More than ever, today’s plan sponsors need to maximize the return on their communications investment. The question is: how?

In our hyper-connected world, most of us struggle with information overload. Throw in a constant barrage of messaging about our global economic crisis, and it’s no wonder that plan members start tuning out. So how can you cut through the noise and maximize the impact of your communication efforts?

The best way to reach plan members is to make your communications strategic, targeted, and audience-driven. Easier said than done, right? Well, there is a practical way to get started – a communications audit.

What is a communications audit?
A communications audit is a diagnostic tool that allows you to streamline your efforts and avoid spinning your wheels by answering three fundamental questions:
• What should we start doing?
• What should we continue doing?
• What should we stop doing?

Audits come in a variety of shapes and sizes—each designed to address a specific objective. At one end of the spectrum, an audit might consist of a broad inventory of all communication activities to identify redundancies or gaps. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a narrowly-focused communications audit might measure the effectiveness of a particular tool, such as an online pension calculator.

But audits are not necessarily confined to formal media. In what I call a “full-circle” audit, the goal is to evaluate all of the communication circulating in and around the organization, both formal and informal. Are formal messages consistent with informal messages? Is the formal communications program out of sync with stakeholder beliefs or understanding? Is there a credibility gap?

What does it involve?
A full-circle audit uses a number of processes—such as observation, content analysis, focus groups, interviews and surveys—to measure communications practices in three areas:

Leaders – assess how well leadership has defined and articulated its vision, objectives and key messages; identify disconnects between formal and informal messaging at the leadership level; determine barriers, sensitivities or other communication issues.

Stakeholders – identify preferred communications channels and tactics; formally assess media effectiveness; measure understanding; evaluate stakeholder attitudes and beliefs.

Practices – review communications policies and strategies; catalogue type, frequency and timeliness of materials; inspect content and quality; check alignment with leadership goals.

In my experience, successful audits have these things in common:
• clearly articulated scope and objectives,
• rigorous research methodology, and
• objective, constructive, user-friendly reporting of results.

Specifically, the audit needs to identify current strengths as well as weaknesses. It must generate specific recommendations for improving communication practices and make a clear business case for adopting these actions. Finally, it should prioritize recommendations and establish a timeline designed to ensure early wins—and provide momentum for change.

The benefits
Any assessment of your communications practices, particularly an audit that draws on broad participation at all levels of the organization, will help to build member engagement and create buy-in for your strategic plan.

In the short term, you’ll gain a clear understanding of how to communicate more effectively, establish a baseline to measure progress, and develop a roadmap to direct your actions. In the long term, you’ll improve the chances of realizing organizational goals and objectives. You might even nail down the very best way to communicate, bar none.

Susan Deller is a principal with Eckler Ltd. and specializes in benefits communications consulting.

These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2022 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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