MGI Tipster – Volume 11, Issue 11

November 15, 2012   |   Vol. 11   |   Issue 11
The Components of a Communications Audit

One of the most challenging and ongoing aspects of association management is staying in touch with members and projecting an association’s institutional persona in a proper and effective way. How much messaging is too little or too much? How are messages best conveyed? How do associations stay “on brand” with many communications to align?

The Audit – And be Honest

The answers can be found in a truthful, introspective review of existing communications, from a high level perspective down to the smallest details. A thorough examination includes every aspect of what an organization says and how it says it … logo and tagline, stationery and newsletters, flyers and display ads, annual meeting materials and editorial style, and of course website and emails. An annual review is not inappropriate.

Who Does It?

There are several approaches to performing an audit. One is to convene a session with internal staff—creative sorts not only able to brainstorm but to act as candid reviewers, able to envision how communications might be done better. This method requires a facilitator to lead the discussion and arrive at apt conclusions. Another way to audit is to retain an experienced consultant outside of the organization, who should be able to render a more impartial assessment. The drawback is less familiarity with fine details.

Here are the most important communications tools that should be reviewed.

The Logo – Icon of the Brand

Logos can sing where words just talk. A well designed logo can be an association’s most memorable identifier because it shows and tells so much: the initials or acronym, the tone and attitude, and when accompanied by a tag line, a statement of being. Colors, typeface, and graphics all play important roles in the composition of an association logo. That is why the primary symbol of an organization’s brand is often so difficult to conceive and so complicated to design.

If your communications audit concludes that a new or redrawn logo is needed, make no mistake: the logo is the work of an experienced artist or illustrator able to transfer concept into quality art.

The Tagline – A Statement of Fact

The tagline is meant to convey the character of the association in a few well-chosen words or a phrase. Wording must be economical and precise, a simple statement that mirrors the purpose of the association and the members it serves. A tag line is neither a vision statement nor a mission statement. Rather, it is a few carefully selected words that are able to sum up the promise of an association’s brand.

Taglines should be used often, most appropriately with the logo so that the two are complementary, recognized, and memorable.

Journals and Newspapers – Flagship Pubs

A communications audit should pay particular attention to what ought to be the most notable communications of all—premier print and web publications such as journals, newspapers, newsletters, and books. Auditing these can be particularly challenging because the review examines the often complex connection between the science and art of writing and the appropriate complementary design.

How its publications stand out—formal or informal, serious or witty, in scientific or narrative prose—often defines an organization’s depth of thought and leadership in its field.

Display Ads – Bold Branding

Whether in one’s own publications or in another’s, getting it right in display ads can be one of the more difficult messages to craft. Displays have a lot of work to do in a restricted space that must grasp attention, hold it long enough to incite interest, deliver a simple message or complex idea, and make it memorable.

The best display ads cause the reader to make a double-take on their meaning. Puns are the stuff of good newspaper headlines because they cause the reader to linger and are catchy in their double or triple meaning. Display ads should do more than beg attention; they should be seen as response devices that encourage response to a proposal or an idea.

Editorial Style – Clarity is Key

The ultimate goal of successful communications is clarity—clarity of thought, clarity of expression, and clarity of intent. How successfully an association communicates is a combination of words and images, ideas and tone, and presentation and design. It can be difficult finding quality writers who are able to adjust copy and text to fit topic and audience in the most appropriate ways. The communications audit should not shy away from an examination of writing style and clarity, though these can be easy to criticize yet difficult to do well.

Digital Communications – New Directions

Much attention is paid to the new communicators in the mix—websites, blogs, social media, emails, and mobile. All seem to be constantly reshaping and remaking themselves in the most competitive ways. Auditing them for continuity, consistency, and currency is important. How well an organization is able to stay abreast of who, what, where, why, and how in the digital world is a real measure of both communications and technical achievement.

A Final Thought – Selecting a Professional

A communications audit is important but it can only be as useful as the knowledge and ability of those who conduct it. When done well, an audit can add considerable value to a membership organization by directing messaging and content in ways that are clear, concise, appropriate, and professional.

Could your organization use an unbiased review of the effectiveness of your communications? Find out more by contacting MGI President Rick Whelan at 703.706.0350 or
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