the Communications Chaos: Do an Audit
The American Physical Therapy Association shares how new member survey results
led to a more streamlined communications program. Bottom line? Donít assume you
know how your members feel about your communications ó if
you havenít recently, itís time to ask.
Hannah Moulton Belec
Are you rolling your eyes at the ever-growing number of
emails your colleagues want to send to your members every week? Odds are, your
members are annoyed too ó immediately deleting emails from your organization or
At the 2014 Association Media & Publishing Annual
Meeting, Felicity Clancy from the American Physical Therapy Association shared
how her organization streamlined a communications approach that had become
unwieldy. As a result, APTAís communications are more targeted, effective, and
engaging for its members.
Before Clancy could come up with solutions, she had to
clarify the problems. She needed to find out if her members were fatigued by
the accumulating emails, whether APTAís magazine was being read, whether the
organization was reaching students, and what kind of information members
wanted, among other things. She worked with Stratton Media Strategies &
Solutions to do a communications audit that included a member survey,
confidential interviews with staff and members, publication reviews, and
comparative analyses. The firmís president, Debra Stratton, says the key is to
make sure you're getting statistically valid data so you can be confident in
the information you're gathering.
Validity is all the more important if youíre using an
audit to make big culture shifts in your organization, as APTA did. The
organization used the insight from the audit to write a new communications
plan, appoint an editorial board (members were chosen by senior staff), and
implement concrete recommendations that included redesigning the magazine, using
design to integrate online elements with print, reining in the email calendar, and
consolidating content into fewer, more topical messages. Because she could back
up her decisions with audit data, Clancy had buy-in from senior staff to make
big changes in workflow that were essential to cutting down on email fatigue,
such as centralizing email scheduling and review. "Sometimes, you donít even
realize how much is going out if itís uncentralized," says Clancy.
And because she had feedback from members, Clancy knew
that many people wanted to hear more from APTA ó but only on specific topics. "More is not better in communications," says Stratton. "More targeted is
APTA has seen good results already, and they have
benchmarks they hope to continue to meet.
For anyone considering launching a communications audit,
Clancy has tips for before you get started:
- Approach it with an open mind.
- Position the idea as an opportunity for your organization's
- Get buy-in early.
- Use the data to back up your recommendations.
- Start with evaluation data you might already
have collecting dust on the shelf, but consider the value of an outsiderís
- Figure out who your competitors are, and find
out what members want but aren't getting from you.
Finally, Clancy reminder the audience to keep in mind the
variance they will see between the average member and a very active member. "Most
of all, donít assume you know your members, "she says." You donít really know
what they want until you ask them."
Moulton Belec is a senior editor and writer at the
American Association of University Women, a 130-year-old womenís advocacy organization.
Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this session for our
members who were unable to attend.