2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for “Communication at Work.”

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 19,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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A Wise Use of Measurement Dollars

Here’s some good news about communication budgets in organizations: the percentage of communication budgets spent on measurement and evaluation has more than doubled in two years.

According to USC Annenberg’s Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) VII study conducted late last year, the slice of the communication budget pie increased from about 4% in 2009 to nearly 9% in 2011. The study says not only are there more tools available for monitoring communication effectiveness, but organizations seem to be taking a more strategic view of communication.

This is great news for communicators, but it also increases the pressure on us to prove our value to the organizations we serve. Business leaders increasingly expect the communication function to positively affect the bottom line (and there are plenty of recent studies that indicate highly effective communication programs do just that).

One of the wisest investments you can make in communication measurement is to assess what is 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 best spent.

Along with my partner Katrina Gill of Gill Research, I’ve conducted several communication audits over the years and our clients always tell us the audits were worth the time and resources required to do them. An audit gives you a clear picture of what your employees want and need to know, what your management needs to communicate, and the most effective and efficient ways to communicate with employees. In addition, there is great value in having a third party conduct the assessment. Sometimes communicators can’t see the problems with their communication programs — or the things they’re doing well — because they are too close.

Although communication is viewed much more favorably these days as a strategic business tool, budgets are still pretty tight. It’s a good idea to ensure those limited resources are allocated in ways that make the most sense. That’s what a communication audit can do for you.

If you’d like to talk with me about the communication audit process, send me an email at robert@hollandcomm.com.

Questions to Ask on a Communication Audit

It’s always interesting to see the search terms people use that lead them to this blog. One term that pops up fairly frequently is “What questions do I ask on a communication audit?” or some variation on that theme.

 The fact that the question regularly appears is encouraging. It tells me more communicators are interested in conducting audits of their programs, which is a worthwhile investment of time and money. However, it is an investment. You can’t really do a high-quality communication audit on the cheap. Or, you could, but the data you get from it would be minimally useful.

A communication audit is not simply a survey. It is a thorough, in-depth examination of a communication program’s effectiveness. A survey usually is part of an audit, but it is just one tool for gathering information. An audit also usually includes focus groups; interviews with stakeholders such as business leaders, employees and the communication team’s internal clients; and an analysis of communication vehicles by someone with deep experience and expertise in organizational communication. (I’m assuming the audit is being conducted on an internal communication program; an audit of external communications would be similar but involve different stakeholders and participants.)

 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.)

Generally, however, survey questions should focus on getting a sense of what communication vehicles and processes are working effectively and what you need to improve. Questions might offer a scale of agreement/disagreement with statements describing the vehicles. For example:

  • “The ACME intranet homepage keeps me informed about important things happening in the company.”
  • “Quarterly town hall meetings help me understand the business strategy.”
  • “’This Month at ACME’ provides information that helps me do my job better.”

Questions should be as specific as possible and should ask about strategic purposes of the communication vehicles. A question like “How much of ‘This Month at ACME’ do you read?” will not generate information that is useful. Whether employees read most of it or only part of it doesn’t tell you how well the magazine informs them about business strategy.

Focus group questions should be designed to get participants talking about the specific things they like and don’t like about communication vehicles. If possible, it’s a good idea to have copies of the magazine or to have a live connection to the intranet so that the facilitator can point to specific features and elements and ask questions about them. If you conduct focus groups before the survey, the qualitative data can help determine the questions to ask on the survey. If you conduct the survey first, that data may suggest areas to probe in the focus groups.

Interview questions should focus on obtaining senior management’s and internal clients’ views of communication as a strategic business tool. Again, the data gathered through interviews often informs the development of survey and focus group questionnaires.

Even if you hire a consultant to help you with your communication audit – and I strongly recommend that you do – understanding the kinds of questions to ask can help you save time and minimize costs. Although I am no longer in the consulting business, I have partnered with several good communication consultants who can conduct a communication audit at a reasonable price. A communication audit is not a simple process, so don’t expect to pay just a few thousand dollars for one. If you hire the right partner, however, the money will be well-spent and you will have a much clearer understanding of what’s working in your communication program and what isn’t.

 

The Rodney Dangerfield of PR

“Employee communication is the Rodney Dangerfield of PR.”

That’s the assessment of Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D., the Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama. While researching the latest literature on best practices in employee communication, I came across his excellent speech delivered in October 2011 to the PRSA International Conference. In it, Dr. Berger makes a compelling case that in spite of all the research proving the business value of employee communication — and there has been much in the last 10 years — it still gets no respect.

Dr. Berger argues that employee communication in most companies is “utter folly” because they “continue to act against their own self interests by perpetuating failed communication programs that drive employee distrust and
cynicism and reduce engagement and commitment.”

He adds: “We know what needs to be done to create cultures for communication, but too many organizations just don’t do it. They fail to move from KNOWING to DOING.”

I’ve chosen to make employee communication my career because I believe in its potential to change and drive organizations. I’m passionate about it (despite agreeing with Dr. Berger that employee communication is decidedly not as sexy as media relations or crisis communications). From the beginning, though, I had to dig deep for research that bears out employee communication’s value. Well, we have the research, so now there’s not much excuse for organizations that fail to actually do something.

Read Dr. Berger’s lecture here. It’s only 10 pages and worth every minute if you believe, as I do, that employee communication is the most important communication in which an organization can engage.

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 robert@hollandcomm.com.

A Good Rep Goes a Long Way

A study of corporate reputation released this week gives further evidence that a company’s good reputation goes a long way toward improving the bottom line and that effective communication about a company has a positive impact on reputation.

This is Public Relations 101 stuff. Those of us in the PR business have known these things all along, but in this age of “communication ROI,” the Reputation Institute’s 2010 U.S. Reputation Pulse gives us some of the firepower we need when trying to convince business leaders that what we do adds tremendous value.

The consulting firm’s study finds that corporate reputation has a positive and direct link to consumers’ attitudes and behaviors. Comparing the bottom 10 and top 10 companies that the study ranks by reputation, consumers are 300% more likely to verbally support and give benefit of the doubt to companies with good reputations, 200% more likely to consider those companies’ products and 350% more likely to purchase their products.

The study also finds that a consumer who has encountered a company’s marketing, branding, public relations or social responsibility messages on average rates the company higher regardless of the company’s reputation ranking. Even low-ranked companies benefit from telling their side of the story directly to consumers. Obviously, this has huge implications for social media, which bypass traditional media outlets to reach consumers directly.

By the way, the top five companies ranked by reputation in the study are Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg, The Walt Disney Company and PepsiCo. The bottom-ranked company is financial services firm AIG. Corporate reputation rankings were determined in an online survey that averaged perceptions of trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling.