Communication Audit: What It Is and How We Do It

Over the years, communicators have emailed or called me to say they are thinking of performing a communication audit and they want some advice on how to proceed. Usually the questions are about the tactics and mechanics of a survey: What online survey tool is the best? How many people should they survey? How many questions should be on the survey?

Before I can answer those questions — which are legitimate when planning a survey — I usually back up a bit and ask the inquirer some questions. Do they want to conduct a readership survey or do they want to perform a communication audit? The two are not the same.

A readership survey may provide some insight into what kind of information employees read and what they want from communication vehicles. Some information about readers’ preferences is better than no information at all, but a survey alone won’t provide a complete picture of employees’ communication wants and needs, and it won’t help business leaders know where to invest their communication resources for the greatest effect.

A communication audit will provide those answers, but a survey is just one tool used in an audit. Here is how I approach communication audits working with my business partner, Katrina Gill of Gill Research.

An audit includes qualitative and quantitative tools. Typically, we begin by interviewing business leaders to understand their communication needs and expectations as well as deep background on the organization, its mission, goals and strategies.

Then we conduct focus groups with a broad cross-section of employees (all levels and job functions) to identify where things stand, to spot issues and to understand what drives those issues.

Focus groups inform the development of a survey questionnaire. Now we know what questions to ask and the right way to ask those questions. It’s important to use the language employees use in order to get the most accurate survey data possible.

Then it’s time to conduct the survey. Driving a high response rate is important in order that the survey data are statistically valid.

We generate reports from the interviews, focus groups and surveys, but the audit is not yet complete. An audit should also include a third-party assessment of communication vehicles that holds them up against best industry practices and provides honest feedback.

We usually meet with the communication team to provide an in-person report of the audit’s findings and to think strategically about next steps in how to improve communication processes and vehicles.

All of this takes time and, yes, money. But it is time and money well spent. The result is a top-to-bottom assessment of the organization’s communication effectiveness.  An audit indicates what an organization is doing well and reveals gaps in communication. Business leaders and communication professionals then have a clear picture of where to invest resources to get the biggest bang for their communication bucks.

With an economy on the mend and organizations freeing up some resources, it’s a great time to conduct a communication audit. Doing so will help ensure a leaner, more focused communication program that will help carry the organization through the next period of uncertainty.

Read more about communication audits on my website. I’ve posted several articles Katrina Gill and I have written on the topic:

 If you have questions about communication audits, email me at


2 Responses

  1. […]  The decision about what questions to ask on an audit really depends on several factors, such as the organization’s culture, the role of communication in the organization, the number and variety of communication vehicles being used, the degree to which the organization uses those vehicles to communicate strategic messages, the frequency with which communication takes place, and many others. This is where an outside consultant to conduct the audit can provide a lot of value. Consultants who specialize in communication audits know how to help you identify the issues you want to explore through a survey, focus groups and interviews, and they can help you figure out what questions to ask. (Third parties also add objectivity to the audit process, but that is a subject for another time.) […]

  2. […] working and what needs fixing in your communication program. The best way to do that is through a communication audit, which uses quantitative and qualitative research to determine how your communication dollars are […]

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