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The communications audit is an important tool for planning and evaluation in public relations. And don't get it confused with something else.
"When people refer to an audit, they often misuse the term and equate it with a survey or poll," says Dr. Walter K. Lindenmann, APR, senior vice president and director of research, Ketchum Public Relations. "An audit is bigger than the other two."
An audit does three things:
1) Reviews how well an organization communicates internally and externally.
2) Focuses on messages exchanged, media used, and the outputs and outcomes of the communications process.
3) Helps identify missing linkages or blocked circuits in the communications process.
"An audit gets a handle on the entire communications process," he says. Most organizations can benefit from one, too. Who may benefit? Lindenmann lists corporations, associations, financial institutions, hospitals and health-care facilities, universities, government agencies --well, you name it. "I don't care what kind of organization you are. It really doesn't make any difference," he says. "Any organization that communicates with another group can benefit from an audit."
When should an audit be conducted?
Lindenmann offers nine scenarios when one may be used:
o An organization changes directions.
o There is a change in management, from a new CEO to a new public relations manager.
o The public relations function is being created or restructured.
o The organization constantly finds itself on the defensive.
o The organization's positions are constantly misunderstood.
o The media doesn't call to ask about issues important to the organization and it's industry. "When they don't even know you're out there," Lindenmann says.
o The issues are constantly catching the organization unprepared.
o The employees, shareholders and customers complain about the organization's publications.
o The target audience groups question the relevance of the organization's overall efforts.
However, before rushing into an audit, be careful. "Don't take audits lightly," Lindenmann says. "It can be a somewhat dangerous exercise you go through. If an audit is not properly set up, you could possibly lose your job."