14 May 2013

The $150K Communications Audit #nlpoli

Poor Jerome Kennedy.

They sent him out Monday to explain to reporters what the government got for its $150,000 audit by Fleishman-Hillard in later 2011.

Kennedy had a hard time explaining it.

He went all over the mass of talking points floating around in his head.  he said – without a hint of a joke – that the departmental communications directors are not political staff.  on paper, maybe, Jerome, but in practice, they are either partisans or have been heavily politicised.

In among all the words, though, Jerome actually described the communications audit.  And for those who aren’t familiar with these things, let’s just remind everyone that this is not – as CBC seemed to be suggesting – a communications strategy.  That’s something else entirely.

Nope, the good folks at Fleishman-Hillard did a structural and organizational review.  That’s what a communications audit is about:  the bits and pieces. If you want a sense of what an audit looks like, there are a few examples on line.  There’s one for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or one for the Ontario Stroke Network, a health-related organization.

Kennedy mentioned that one recommendation was to shift responsibility for the provincial “brand” from business to communications.  That’s sensible but it is also pretty trivial.  The only reason the thing was in the old business department in the first place was because Danny owned it and, at the time, business was Danny’s department.  Well, at least it was on paper.

Another thing that the FH audit likely looked at was the government’s web presence. New front page would have been a very small part of that.  More likely FH hauled the guts out of the old, out-of-date mess.  The government’s website is still a gigantic mess even though they actually started reorganizing it long before the FH audit.

None of what FH likely recommended had anything to do with the governing party’s core problems.  Those are management problems, as we told you back in January, for example.  Those management problems remain and they are at the heart of the governing party’s ongoing woes.

Having a presence on Twitter is the sort of thing you’d find in a communications audit.  Who to put in charge of the Twitter thing or what to say on it is part of the strategy.  That is, a strategy tells you how to use the tools to reach an objective.

FH’s audit would say have a Twitter account.  if they did a strategy, they’d likely figure out pretty quickly that having Steve Kent using it alot would be a bad strategy.  He tends to reinforce a lot of negative impressions people have about the governing crowd.

By the same token, if Kathy Dunderdale was talking about the FH audit when she referred to a communications strategy during an interview with CBC that the Corp is connecting to this story, well, that would be part of her management problem.  Such confusion  - audit and strategy - would mean that she doesn’t understand what she is doing.  it would also mean that the people around her don’t understand what they are doing either.

There’s lots of evidence for that.  The Gerry Rogers assault is as good an example as any.
Fundamentally, though, communications is not so much a methods problem (the audit) as a content issue (part of the strategy).  Here’s part of what Kathy Dunderdale said in 2012 before we knew about the audit:
“What I need to do, and I recognized this some months ago, is that I need to change our communication plan, so that people have a better understanding of what it is we’re trying to achieve.”
That’s a common mistake made by management types who either don’t get it or who are so closely tied to the issues that they can’t distance themselves personally from the issues in order to fix problems.  Dunderdale also said in that interview that she didn’t have to change her leadership style.  Big clue right there as to what’s wrong.

A review of communications strategy for the current governing crowd would quickly conclude the problem is that that they don’t have a better understanding of what they are trying to achieve.  That starts at the top and it is wrapped up in what Kathy Dunderdale euphemistically calls her leadership style.

That’s why they can’t communicate it.

They don’t know what it is they are trying to achieve.

It’s like Jerome trying to explain the audit.

He couldn’t.

Same thing.

Get it?

You are already miles ahead of Jerome and Kathy and the crowd on the Hill.

And it didn’t cost you $150K.