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Stop the Communications Chaos: Do an Audit - 8/20/2014 -


Stop 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.

By 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 unsubscribing.

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 better."

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 growth.
  • 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 perspective.
  • 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."

Hannah 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.


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