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How many advertisements or “branded communication” messages do you see in a day? I am not asking how many you read or pay attention to – simply how many you see. The number has never really been pinned down, but estimates have been as high as 5,000 back in 2007. With the explosion of the internet, I would bet that 5,000 isn’t even close to the actual number (unless, of course you use this great chrome extension).

The bottom line is that the message an institution communicates is but one of thousands seen by its constituency base. People are getting bombarded from every angle. In order for your message to be heard, it needs to be consistent, relevant, timely, relational, and integrated. Everyone in the institution must be saying the same thing in order for it to have any chance of being heard. Hence, the Communications Audit.

What is it?

A Communications Audit is a great step toward integration at an institution. It often reveals ways in which it could communicate more effectively, save money, and maybe even redistribute staff responsibilities or develop new staff structures. The basic goal is to develop an exhaustive list of WHO in the institution, communicates WHAT to WHOM and WHEN is it communicated. Let’s break these down.

By this, I mean WHO is currently responsible for creating the content or message for a piece of communication. Please note that I said the “content or message” not simply “who creates the communication piece.” Sometimes, a specific department is responsible for creating the content or developing the message, but the communications “person” or “department” is responsible for actually creating the piece whether it is something in print or on the web. When conducting the audit, you want to find the source of the communicated message. For a seminary, you might find that it is the president, the alumni director, the director of the DMin program, the registrar, the student accounts coordinator, the dean, etc. We are not looking for the department that creates it. We are looking for the person that creates it. If something is truly created by a department, that is fine, but do as much as you can to find the actual source. Don’t just blindly accept that, “The Business Office” creates a given document. We need to know WHO is creating it.

While you are looking for the WHO, you will inevitably learn about WHAT is being communicated to WHOM. Is the student accounts coordinator creating an account statement which is sent to students? Is the director of the DMin program creating a marketing piece for local pastors? Is the Enrollment Office creating an email article about a financial aid program that involves churches? Is the Development Office sending a request to alumni? What are people creating and to whom are they sending it?

The last point of data to gather is WHEN everything is being sent. Do alumni get an e-newsletter once a quarter? Do churches receive information at certain times in the year? Do prospective students receive any mailings at certain times of the year? Is there a system for social media posts? Is there a schedule for donor appeals? Do current students receive information at certain times? Basically, if there is any semblance of a schedule for a particular communication piece, you want to know it. If there isn’t a schedule, then you want to know what triggers the publishing or sending of a piece of communication.

Lots of Data…Now what?

As you were reading this post, you were probably wondering what on earth you were going to do with all the information you gathered. After all, why do you need to care about what is on the statement a student receives by email, in the mail, or in their online account? The value of knowing such things is only obtained once you are able to see the whole picture. Once you begin to see the whole picture, you will begin to see how things overlap and obvious points of integration will be revealed.

I could simply give you a list of ways you should integrate communications at your institution, but that is waaaay too simplistic. The context, history, and brand of your institution will greatly impact how your communication and systems can be integrated. There is no magic bullet. You need to take the time to think creatively about how things are connected. Remember, many tasks in your institution impact many different departments.

Can’t you give me a hint?

What, you don’t want me to send you into this completely blind!? Okay, here are a few things I have learned from my experiences with my organization and others.

Alumni and church communication is #1
Most of the time, we do not effectively integrate alumni and church communication. Each of those groups care about enrollment, giving, resource provision, and impact. We should not isolate the messages. For most, if not all, seminaries, the majority of students come through a referral channel. Churches and alumni are the two primary sources of referrals. Yet, many institutions have an enrollment office that speaks with alumni, an advancement office that speaks with alumni, a president that speaks with alumni, and possibly a dean, registrar, or “supervised ministry” office that communicates with alumni. A good place to start integrating efforts and communication is the area of alumni and church communication. Your development officers need to know everything about the enrollment process so that when they are speaking with an alum or a pastor they can talk about new programs, the application process, and financial aid. When your admissions counselor is talking with an alum, he or she needs to be able to speak intelligently about your scholarship giving program, church partnerships, and the history of the institution. The examples are never ending.

Annual Report/Viewbook/Quarterly Newsletter/Magazine is #2
A good #2 target is the “big” marketing piece or whatever version of the marketing pieces I just listed above exists at your institution. Your entire constituency base cares about mostly the same top-level things. Are you spending time and money trying to create multiple versions of these items? Is the message for each of them really that different? Do you really need an annual report AND a viewbook. Do you really need a viewbook when you have a magazine? Do you really need a magazine when you have a viewbook and an annual report? The key with this target is to think strategically about what you are trying to communicate with each of these “big” marketing pieces.

Practical Examples

REAL Campaign at Candler
Candler School of Theology at Emory University created the REAL campaign and a booklet was part of that campaign. The booklet has stories about alumni, students, and donors, and tells the story of how Candler is comprised of real people, making a real difference, in the real world. The campaign, while good, is not the best part of the plan. The best part is that they use the book for their entire constituency base. They created repurposable content, built it once, and now share it with everyone.

The Storybooklet at Northern Seminary
In 2010, we created the “storybooklet” which is meant to tell the story of Northern with a focus on the current calendar year. The book is created in the spring and is very image-driven. It is the only “big” print piece we do during the year because we create in such a way that it can be used by everyone and for everyone. We can use it as a simple case statement for donors, an update for alumni, a marketing piece for prospective students, and much more. The content can also be used for internal “talking point” documents, Facebook and Twitter posts, and much more. It isn’t an “enrollment” or “advancement” or “alumni relations” piece. It is an example of unified communication.

Go forth and conquer!

If we want the messages we communicate to be heard through the noise of thousands of other messages, we need to make sure we strategically align the efforts within our institutions. A Communications Audit is a great step toward that integration.

Feel free to tell me how this process could be improved or even if you think it would be a waste of time. Why is this helpful or unhelpful? What changes would you make to the process? Share your opinions!

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