The How-To’s of Communications Audits, Part II

By William Bullard

In part I, I discussed the strategic benefits of auditing your school’s communications, and which media to audit. Now I will dig into the tactics to optimize your marketing understanding and success.

Goals of Your Communications Audit

Think in terms of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” The first category includes emails, printed pieces, ads, and websites that are well-written, error-free, factually accurate, current (e.g. no old events or references on your website) and consistent with your branding, positioning, and priorities. It also means having a basic grasp of results for each medium. The second category encompasses strategic alignment of your message across your marketing channels, better results than your previous campaigns, and integration of lessons from leading schools and institutions (see “Benchmarking” below).

Who and When for Your Audit?

It is best to use an independent resource, because an “outsider” often spots issues and raises questions that creators miss. The ideal is a colleague who will not only catch granular problems, but also offer strategic assessments on alignment as noted above. This approach lends itself to a Development or Admission team member, or perhaps a teacher, doing the project in the summer or other vacation period. Of course, a consultant or high-caliber intern can handle this too, with some guidance in culture and goals. Either way, it will still require the communications director to define the project goals, provide links and documents, and either sit with the auditor or provide passwords for analytics systems.

How to Conduct an Audit

  • Email – Review copy and imagery. Hopefully you already track the data below and review each email after completion; if not, please do! But this is about the bigger picture of what interests and motivates your constituents and how your emails perform relative to your historical standards and similar institutions.
    • Segment by audience (parents, alumni, prospective families, others)
    • Track open rate, click rate (most useful), most popular topics, most successful themes
    • For Admission and Development, how many applications or next steps are taken, how much money is raised, and the like?
    • If you are testing (congrats!), what type of subject lines, tone, number of images, copy length, etc. work best?
  • Website- Again, while you should be tracking your basic data periodically, this would be a project on its own when you plan a site redesign. This is content and data review:
    • Any major omissions, e.g. no “History” or “About Us” pages
    • Basics: typos, bad grammar, broken links, past events, duplicate pages, pictures of people who have left the school
    • Is the site “responsive”? How does it work on mobile devices?
    • Advanced: navigation, flow, “connectedness,” prioritization, clarity
    • Data: include page views and views per visit, visits, time per session, and top pages viewed
  • Digital advertising:
    • Publications, including community
    • AdWords/other PPC
    • Social
    • Other
  • Print – Look and feel, quality, results if available:
    • Direct mail pieces
    • Magazines (include Viewbooks, quick review)
    • Ads
  • Social media:
    • Review all your pages (e.g. athletics or alumni) if appropriate
    • What posts elicit the most interest?
    • Is your community contributing or at least responding?
  • Blog:
    • How consistently are you publishing?
    • Is the blog prominent on your site? Can readers sign up to be notified of new posts? Are you communicating each new post via social media?
    • What topics get the most engagement?
  • Admission Funnel – Request that the auditor go through an entire process as a “secret shopper”:
    • Is the “Apply Now” button prominent on your website?
    • What data do you request for an inquiry?
    • Do you respond to each request?
    • Do you have planned touches as the prospect moves though the “funnel”?
  • Video: The strategy for managing videos is another stand-alone topic. For now:
    • Ensure videos on your own site are appropriate and relevant.
    • Do you have a presence on YouTube or Vimeo? If so, are your videos well-organized, are titles relevant and good for SEO, do you use playlists (YouTube)?
    • Keep an eye on the number of views and potential comments.

NOTE: For more insights on measurement, see this case study.

Bonus Section — Benchmarking Tips:

This is the Cliff Notes version; watch for a future, detailed post. Benchmarking is “a point of reference from which measurements may be made” or “serves as a standard by which others may be measured or judged” (Merriam Webster). For schools, this means using your past programs as one point of reference to compare with your future programs, and choosing standards against which to measure yourself, usually peer schools or recognized leaders.

Benchmarking delivers concrete data and visual evidence that enables clear comparisons and enlightened dialogue. Per Mark Twain, there are no new ideas, so adapting successful approaches for your school is only smart. Here are basic tips to get you started:

  • Pick peer and “top” schools to benchmark, some with similar profiles to yours.
  • Review key facets of their websites and social media channels and track elements on a spreadsheet (this is a topic unto itself for your next web redesign).
  • Get on lists of selected schools to receive materials – review those from your own schools and colleges and those of your children if appropriate. Ask your faculty or parents to forward what they receive. This is useful for most of the media noted above.
  • Perform searches for a variety of keywords and phrases, and note the following: where do you rank for organic results, if appropriate; who ranks highest for key terms; who advertises in the paid search results, and what do they emphasize?
  • Find response rates and advertising success for other organizations:
    • Ask friends at peer schools to share results – offer a quid pro quo.
    • Review presentations at school marketing conferences, including in the resources sections of leading associations; you can also contact presenters, who will probably share when you explain this is for internal purposes only.
    • Review case studies at agency and association websites.
    • FinalSite and Blackbaud sometimes share anonymous results on school campaigns, and others like HubSpot or MailChimp provide more general industry results including the “education” vertical.

William Bullard is a strategic marketer who spent most of his career in the business world before moving into education. He has been the director of communications at two independent schools in greater Boston as well as a social media consultant for a leading literacy training company. He is especially interested in applying lessons from his early-stage work in direct marketing, the Internet, and digital marketing to schools. As the VP of Internet Marketing for the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association, he is a frequent blogger. William is a strategic partner for Kalix Communications, focusing on digital and data-driven marketing.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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