At The IIA's recent International Conference in London, I heard a colleague mention that he absolutely hated explaining internal auditing to non-auditors. "When I have to 'sell' people on the internal audit function," he said, "it feels too much like what a used-car salesman does. It just doesn't feel professional to me."
His comments didn't come as a surprise to me. I know there are many who don't like the idea of having to "promote" their internal audit functions. But his words still concern me. Because my blog is intended primarily for internal auditors, I will skip past the issue of professionalism among those who routinely "sell" as part of their job and cut to the chase about our profession.
When I first became an audit executive, I worked with my leadership team to develop new strategies and an expanded portfolio of internal audit services for our clients. I soon discovered, however, that changing the role of internal audit was not just a matter of hanging out a shiny new shingle announcing our ability to provide advisory services and other new offerings. We needed our clients to understand our strategy and expanded "menu" of services to ensure the transition would be successful.
We determined that, to win this support, we needed to develop a deliberate strategy for improving awareness of our capabilities — and the value we would deliver — because changing perceptions isn't always easy. In other words, we came to understand that we needed to do some good old-fashioned marketing so that clients would know when to call us in and what to expect.
The project team agreed on the necessity of marketing, but no one in the group felt they had the skills for that particular job. We reached out to the rest of the audit team for help, and it became apparent that, before we could change our stakeholders' perceptions about internal audit, we would have to become more proficient marketers. We needed to convince the entire team that marketing was a crucial responsibility.
Eventually, we became comfortable with the concept of marketing our services. We also found that key messages about internal auditing could be delivered more effectively if we armed the audit staff with the proper tools, techniques and, most importantly, information.
If you are going through this process at your organization, I strongly recommend that you and your team begin by crafting a comprehensive marketing strategy. From my experience, there are a number of tactics that could prove useful in achieving an internal audit marketing strategy. These include:
Hold one-on-one conversations with key stakeholders. You may not enjoy "selling" internal audit, but it's an ideal way to ensure others know what you and your department do. In addition to meeting specifically to enhance stakeholder understanding of the internal audit function, consider working "marketing" into other types of meetings. For example, during an enterprise-wide risk assessment, ask questions about how the client perceives the internal audit function. The answers may be enlightening and encourage constructive dialogue.
Develop a professional presentation. Formal presentations and leave-behinds can be useful in kick-off meetings, new-employee orientation, lunch-and-learns, and various other ways. They help to ensure that nothing is forgotten when you explain internal auditing to a group. If you do not have an up-to-date, professional-looking presentation that explains what internal audit does, why it is important, and what management's responsibilities are, you need to make this a high priority. But keep in mind that marketing is most effective when it involves two-way communication. A "canned" presentation by itself may come across as little more than an infomercial, so carefully and deliberately promote discussion as part of the session.
Build marketing messages into periodic reports on internal audit's performance. Every internal audit department should issue periodic reports about what has and is being accomplished, and what strategies are being employed. These reports can also be used to clarify misperceptions or discuss new services. Periodic reporting doesn't replace other types of marketing, but it can be useful for reinforcing important messages.
Develop and distribute an internal audit brochure. A brochure or flier can be a simple first step for communicating important messages about internal auditing. But beware: They are not the be-all and end-all. Some individuals may learn best through the written word, while others need spoken messages and detailed illustrations. Brochures are particularly effective when they are included with announcements about upcoming audits — when clients are most likely to read them carefully. But never assume your message is really delivered through a simple handout.
Create an intranet site for access by your company's executives and employees. Intranet sites can communicate much more than might be included in a brochure or one-time presentation. They also provide a convenience as a central "gathering place" for important messages about internal audit. But an internal audit intranet site, like many intranet sites, can become neglected and work against you. It's not unusual to find outdated information, or learn that surprisingly few clients know of its existence. If you build an intranet, update it consistently and have a strategy for constantly letting stakeholders know about it.
According to the 2014 Global Audit Committee Survey by KPMG's Audit Committee Institute, many audit committee members would like their internal auditors to expand their portfolio of services. They believe that internal audit should be looking not just at financial issues but also at risk management, IT, and operational risks. The necessity of a comprehensive internal audit function has never been greater. The implications of any misunderstanding or, dare I say, ignorance about what we do are obvious. Your expertise and professionalism are crucial, of course. But sometimes a little marketing can go a long way toward ensuring stakeholder buy-in and support.
If you have other ideas for spreading the good word about internal auditing to stakeholders and others, let me know.