, newsletters, a blog or any other means by which you put content. There is a natural selection that happens at this stage. Scope will define which channels do and don’t review. You may decide to focus just on video storytelling, or on social media content, or on your long-form written content.
This will help you to ask: what is your overall narrative across those channels of communication? Are you telling a coherent story?
2. Move to being critical
Once you’ve defined your scope of work, and have agreed a framework of analysis with your team, you can start answering some questions:
- Does a clear narrative come out of these channels or content?
- Where are the opportunities to tell a story?
- Which content formats have worked, or have the potential to work?
- What hasn’t gone well, and why not?
Once you have a clear take on this, it’s time to measure against best practices – otherwise known as a competitor analysis.
3. Benchmark against peers, and seek inspiration from beyond
This part of the work includes completing a review of the organisations in your space in order to benchmark your work, and learn from those who are best-in-class.
To achieve this, you’ll want to explore comms activities of those organisations you consider immediate peers, or that operate in a similar space.
You’ll also want to do some research on equivalents to your organisation. These may be working on similar topics in comparable geographies. Or they may be similar organisations in parallel fields that are good at storytelling.
This exploration will give you a very good grasp of the organisations’ storytelling capabilities: what do they do well, and what can you learn from them?
4. Give yourself recommendations
This work will give you a good idea of what adjustments your organisation can make in order to improve your comms and your storytelling.
We typically categorise these changes as:
Immediate: What immediate adjustments can you make to improve your storytelling across your organisation? What existing strengths can you build on, and what are some quick wins?
Long-term: What are the long-term adjustments the organisation might not be in the position to make straight away – maybe because you require changes to workflows, or further research, or investment of time and/or finance? Can you outline the steps to get there over time?
Getting out of delivery mode to do this work isn’t easy, but it will be worth it in the long-run – trust us. That blinking light isn’t going to fix itself.