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Time for a comms review? 10 things to think about before you start

9 December 2015

I’ve met very few people who actually like having their work reviewed, but when it's done well, it can have a transformative effect.

The last time I was on the receiving end of a comms review, a new chief executive had joined the charity I worked for. He had an ambitious strategic vision and wanted to see whether his communications team could deliver it. With a bit of restructuring and some new approaches, we could.  

The review was challenging, but it forced us to take a step back and look at what was really working and where our skills gaps were. Ultimately, it made us a stronger team and raised our profile in the organisation – people understood and appreciated a little more what comms could contribute.

Whether it’s to support a new strategic direction, adapt to new technology, refocus after budget cuts or simply to ensure you are on track, a good review can bind a team together.  

However, having your work analysed can feel exposing. Most people in the third sector work hard and performance issues are rarely down to a lack of effort. If a review is handled badly, it can be disruptive and sap a team’s morale.

At RandallFox, we’ve conducted more reviews this year than ever before so we wanted to share what we’ve learnt. Here are 10 things to consider when undertaking a comms review: 

  1. Be clear about why you’re doing this – how are your comms likely to be better at the end?
  2. The value of a good review is its objectivity. Keep an open mind, and bring in other colleagues or external suppliers if this helps keep a clear view.  
  3. Even the best team members are likely to be nervous if their work is under scrutiny, so follow and communicate a clear process. What is this for? How will it work? When will it report?  
  4. Gather both hard data (web analytics, media coverage, social media interactions) and qualitative evidence (interviews, stories of impact). Insight lies in a mix of the two. Look for ways to measure impact not just output.
  5. No communications function works in isolation. You’ll also need look at how the organisation as a whole plans and prioritises and how this impacts on what comms is able to deliver.
  6. Inspire people to work differently. Look at what’s happening in other organisations.  Where is the innovation and best practice? Can your organisation adopt some of this?
  7. Benchmark against similar organisations. It will give useful comparisons for budget and head count.  
  8. Finding the right ways forward requires time and headspace. The evidence you gather will produce some ‘big themes’ but pore over the detail – sometimes the key insights and solutions are buried in there. 
  9. Be rigorous about the evidence. Make sure your conclusions and recommendations stand up to scrutiny and have credibility.
  10. Involve the people being reviewed (we can’t emphasise this enough). Give them a central role in identifying the issues and finding better ways of working. The more you involve them the more likely they are to embrace the results. 

We recently worked with Cathy Irving, director of communications at The Health Foundation, on a comprehensive review of the organisation’s communications, marketing, digital and public affairs activity. She says: 

Our organisation was changing fast, not just in size but also in direction. We needed an objective look at how our communications function could best respond to these changes. The review helped us focus our activities and to make the case for new resources in some key areas. It also helped build staff morale.

When a review concludes don’t forget to communicate the results widely and devote time and resources to support new ways of working. Keep everything clear, credible and objective and you won’t go far wrong.

Selina Fox

director, RandallFox

Selina Fox is a director and co-founder of RandallFox. RandallFox specialises in strategic comms support for charities with the goal of helping teams develop greater clarity, focus and direction so that they can make more of an impact. Services provided by RandallFox include supporting team development and structure; strategic planning; audience focus, research and message development; facilitation and coaching.