The start of a new year is a great time to take a fresh look at habits, goals and processes both professional and personal. With our marcomm departments, a communications review (also known as a communications audit) allows us to take a holistic look at what we are achieving and kick off the new year discovering how we can execute most effectively.
Key signs that indicate you may well benefit from a communications review include:
- Unclear brand identity: Every school should have an articulated claim in the market, and prospective students should know what your school stands for and cares about.
- Uncertainty over messaging and communications flow: Can you definitively say that all messaging output is consistent and clear? Does it all make sense?
- Concern over budget and budget breakdown: The marcomm budget should be spent thoughtfully, with each dollar used towards a specific strategic marketing goal. And for professional and graduate schools, alignment with and leverage of the institutional brand is also of critical importance.
Lack of clarity over these elements suggests that a review would help you to make your institution’s story stronger and more compelling in the marketplace.
Once you’ve decided to proceed with a review, the next step is to clearly define goals and desired outcomes. Some goals to consider include:
- Establishing a cohesive brand to inform all strategic communications
- Understanding how to build a “trackable” system that links marketing outreach with results
- Verifying you have the right personnel and structural set up for your marketing team
- Determining the right budget for the institution’s strategic goals
There are a few ways to go about an audit. You can take the internal approach, and ask all members of your team to think critically about their work and how adequately they communicate your institution’s identity. Alternatively, bring in a colleague from another department or institution. As a third party, they lack the bias that can cloud perspective and impede attempts to make tough recommendations for change. A third option is to bring in an external firm that specializes in performing audits to streamline processes and timelines while sharing industry best practices.
To begin the review, marketing and communications staff, social media professionals, admissions teams, and senior leadership should provide all of the marketing materials they use in their roles. This will allow the auditors to look for consistency and strength in brand storytelling. Transparency with your stakeholders is a must. You will be asking a lot of people to identify and catalogue their marketing materials and activities, and they have to know that there is a payoff: the development of a more effective and compelling marketing strategy.
The marketing team should also provide their current strategic plan, current strategies, and any existing brand guidelines. With these materials, the auditing team can look for any overarching inconsistencies in approach and outreach, “quick win” prospects and opportunities for improvement.
Based on the analysis of all materials and strategies—a thorough review takes about 45 to 90 days—the review team should make straightforward recommendations for refining your communications flow and messaging strategy. These recommendations are meant to bolster your current efforts and ensure everything coming out of your department is communicated clearly and with purpose.
An external review team can also advise on the structure of your department and how processes are carried out. Only once those recommendations are solidified can the review team have the scope necessary to recommend a budget and budget break down for optimally telling your institution’s story.
The ultimate purpose of a communications audit is to set the marcomm department up to succeed. It can provide an informed approach to strategic, integrated marketing and communications. A review truly makes your post-audit world much stronger than your pre-audit world, and strengthens the ability of the marcomm team to promote your institution.
Minesh Parikh is CEO at Lipman Hearne.