Are your publications scaring off your audience? It might be time for an audit

Learn why your company’s dated, confusing and downright embarrassing content can send potential customers fleeing.


If your organization is like many others, it has a multitude of print and online publications.

That’s good, right? Not necessarily. Consider the following scenario:

Joe visits one of your Cutting-Edge Custom Windows stores and picks up a brochure from the service desk. When he gets home, Joe sees that:

  • Your brochure contains unsophisticated graphics;
  • On the “Contact Us” page, a photo shows a man talking on what looks like the world’s very first cell phone.

Joe isn’t impressed. How “cutting-edge” can your windows be when your brochure is so passé? Somewhat tentatively, he keys in the URL listed in the brochure, but the website doesn’t exist. He tries the phone number, but it’s out of service.

Frustrated, Joe doesn’t even bother looking you up on Google. He tosses out your brochure and goes with another vendor.

Still not convinced your publications could be working against you? Here’s another scenario:

At an information fair, Susan comes to your nonprofit organization’s table. She picks up a newsletter and a Did You Know? fact sheet. An article in the newsletter says financial donations to your organization help homeless children. But the fact sheet says donations help hungry children.

Susan is confused. Will her donation help homeless children who are hungry? Or hungry children, regardless of whether they are homeless? Or homeless children and hungry children?

Her confusion leads to skepticism. If your organization can’t get its messaging consistent, how can she trust you with her donation?

What you need to ask yourself right now:

Do you want to:

  1. Appear disorganized and unprofessional?
  2. Confuse prospects, customers and other stakeholders?
  3. Risk losing business to your competitors?

No? Then maybe you should consider a publications audit.

What is a publications audit?

Simply put, a publications audit is an analysis of all your organization’s external-facing marketing and communications channels including brochures, fact sheets, newsletters, website(s), and the like.

At its most basic, an audit can tell you what your organization is using (even individual employees) to promote your organization to external stakeholders. For example:

  • In Joe’s case, a publications audit would tell you he was looking at a brochure published in 2005 and that the store where he got it has been passing it out it for years.
  • In Susan’s case, an audit would show your nonprofit organization has mixed messaging across all its publications—even its newest ones. Although the inconsistencies might seem subtle (e.g., homeless vs. hungry children), they are enough to confuse those whom you are asking for donations.

Gain deeper insight

If you delve further into the audit, you can pick up all kinds of deeper insights. For example:

  • Do your publications reflect your company’s most current strategic objectives?
  • What purposes do the publications serve? Are they a sales tool? Who is meant to use this publication?
  • How useful is the publication?
  • To whom are you communicating? Have you forgotten to address any of your most important stakeholders?
  • Do your key messages and branding “mesh” across all publications—or are they so different that your publications look like they come from multiple companies?

Making sense of it all

The findings you collect from your audit can be used to help you:

  1. Minimize confusion among employees over what publications should be used (and for which purposes), and which should be discarded forever.
  2. Build trust among external stakeholders by ensuring they receive consistent messaging, no matter where they go for information about your organization.
  3. Develop a new or improved publications/content strategy to make better use of your marketing/communications budget.

Lindsey McCaffrey is an Ottawa-based communications/public relations consultant, writer and editor. With more than a decade of experience, Lindsey is the recipient of a Gold Quill award from the International Association of Business Communicators. To reach Lindsey, contact 613.290.0239 or lindsey@lindseymccaffrey.com

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