A while back, a client hired me to conduct a PR and brand audit of the organization. The process involved establishing a set of questions to be used in interviews with a cross-section of key stakeholders. This sort of research always serves to tell an organization how it’s perceived among those most important to it, how they process information, where they get it and more. It works great at identifying both communications strengths and areas of improvement.
In the beginning, the client said he wanted to learn all of these things, but as we moved forward it became obvious that he wanted the findings of the audit to reflect his own assumptions going in.
This can be a challenge, but if the process is allowed to proceed as designed, one of the great things I like is that you’re still able to obtain some interesting revelations and those “aha” moments. You’re still able to enable the organization to make much-needed adjustments in communications processes, messaging and programming to achieve better results going forward.
We quickly learned this client wasn’t having any of it. The funny thing was no one was forcing them to engage in the audit process. The client was not mandated to conduct the audit to prove something internally or externally.
It was more a case of confirmation bias.
The client was convinced he knew how his stakeholders perceived the organization and was hellbent on conducting a communications audit that confirmed his presumptions.
That’s not what happened even though he insisted on structuring certain questions and interviewing certain individuals seemingly to get a desired outcome. Still, the stakeholders we interviewed spoke freely and candidly, and they did reveal a certain blindside when it came to the organization’s brand and reputation. I’ve never had this not happen. Based on my experience with previous communications audits, I’d say the organization came through with flying colors and had an opportunity to improve an already strong brand.
In the end, the client received a final report that was thorough, complete and accurate. It included what he clearly wanted to hear and what he didn’t expect. What he did with that report, I don’t know.
What to Do If This is You
Here are some key takeaways if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
- Be conscious of your own confirmation biases before engaging in any research project, but particularly one centered on perceptions of your own organization.
- Don’t limit your queries to ‘softball questions’ designed only to make the organization look good. Ask questions to learn and generate valuable data for decision-making. To be sure, the purpose of a communications audit is to learn something new, not just to confirm what you think you already know.
- Allow the professionals you hire to give you honest analysis and counsel. You don’t have to take any or all of the advice they provide, but in the interest of a constructive communications audit process, it doesn’t help to try to channel client-consultant communication so that you only hear what you want to hear.
Do you ever wonder how your organization is perceived? Get in touch, I’d be happy to talk about how a communications audit can help you.