Monday, November 4, 2013

Image audit as a design tool in communication strategies

Image audit as a design tool in communication strategies
R. Gopalakrishnan  in Madras 

Published on 26th April 2000

IT CAN perhaps be said of organisations that, as in the case of individuals, they have three identities: what they are, what they think they are and what    others think they are. 

Very often the three identities do not coincide. And it is in the interest of the   organisation concerned - be it an industrial/commercial undertaking, service   sector company or non- business (political, social, cultural, ethnic etc) body -   to know what its `image' is, so that it could take corrective steps in terms of   its own objectives. 

Such `images' are of two kinds - one that prevails within the   business/organisation concerned and another that prevails outside,    embracing various sections of the public that could be described collectively    as ``stakeholders''. 

The internal image largely relates to perceptions about the organisation held   by employees/executives in the case of businesses and perceptions held by leaders/members/office-bearers in the case of non-commercial   organisations.

The external image, in the case of a business, would embrace perceptions   about the business/company prevailing among customers/consumers,    suppliers of products and services to the company, shareholders,    government authorities, media and the community located around specific   factories/complexes. Similarly, in the case of a non-commercial/non-business    organisation, the external image could, depending on the nature of its activity,   comprise images held by voters, beneficiaries of the organisation's services,   government officials, the community at large and the media. 

While market surveys and brand research have been common in India for    decades, little attention has been paid to assessing the internal and external   images of businesses/organisations. Such an exercise, known as ``image audit'', has, however, started becoming popular in the country, particularly in   the context of increasing competition in the economic environment, says Mr.   K. Srinivasan, promoter of Prime Point Public Relations, which has carried  out image audits, internal and external, for commercial and non-commercial   organisations. 

Internal image 

Mr. Srinivasan emphasises the value of image audit particularly in the    designing of both external and internal communication strategies of    organisations. ``Before one communicates either internally to one's own    employees (in the case of business/industrial establishments) or to    members/office- bearers/leaders (non-business organisations), one should   know what the internal stakeholders think about the organisation,'' he points    out. 

For instance, there could be widespread dissatisfaction among employees    of a company. The management might think this is attributable to unattractive  wages and keep on increasing its wage bill as a remedy. But this would only    raise costs without yielding results, if the roots of dissatisfaction lie in other factors like lack of faith in the fairness of decision-makers in the company, or   lack of awareness of the business goals or long- term vision of the company   among the employees. 

In the case of several organisations, especially non- commercial ones,  including political parties, the wide variety of their members' backgrounds, in    terms of years of adherence/ membership, age, sex, literacy level and  rural/urban origin would produce a complex of images within the  organisation. The perceptions of members about their own organisation   could be as important to decide on actions including communication as in the   case of businesses.  

Be it internal or external images, the first step is to find out through image   audits the essence of the image. The next stage is to design proper tools of   communication (internal/external) to correct the image if it is negative but  does not correspond to reality. If,  on the contrary, the image audit reveals real  weaknesses (negative image revealing negative realities), then the   corrective step should be taken within the organisation. 


What is most important in the conduct of image audits, according to Mr  Srinivasan, is total confidentiality of the exercise to attract genuine and  dependable responses. It is from this point of view that those who respond to questionnaires are asked not to mention their names and identities and their    individual responses are not shown even to the organisation which    commissions the audit.  

Of course, the selection of sample, design of questions, their precision and   brevity, and the methodology of analysis of responses to come out with   proper conclusions and recommendations are other major aspects, he    adds.In the case of a bank, it was found from image audits that its external image was better than its internal image and that there was a need for    improvement in its communication vis-a-vis the media whose reports were undermining the morale of the workforce more than that of customers.  

In the case of a political party, the internal image among relatively new   members differed substantially from that among older ones in crucial    aspects, and a similar divide was seen between rural and urban followers on    some issues. A software company has launched a human resource  

improvement programme following the conduct of an internal image audit.``In  developed countries, several companies have a public relations policy    approved at the board level. It is time businesses and organisations in India    realise the importance of proper internal and external communications in  furthering their objectives and efficiency'', says Mr Srinivasan. 

Articles, discussion group and quotes on Image Management are available  at the consultancy's web site

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